Sunday, August 10, 2008

"Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid"

(Our Deacon is preaching this weekend, so I didn't prepare a homily. But, I thought I would share with you one from the "archives." I delivered this homily on the same Sunday in 2002):


Most visitors to the Holy Land like to take a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, the sea on which Jesus walked. One pilgrim wanted to take the ride, but soon found out it would cost $50. "Fifty dollars!" exclaimed the tourist, "No wonder Jesus walked across!" The story of Jesus walking on water is both familiar to us, and a bit confusing. What does it all mean?

This is a tremendously layered story; one that has a lot to teach us about who Jesus is, but also about the church in its journey through the world, and about the life of faith of the individual believer.

So what does it say about Jesus? The miracle story of Jesus walking on the sea, together with the one last week’s passage - the multiplication of loaves – is an epiphany, a manifestation showing us that Jesus is Lord and as Lord has authority over all forces natural and supernatural.

In the worldview of the Jews, the sea was the domain of supernatural demonic forces. A rough and stormy sea was regarded as the work of hostile spirits. By walking on the raging waves and calming the stormy sea Jesus shows himself to be one who has power and total control over these hostile forces. Today's gospel brings us the good news that these powers of darkness stand no chance at all when Jesus is present and active in our lives. Jesus says to us, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

This passage also has a lot to say about the Church. The boat on the sea is one of the earliest Christian symbols for the church in its journey through the world. Just as the boat is tossed about by the waves so is the church pounded from all sides by forces that are hostile to the kingdom of God. In the midst of crisis, Jesus comes to restore peace and harmony in his church. But he comes in a form and manner in which he is easily mistaken. He comes in a way that makes many well-meaning Christians cry out in fear "It is a ghost!" as they try to keep him out. But if we listen carefully we shall hear through the storm his soft, gentle voice whispering in the wind, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” If we believe in his word and take him on board, the storms will always subside.

But, we must act in faith. We must stand on the promise of Christ that if we are busy going about the duty he has assigned us, just as the disciples were busy rowing their boat to the other side of the shore as Jesus had instructed them, then Jesus himself will come to us riding on the very waves that threaten to swallow us up. As the church in the modern world, like Peter's boat, sails through the stormy seas of our time, we need to keep an eye on those very seas looking for Jesus who comes to bring deliverance and peace. We must strive to recognize him even when he comes in an unexpected form.

The individual believer – you and me. From the point of view of the individual believer, the story of Jesus walking on the seas, especially the involvement of Peter in the story, is a lesson for disciples who are tempted to take their eyes off Jesus and to take more notice of the threatening circumstances around them. Peter had says to Jesus, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." Jesus gives him the word of command, "Come." It would seem like Jesus is commanding the impossible. Yet whatever Jesus commands us to do, he also gives us the power to do. And in faith, the ordinary man, Peter, begins to walk on the seas to Jesus.

“But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” As long as Peter kept his eye fixed upon Jesus, and upon his word and power, he walked upon the water; but when he took notice of the danger he was in, and focused on the waves, then he became afraid and began to sink. “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” And so it will be for you and I in our own individual spiritual journeys. As long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, our ears attentive to his words, our will firm in following his command – we too can conquer the storms that might beset us.

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of St. Clare, the co-founder of the Franciscan movement along with St. Francis. In the communion of saints, she remains one of the greatest examples of firm, unswerving faith in Jesus. Let us make her prayer, our prayer today: “Gaze upon Christ, consider Christ, contemplate Christ, imitate Christ.”

May God give you peace!

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