We need many 4th watches in the night
Don’t be afraid of having feelings that are negative. Just don’t give in to them.
9th Sunday after Pentecost
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Brothers and sisters, I’ve told you many times that when we read the Scriptures, we must apply them to ourselves. First we must understand what they say, dogmatically; and when you understand this, then there is application to your personal life. Like I’ve said before, not what kind of car you should buy or should you go to this college or that. It’s spiritual things.
Much of the Scripture can be thought of allegorically. You must be careful with this, not to have any fanciful fantasies about the Scripture, but to apply the Scripture to your lives.
And this particular selection today for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, where Jesus walks on the water, is particularly good to apply to our own personal lives. When I read this Scripture, I think about my own personal weaknesses – and yours too. The reason I know this, not because I’m a mind reader but because you’re human and you have human weaknesses and passions and get tired and get lonely and are unsure of yourself and have darkness in your heart just like everybody else.
So it feels like the fourth watch of the night to me sometimes, just like it did to the Apostles.
When Jesus came to them on the water, it was late in the morning, just before the sun would rise. They had been at sea the entire evening and there was a terrible storm. And they were in a very small ship, and they were in danger of sinking and the Lord was not with them, or so they thought.
Of course, the Lord is always with us. But He was not visibly with them because He was on a mountain praying apart from them. And He had sent them out in the ship to go to the other side, away from the multitudes.
So the Lord sends us, sends me, sends you.
Christianity is not just collections of facts, not just things we know, not just wonderful stories of saints that inspire us. It is life. It is how to live. We have a task. We are told to do it. So the Lord sends us, and we go before Him.
The Lord is not walking the earth anymore. Of course, He’s with us but not visibly with us. And sometimes, let’s admit it, we don’t feel Him. Of course He’s there. We know He’s there. But we don’t feel Him. Of course, the reasons for this are our own. Our own darkness. But nevertheless, there is this feeling of sometimes being alone or not being completely protected or being confused.
I’m sure that if the Lord was present with us visibly right now, there would be no confusion. When He speaks, we would feel peace. But this is not the way that the Lord would have us live. He would have us go before Him. He would have us do the things that He did. And in fact, the Lord said that we would do greater things than He. Because we would all do good things that the Lord taught us to do.
But He’s not visibly present with us. He is still praying and He’s still looking after us. And He still sends His angels to help us.
So the Apostles are in the waves and the wind, and it is early in the morning, before the sun would rise. If you ever have trouble sleeping, that time of day is the worst of all. There’s just a sense of real sadness about that day or real sense of melancholy just before the dawn. And so the Apostles were struggling and they didn’t know if they would live or not. They were afraid, but the Lord came to them.
And I find in my life, and I should think you should find in yours, that the Lord comes to you too in times of distress, in times of struggle, in times when you are down, in times when you’re not so sure of yourself, in times of – dare we even breathe it, dare we whisper it – when our faith fails us. And He comes.
But look what happened. They were afraid. The Lord is too much for us. We are about to, soon, I guess, whatever, in two weeks or so, celebrate the Transfiguration of the Lord. And when the Lord went up on the mountain and He became, as He is, visibly to the Apostles, that was way too much for the Apostles, that was too frightening, that was too much Grace, too much light, and they were afraid.
The greatness, the goodness of the Lord, is too much for us all at once. That’s why it comes little by little, because we could not bear it all because of our sins, our weaknesses, and our darkness.
The Lord walking on the water frightened the Apostles, and yet they were glad when they saw Him. And then Peter says, if it’s You, then tell me to come out and walk on the water too. And so Peter went and of course we know what happened. Peter failed. His faith was not strong enough. Even though the Lord was with him, his faith was not strong enough.
This kind of thing, to be honest with you, makes me happy because that’s me out there on the waves with the Lord right with me and I’m still sinking.
Many stories of great men in the Scriptures show their weaknesses. That’s for a reason. Just recently we celebrated Saint Elias. After a great victory, after killing all the prophets of Baal and having a great victory, he was afraid and he ran away. And then after this period where he ran away, the Lord fed him and sent him on a mission to a mountain, and he heard the voice of God in the cave. The Lord revealed Himself to Elias after Elias had shown cowardice, and yet Elias was great and is great.
And so is Peter great, but with weaknesses, with darkness, with fear. But the Lord will help us in all these things. The thing about Elias, the thing about Peter, the thing about all of the saints – they did not give up.
Don’t be afraid of your feelings. Don’t think that there’s somehow a sign that you’re not a Christian, that you don’t have enough faith. Well, of course, you don’t have enough faith. But do what you need to do despite your feelings.
And if any of you, I tell you, I tell you boldly, if any of you don’t sometimes have those feelings when you get tired and you wonder, you get confused about why the world is the way it is and why there’s so much pain and why God seems far away to you – if you don’t have these feelings sometimes, then you’re not thinking hard enough. Because these feelings are natural to the human condition.
The Lord is revealing Himself to us bit by bit. Like I said, we cannot take Him all at once, and He is too fantastic for our sinful hearts to fully believe in except we be converted, except we be changed.
And we need a lot of fourth watches of the night and a lot of storms and a lot of wind over many periods of our lives in order for us to truly believe in Him.
So don’t be afraid of having feelings that are negative. Just don’t give in to them.
Just believe that the Lord will come to you. And you will partially understand Him. But the next time a little bit more and a little bit more.
And of course, the understanding of the Lord is not understanding dogmatic facts about Him. The understanding of the Lord is to become like Him. So that we know Him by our experience. And that is over many, many occurrences in our life, some very difficult, some rather easy. But hundreds and thousands of times when we struggle to do the right thing, to follow the Commandments and when we struggle with loneliness and confusion and fear.
This Gospel gives me great hope. I hope it gives you great hope too because it describes the Lord coming to heal the human condition and how it happens in pieces. Little by little.
But in order for us to be healed, we must obey the Lord. And He says go before Him so we had best do that. We had best spread the good news to others in the way we live.
It doesn’t have to be by any absolute formal method.
It means to love others as the Lord loves us.
It means to be compassionate with others as we would be to ourselves.
It means to humble ourselves.
It means to think of others first.
It means to pray, and pray that God would reveal Himself to us and to our enemies.
And as we do this, little bit by little bit, the Lord reveals Himself in such a way that we can apprehend Him, in such a way that we can actually hold onto the things that He gives us and not drop them because they are too heavy, too wonderful, too fantastic for us to bear.
The way that we become able to see the Lord is to live like Him. And a lot of that living like Him is where we are sent out on our own.
There’s a lot of mothers, fathers, here. Nobody told you how to be a mother or a father. How many mistakes have you made? How many times have you wondered what is the right thing to say, to do? Why do I have this weakness? Why do I do this or that? And yet, your children know that you love them. You pray for your children. And by God’s Grace you will all be saved. But it’s not absolutely crystal clear at all, what to do.
And if you take the experience of being a mother or father and you multiply it by about a million, then you have what it feels like to be a pastor because so many times the pastor has no idea what to say, what to do, what is right, the right way to proceed or the wrong way. And yet, somehow by God’s Grace people grow, people change and God is revealed.
It’s the same in all of our lives, when you’re a mother, a father, a pastor, a sister or a brother, anybody. There’s much that we don’t know and we are sent out to do, even though we don’t completely understand. But the Lord is with us, even though we don’t feel Him.
That’s what this Gospel tells me. I hope it says something of the like to you. God is with us at all times, even when we don’t feel Him.
And we need these times, brothers and sisters, when we do not feel Him. So that we can learn to reach out for Him all the more and so that when we see Him and when we do feel Him, we would appreciate and obey Him and in a more complete way.
May God help us to look forward to, to endure those fourth watches of the night that come in our lives and to await for the Lord to enlighten us.
But remember, the way a Christian waits is not by sitting down and doing nothing. The way a Christian waits is by being in the ship and fighting the waves and the wind and believing that the Lord will come, and He will for us, every time.
May God help us in all things.
Transcribed by the hand of the handmaiden of God Helen.
Priest Seraphim Holland 3010.
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Your blessing, Father!
Thank you so much for this homily. This is the perfect moment I should have received something like this. Properly timed! I praise God for that. Another manifestation of His presence & His watchfulness – which we either do not feel, or do not appreciate. Really, if we are not at times deprived of the feeling of His love & presence, it'd be hardly possible we learn to appreciate & be grateful – at least to some extent, "feasible" for us according to our spiritual measure.
I also thought how important for us, when we are so weak in our faith & total devotion to God's will, to have a fellow, a friend, someone near us with whom we together could reinforce our eagerness to serve God, to support in the times of "spiritual recession". This may be a spiritual father, or a true friend…This is a problem of our times, as Holy Fathers of XIX century used to say. St Ignatius Brianchaninov said we first of all should consider the Holy Scripture as our main teacher & guide. This is so, no doubts! But we should also, I think, pray for kindred spirits…It is easier to pass over life difficulties, shoulder by shoulder, sharing joys & sorrows, pray, get rid of sins, grow in virtues…Everything is better when together!
Nowadays our unity – around each other in Christ – is so actual!
Then our walking on the waters of this secular world towards Christ the Saviour will be less fearful…