SUNDAY OF THE CATECHUMEN-Fear Not, Take Courage

Fear Not, Take Courage and Have Faith-February 2, 2020 

John 6:15-21

15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined the water 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened.  20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

Once again we are quickly entering a season where many Americans will grow anxious and start to agitate about the federal presidential elections with everyone sharing their feelings about what they “feel” is best for the country. This like any other, is like taking a journey. It is no different in that no one can see the future and it is likely that there will be unexpected turns, opportunities and obstacles along the way. In this case, invariably one will win and one will lose. Some it seems will be thrilled with the result and others consigned to griping for the next four years.  As an immigrant, many have asked me over the years, if I miss Canada. As those who know me with my sometimes misunderstood and perhaps rightly unappreciated humor, know that with a strong intention toward hyperbole, I have answered, “No, same thing, different place, but as long as I can watch the Toronto Maple Leafs, I am good.” I do however enjoy the journey in spite of the challenges and the unknown and am blessed to have a partner who shares the thrills. The reality is that I do not see my citizenship so much in terms of national and man made borders, but as one redeemed by the blood of Christ and having entrance within the Body of Christ and citizenship in the Kingdom of God. In the meantime, during our lives, we are on a journey rather a pilgrimage as sojourners toward Glory.

Dear faithful, we are all on this journey. As a church, both locally and univerdally, we can expect adventure, excitement, thrills, new discoveries, the unknown and along with that, persecution, hatred, suffering, defeat. We need to only look at the history of the One, Holy, Catholic Church. It is a victorious and glorious church but she has endured horrific things and has even sadly at times been even inadvertently responsible for many horrific things even to our age, but she is like a ship sailing on rough waters, has the Lord Jesus with his almighty hand firmly on the rudder.

On our personal journey, in life throughout every age, while we might have started with great expectations, making plans and expecting certain results along the way we may have had and may still likely have many challenges and difficulties. We may along the way doubt God, question his motives, wonder where he was in the midst of our darkness. The unknown can be terrifying. Unexpected turns, pitfalls, and obstacles, both from outside our control from external factors, famine, unemployment, doubt, insurmountable odds, genocide, illness, hurricanes to name a few, and even some which confront us from within, whether it is a lack of self assurance, insecurity, a lack of trust in others and in yourself and abilities. We are inevitably going to confront many levels of discomfort and feel like things are out of control.

These things ought to be expected and in this life God makes us no promises. Our hope according to his true and unfailing word is in him and in the eternal life and resurrection. We are like Simon-Peter, to whom Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18)

Let’s look at Peter, the first among equals, the apostle, the one who makes the good confession, the one who was forgiven three times by the Lord, the first Pope of Rome. He had his challenges and he had his doubts. Do you know how he completed his life and his evangelical ministry? St. Peter,  according to church tradition, was at Peter’s own request, crucified on an inverted or upside down cross (Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 2.25.5-8), as (according to St. Jerome,) he pleaded his unworthiness of  being crucified in the like manner of our Lord’s own distinctive and redeeming death.

Early in Christ’s ministry, Peter was so full of passion and so impetuous. He could be resolute, he could be rash, he could be quick to anger, he could be gentle but firm. The leap of faith with which he stepped out of the boat and onto the water when seeing Jesus is extraordinary and as a fisherman, it was not as if he didnt understand safe practices and the dangers of the sea, let alone the natural laws of physics. His greatest grace however and most redeeming trait is seen here, placing his complete and explicit trust in Jesus knowing that he is the Creator.

Imagine him being full of confidence heading out upon the troubled unknown and stepping upon the sea, heading out as he sees Jesus in the distance. Imagine the assurance he had knowing that his Lord was right there and he could defy all reason and walk to him. Startlingly things were going along just fine until he took his gaze off the mark, off of Jesus himself. It was then when he started to look inward and recognize the irrationality of the horrible predicament that he was in, the unnatural confines of not being on solid ground, that he realized how insecure he really was. It was then that he began to sink while probably wondering to himself why this was happening to him, that he had lost control, was going to perish and who would  save him?

As in his case, for us too, in the midst of our greatest turmoil, the devil wants us to look within, to take our eyes off the mark, to look inward at ourselves, to see our weakness and is counting on us to feel completely lost and out of control, abandoned by God. But, like Peter don’t we feel tempted to doubt God, question his love and wonder why he lets us and others befall such horrible conditions? Don’t we too question him and ask why we are abandoned? Look, it was not Jesus who left the gaze of Peter, it was not God who abandons ship. It was Peter who left the boat, took his eyes off Jesus who remained there all the time. 

While we might when things are good, have plenty of self-confidence before we embark on the journey of faith, but we mustn’t depend on only our own intellect and our own resources. We will soon find out that we cannot really control neither that which is even within us, let alone that which is outside of us and beyond our capabilities. Nothing in life is predictable. As they say the only things that one could be sure of in this life are death and taxes.

Peter, stop relying on yourself, and stop looking within which is the enemies temptation. Self assurance in the unknown troubled waters of life are the trickery and deceit of the devil. Say, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy or in other words, “You’re God and I’m not!” For better or for worse in sickness and in health, keep your eyes on the mark. Focus on Jesus who has overcome the world. 

Beware of despairing about yourself; you are commanded to place your trust in God, and not in yourself.” says St. Augustine. We are all neophytes and we are all in some ways unprepared for the struggles of life itself let alone achieving the goal of crossing the finish line and meeting the Lord arriving at the haven of life and the security of salvation, the resurrection and promised paradise of eternal life .

If you are a believer and if you claim Christ as your redeemer, hope, life and Savior, Why would you ever despair of yourself? Afterall, aren’t you commanded to trust in him and not in yourself? It is Jesus who creates the seas, the air and the dryland and has not only authority but power to do with it as he likes.

Last week, early Sunday afternoon, we heard the tragic news of the downed helicopter in California where Kobe Bryant and be a basketball legend whose daughter and seven other souls were lost.  It became clear soon after that he had been to Holy Mass with his 15 year old daughter before taking the fateful flight. They both as was their normal practice received the precious life giving sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood.  In that response of piety to the Lord’s invitation that “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:54) they entered the fatal trip in bliss and in a state of grace.  Well naturally we would expect that in the moments before the crash insofar as the pilot and passengers were aware of what was happening they along with everyone on board, were probably gripped with great fear, probably not unlike the fear that gripped Peter.  That deathly fear is a natural response to life threatening danger. In the case of the Bryants, who had their eyes and faith firmly on the Savior, our sadness is assuaged by seeing that their faith was in the eternal and enduring knowledge of the victorious Lord.  St. Ireneus and early bishop of the church in Europe, said “the business of the Christian is to always be preparing for death.” There is no better way to prepare for life’s greatest fears, tragedies and ultimately death by keeping our eyes always firmly fixed on Jesus, not complaining about how busy we are, not questioning always why this happened and why that happened but by giving ourselves fully to our focus, commitment and attention to Jesus in all things and like Peter, repent of our weakness and doubt and turn to him and cry “Lord, save me, gexo Der” and hear him reach out to you in his creative hands, hold you close and say in his loving and gentle voice, “Take courage, fear not.” Kobe Bryant was a fearless and courageous competitor but his on court heroism paled next to his courage in his commitment to Christ and his assurance of eternal life which he literally participated by his frequent reception of the life giving antidote to death and the medicine of immortality. We are all called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to share in the same courage with which Jesus himself faced his Passion and with which Peter took his leap of faith onto the troubled waters and assured and emboldened by the divine command of Jesus, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. (while) In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33), Amen.

Published by

Fr. Shnork Souin

Priest of the Armenian Orthodox Church

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