Walking into Sacred Space


Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, July 29, 2018 at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA.

This story appears in three Gospels, but in Mark’s and John’s the response of the disciples to this miracle is different. The end of Mark’s account reads like this, “They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” John’s accounts ends with, But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid. Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.”

Matthew records the disciples’ response quite differently. “Then those who were in the boat came and worshipped him saying, ‘Truly You are the Son of God.’” I do not know why they are all so different. We don’t have time to go into that, so we will focus on Matthew’s account.

Jesus and Peter walking on the water is clearly a theophany – a revelation of God – and it is something else just as important. It is a revelation about what it means to be human for Peter also walks on the water. Which do you think startled the disciples more, Jesus or Peter walking on water?

The central question of who is Jesus leads us to the next important question, who are we? We are granted a glimpse today into these two great mysteries.

When Peter answered the Lord’s invitation to join Him on the Sea, Peter became truly human. His identity was revealed in Jesus and he walked on the water just like his Master. The identity he had previously assumed, that he and his family and friends were comfortable with and which had defined him all his life was proven wrong. There is an indestructible connection between God and His creation that is rarely explored. This connection is what defines us as human. The truth is, then, that we are not who we think we are. Being human is a mystery as deep as eternity itself.

What is it then that causes Peter to sink?

Let me illustrate it with a story. A young student came to his guru in the middle of a storm and told him that he had walked across the raging river to get to him. “How did you do that,” he asked. “I simply started chanting your name and I walked across the river.” The guru decided then and there that he would try it. So, when the chance arrived, and as he started to step out on the raging river, he started chanting, “I. I, I,” and he immediately sank and was drowned.

Peter’s gaze drifted from Christ back to himself and to the person he had believed himself to be, so he sank. His fears overtook him. The saying from Thoreau is, “Don’t look back unless you intend to go that way.” Peter looked back like Lot’s wife.

As long as he looked intently at Christ in that miraculous moment, he was fine for Christ is the true mirror that reveals us to ourselves. When he started dreaming again of the past and his relative safety in the boat, his conscious connection with Christ, and with his true self, was forgotten.

“Dear friends,” writes the Beloved Apostle, “…what we will be has not been made known. But we know when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:2)

Christ appeared in his divinity and Peter and the others saw Him and were enlightened. But Enlightenment is not a once and for all thing. It comes moment by moment. Keeping our eyes on Christ every moment, we live enlightened lives. It is a walk, a way of life, and a practice; for the mind likes to return to familiar things and retreat from the insecurity of moving into the unknown. That is why this saying by Pema Chodrun makes such sense to me, “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest,” or boat, if you will. The boat represents the comfort zone and there is no growth in the comfort zone.

I would like to read you a quote from Richard Rohr about this spiritual truth.

“Whenever we're led out of normalcy into sacred, open space, it's going to feel like suffering, because it is letting go of what we are used to. This is always painful at some level. But part of us has to die if we are ever to grow larger. If we are not willing to let go and die to our small, false self, we won't enter into any new or sacred space.” It was only by leaving the boat that Peter could grow into the person he was created to be. And this other saying of Rohr works as well. “Before the truth sets us free, it tends to make us miserable.”

We must also recognize that his sinking was not a failure. It made sense. It is not easy to stay on the path of growth. We are not used to it. There is no need for judgment or shame for each time we retreat from the path, is just one more opportunity to wake up and return to God. 70 times 70 times 70 times 70. We grow by increments, not by leaps and bounds.

So, we must come to know that every day, every moment we are invited to walk into sacred space. Each moment is sacred space, if we are willing to embrace it. And if we stop holding on to what we think we know and open up to what God wants to reveal, then we grow more and more into the likeness of God.