9th Sunday after Pentecost
Homily on both the Epistle reading and Gospel lesson from 1 Corinthians 3:9-17 & Matthew 14:22-34
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Saint Paul and Saint Matthew offer today for us three images of the Church, three symbols through which we can view the Church and our role within the Church. These three images are not exhaustive, of course, because nothing can exhaust the infinite God and His Church. Nonetheless, these symbols are very helpful.
They are the field – “you are God’s field,” says Saint Paul; the building – again from Paul, “you are God’s building…you are the temple of God”; and the boat in which the disciples worshiped Jesus and confessed Him to be the Son of God.
So, let’s unpack each in a bit more detail.
Ever since human beings learned to cultivate land, they stopped being nomads. They settled down, and a field, the farming land, became a place of stability and growth. The field feeds those who put in the hard work of plowing it, sowing seeds and planting food, watering and weeding it.
There are fields that have provided food for thousands of years. Think about that! That’s a sign of stability.
If a field is an image of the Church, since both are stable and both provide for those who put in the work; then farming is a metaphor for the Christian life. Farming is hard labor. In order to eat, a farmer has to work. If he slacks of even a little, he will have no food for the winter.
Farming requires constant vigilance because there is always something against the farmer in the ground or in the sky – too much or too little rainfall, heat or cold can kill the crops; wild animals, both on the ground and under, eat and destroy the harvest. There is almost no rest in being a farmer.
Christian life is also a lot of hard work, just like farming. There is very little rest, and it requires constant vigilance. The enemy that desires the destruction of our soul never sleeps and never goes on vacation. We can’t afford to slack even one bit.
The second image of the Church is a building. In the beginning of today’s Epistle reading, Saint Paul says that we are God’s building, towards the end he specifies what kind of building – the temple.
For Christians, a temple has always been a consecrated building. Meaning, it is set apart from all other buildings and is dedicated for a particular purpose.
The temple is consecrated to God because God is present there. The temple is the presence of God. When we come to church to pray to God, we do not pray because He is distant. We pray because we know that He is right here and right now.
This was somewhat of a unique feature of Jews and then Christians. Pagans, for example, when praying to their gods, offered them sacrifices to appease them and keep them away. For the most part, pagans knew that their gods were dangerous. Jews and Christians knew something else – that these gods are, in fact, demons and there are many good reasons to keep them away.
But we pray to God because He is present here. He is great and good; fearful to behold, but loving. We want Him to be here, among us and in us.
And finally, the Church is a boat. A boat is a good metaphor for the journey of the Church. Here, in this boat, Christ is confessed as the Son of God. And this boat is also a place of worship.
The boat and its voyage are not, however, a cruise. When we sign up for this boat, when the temples of our bodies are consecrated, dedicated to become the temples of God at baptism, we do not become passengers on the boat that is the Church.
Rather, we are the crew. We are not here along for the ride; and we are not here to be served and enjoy the ride. We are here to work, to keep this boat swimming in the right direction. Every one of us has a job on this boat.
Sure, the things we do during the services can be limited. Not everyone serves before the altar table or helps in the altar. Not everyone has good enough voice to sing in the choir. Not everyone is comfortable reading publicly. And not everyone volunteers to help out in the vestry room or host a coffee hour.
So yes, sometimes the tasks of some of the crew may be limited, but there are still enough tasks to be done. And, the crew of the ship is not just involved at different parts of the journey. The crew is involved all the time. While some of us may be involved during the services, others are involved before and after. There is enough work for everyone.
If I can’t use my talents as the crew member during the divine services, there are plenty of opportunities to use them outside of the services. Our community is a church when we worship together, when we have fellowship downstairs, when we are preparing for an event (like the upcoming garage sale), when we cleanup for Pascha, when we are out together on a hike or breakfast, or when we are getting together in each other’s house.
In other words, being a church is not reduced to us being in the pews and praying on Sundays, sometimes. And our involvement in the church is not restricted to just showing up. If the crew just showed up to the boat, the boat would never leave the dock.
Our worship of the one true God together is the central part of our existence, but it does not end here. As I said in last week’s sermon, there are no minimums in the Church.
Checking in just for a part of the sail will not cut it. Every member of the crew has an opportunity to contribute and has to contribute. There are no minimums of what we can provide for the journey.
The boat being a secure place is surrounded by dangers. The waters are always treacherous and unpredictable. So the crew must be disciplined, in order for the boat to remain afloat. The boat has rules and expectations, but above all there is mutual dependency. We depend on one another. No matter what role or place we have in the crew, we depend on each other. If someone is not where they are supposed to be, others might suffer or strain themselves to overcompensate.
The Church is a field because it is stable. If we are willing to put in the hard work, we will see the fruit of our labor multiplied by the Lord. The Church is also a boat that treads the dangerous waters, surrounded by sin and temptation. Sometimes this boat is rocked from side to side, and some of the crew may fall out. But there is the lifeboat of repentance to bring them back in, to save them.
But above all, the Church is the temple where the one God in Three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are worshipped and glorified in times of trouble and in times of joy, when we are in need and when we have plenty. The Church is the temple where God is present because He loves us and desires our salvation.
Therefore, give glory, honor, and worship to Him alone.