1 Corinthians 3:9-17; Matthew 14:22-34
Many people today do not have a solid foundation for their lives. We live in a time and place where it is very tempting to forget that there is more to life than getting what we want, on our own terms and when we want it. The problem, however, is that if we live simply to satisfy our own immediate desires, we risk destroying ourselves and those we love.
Saint Paul told the church at Corinth in today’s epistle reading that they were God’s temple, built on the foundation of Jesus Christ. As we know from his letters to the Corinthians, they had fallen into so many terrible problems because they had not been living like that at all. Prideful divisions, gross immorality, and confusion about the most basic Christian beliefs and practices had profoundly weakened them. They were in as dangerous a position as St. Peter in today’s gospel lesson when he focused more on the wind and the waves than on the Savior. He began to sink because he had stepped off the foundation of faith into the abyss of fear and doubt. The Lord said, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” as He rescued him from drowning.
A common distortion of Christianity today is to think that the faith is all about helping us get what we want in this world on our own terms. That may mean that we want to feel a certain way about ourselves, to be entertained, or to have a better social life. It may mean that we want a religious justification for doing whatever we want to do or to use God to achieve a political or national goal. Regardless of how appealing such aims may be, we must never substitute them for the one true foundation, our Lord Jesus Christ. If we try to use Him as a means to do our own will, we will turn our backs on our true identity as God’s temple and instead fall into the bottomless pit of worshiping ourselves. If we step away from Him as our true foundation, we will begin to sink just like Peter.
Today, however, we have an opportunity to live more faithfully as God’s temple, built on the foundation of our Savior. That is because we observe “St. Timon Sunday” in our Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America, as we begin to take up a collection for the relief of our brothers and sisters in the Archdiocese of Bosra-Hauran in Syria. St. Timon certainly built solidly on our true foundation as one of the seventy apostles sent out by the Lord and one of the original deacons mentioned in Acts (Acts 6:5). He was the first bishop of what is now the city of Bosra, and he died as a martyr. He played a key role in evangelizing a region where our Lord Himself often ministered (Matt.4:25) and where St. Paul took refuge after he escaped from Damascus following his conversion. (Gal. 1:15-18) Especially as Antiochian Orthodox Christians, we must give thanks for how St. Timon’s ministry enabled the Church to flourish in ways from which we benefit to this very day. God used his work, along with that of so many generations of faithful Christians in the Middle East, to bring us into the fullness of the faith in the Orthodox Church.
This past week over 200 people died in terrorist attacks in Sweida, where the cathedral of the Archdiocese is located. Under the guidance of His Eminence, Metropolitan Saba the Church continues to do all that it can to minister faithfully and to help those in need. Probably at least half a million people have died in Syria since the start of the present conflict seven years ago, and millions have become refugees or internally displaced persons. Many clergy and laity have become martyrs and confessors. We continue to pray in every service for Metropolitan Paul and Archbishop John, who were abducted in 2013.
Though they are far away geographically, we are members together in the Body of Christ with our suffering brothers and sisters in the Archdiocese of Bosra-Hauran. Differences in language, culture, and nationality are completely irrelevant when it comes to the Church as God’s temple, for we share a common life and foundation in Jesus Christ. “St. Timon Sunday” gives us an opportunity to turn away from the self-centered illusion that our life in Him should focus on fulfilling our own personal needs and desires. Remember that the Savior came “not to be served, but to serve.” (Matt. 20:28) St. Timon offered his life for the flourishing of the Church even to the point of death as a martyr, and we enjoy the blessings of his ministry to this very day. We will ground ourselves more squarely on the one true foundation of our Lord as we embrace His love and mercy by prayerfully making whatever offering we can over the next weeks to help the Church in Syria. In doing so, we will show our gratitude to those who have shared the Orthodox faith with us.
It would be possible, of course, to look at the ongoing violence in Syria and conclude that nothing we do would make any difference. Perhaps responding to such large conflicts is a matter for nations, armies, and international organizations, not the members of small parishes. Accepting that temptation, however, would make us just like Peter when he was so distracted by the force of the wind and the size of the waves that he took his eyes off Christ, lost faith, and began to sink. He had lost his foundation at that point, and we will lose ours if we allow any problem or challenge in life to turn us away from humble trust that the Lord remains with us, bringing good out of evil even to the point of conquering death itself. If we really believe that, then we will make our small offerings to Him each day of our lives, offering ourselves for Him to do with as He sees fit to manifest His love, mercy, and holiness in our world of corruption.
In other words, we must always live as God’s temple, the Church, which is a place of sacrifice. Our Lord offered Himself for the salvation of the world and we unite ourselves to His great Self-Offering in every celebration of the Divine Liturgy. The bread and wine that we offer become His Body and Blood, which we receive for the healing of our souls. If we commune with Christ, then we must live as those in communion with Him as we make every aspect of our life in this world a sign of His salvation. His Kingdom, of course, does not come through conventional worldly power, but through the faithfulness of those who humbly ground their lives on Him as their one true foundation.
No one thought at the time that our Lord’s crucifixion and burial had any great significance for the future. The deaths of martyrs like St. Timon seemed pointless and foolish to most observers. As St. Paul wrote, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18) Through what seemed like the predictable end of yet another failed Messiah, the Savior conquered death through His glorious resurrection. Now we must have faith that He will use our small offerings to heal and bless the suffering people of our world as a sign of His Kingdom. That is true not only as we donate on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Syria, but as we take the steps we have the strength to take for the healing of our own souls. No matter how fierce the winds and the waves may be, we must remain grounded on Christ as our true foundation through humble faith. That is the only way not to sink like a stone.