SERMON: Trinity 10: August 13th 2023
1 Kings 19: 9-18; Psalm 85: 8-13; Rom. 10: 5-15; Mt. 14: 22-33
Test the living waters of the faith
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (Mt. 14 28-9).
May it be given to me to speak to you in the name of the living God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. AMEN
Why do we need a retreat? Like our guests in the house this week, the CR brothers have just spent time together in retreat. Our conductor, Abbot Robert Igo of Ampleforth, asked us at the outset to think about this question.
Hopefully, immersion within the world of scripture commended by St Ignatius continues to propel you to come to Jesus on the water of your life’s sea. But here are some prompts offered by Abt. Robert anyway.
We need retreat, he said because, apart from its provision in the religious life, we learn to meet God here and to countenance the divine activity in the minutiae of the day-to-day. Retreat challenges us to reappraise what is really important; it makes us stop the project-management of egoism, and challenges us to see with God’s eyes and to breathe in the rhythm of God’s breath. Above all, he suggested, it allows us to hear and to frame the same persistent question Elijah hears this morning in the book of Kings, “What are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here?” It is so important, God asks it of him twice. The stillness of the mountain of God to which the earthquake and wind give way is the environment for the discernment and reception of Elijah’s onward vocation. This is the scene which prefigures Jesus’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor commemorated last weekend, where God’s own touch empowers Peter, James and John for a more complete reception of their discipleship in everything that that will bring and enable. Horeb is to be Elijah’s place of being reset, of being where God wants him to come for rest, reappraisal and reorientation. “What are you doing here?” Get up, go and commission others I need to hear me; crown kings and send prophets.
Lord, if it is you, we also need to be in a place of hearing in order to receive. Lord, if it is you, then the lens of our hearts needs to be clean enough to penetrate your vision for us, for then we will be able to accept the welcome you make amidst life’s seas and walk upon them toward you, seeing you as completely as you see us in every bit of brokenness and potential.
As St Paul, quoting Moses reminds us in today’s epistle, “The Word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” (Rom 10: 5; cf. Deut. 30:14) The Word is in your boat and calling you on to Himself; he was St Ignatius’s impulse and Elijah’s and he is ours. We are here for to listen to him; in order to hear that bit more fully and to hear in order that we may see that bit more openly, and to be opened that bit more expansively so as to make an invitation for many who need to realize God, their call, in the real terms of this life whose waves would batter, break and displace their authentic quest for joy, hope and salvation.
When we find a voice to cry out, “Save us!” to this God – the God who abides in the stern of our boat irrespective of how far adrift it may go, so we communicate the same need and are incarnate in the same distresses as so many in the world today among whom Jesus, Godself, has deigned to pitch his tent.
We find that we can reach out a hand, promote charity and repair communion in a world more readily impaired by sin. We find, actually, that we are taking up our crosses and following Him; coming out to where He is on the sea amidst the storms of life and responding to our own baptismal vocation to be as and where Christ is; we find that we can modulate our voices to His in the merciful whisper of love that Elijah hears and renew our participation in the work of healing that makes the Church a true hospital for the needy and not sure, thereby transfiguring her mission from a theory into a practice. We are doing nothing short here of testing the living waters of our faith and sounding the depths of the evangelistic task.
“What are you doing here?” We are orienting our zeal and sifting its motives; we are choosing to the ride the waves of human vicissitude entrusted to the anchorage of a steadfast and sure creator who ever reaches out his hand to bid us come, so that in beholding the one whom even the winds and waves obey, we may allow love who will not let God’s people go to plumb the depths of our human being and make hope possible with and through our febrile conflicts and manifold doubts.
Why do we need a retreat? Why do we need to come?
We come here to hear; we come and see on this mountain to see and to be seen; to be transfigured in the manner of the master, and to hope again in the resurrection-freedom of such love whose way accompanies us on the waves of life’s every sea and meets us at the foot of its every cross with the words, “It is I; do not be afraid.”
It is Peter’s feel of his fear that accomplishes our doing it anyway; it is our doing it anyway that will enable others to walk upon the tumults of their own restless seas. Go and fish for people!
Why do we need a retreat? As merely one intentional way of ensuring we receive this almighty gift to ourselves again through presence, prayer and sacrament, that our own footmarks may be planted in Jesus’s and made more and more ready to shake off the dust of the good news amongst a people who need so much to hear the Saviour’s name proclaimed to them in this generation. Especially those for whom retreat, for whom Sabbath is impossible: those imperilled in small boats; those whose reality is the fisherman’s prayer, “Lord, the sea is so great and my boat is so small”; those whose personhood we demonise with merciless politics; those whom we other for a trifle.
These are well met today; they have good news brought to them. It is the news we have living in us, whose whisper speaks to our hearts: it is the rhyme and reason of our coming; it is why we have been given the gift of retreat – so we might know and reach out in our own turn with the gift of God our call – that many – that all – might walk upon water, grab his omnipotent arm and see and live!
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water. He said, ‘come.’” (Mt. 14 28-9). Though tossed about, as Charlotte Eliot reminds us, with innumerable fights and fears, we come yet to prove the breadth, length and depth of the one whose name is that free love.
O Lamb of God, we come, for we can do no other in the face of Jesus whose thrilling voice is sounding in the ears of every trembling heart saying, “follow me.” Stop doubting and believe.
I alone am left; here I am; send me.
Saviour, in every place of our pilgrimage make us go, so that we may come, hear your call, catch others, give our hearts to your obedience and serve and love you best of all.
God grant that I have spoken to you in his name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, AMEN