Sunday, August 17, 2008

Keep Focused on the Prize

One of the activities I enjoyed most in Boy Scouts was archery. I was really good at other shooting sports, but archery was my favorite. I always felt a bit primitive when I was aiming at that bullseye as if I was in the wilderness protecting my family against wild animals. I would sit totally still and concentrate trying to keep my eyes on the target. I may have been in the woods, but the woods were protected by the Boy Scouts of America and the only animals were us boys. Every time I let my eyes wander, I would miss the target. My eyes wandered a lot so needless to say; I didn’t always hit my mark. That’s the story of life isn’t it?

We grow up with sayings such as, “keep your eyes on the target,” so I was surprised to find that only 64 men and 64 women were competing in Archery in this year’s Olympics. Last week 128 athletes (just about as many people as we have in Church every Sunday) focused, much better than I ever did I’m sure, on the bullseye last week but only a few received medals. All the medal winners, and all 128 really, share one thing in common…they all missed their mark sometime in the past week. There was not one single perfect shot, but they all picked up their arrows and tried again. That is what makes a good athlete.

And that is what makes a good Christian too, not picking up our arrows, but trying again. This morning’s Gospel is about the constant process of missing the mark and trying again. Just like the 128 Olympians had to keep their eyes focused on that red, black and yellow target, Peter had to keep his eyes focused on Christ in this morning’s Gospel. And just as I missed the mark when I took my eyes of the target, Peter too began to sink in the water when he took his eyes off of Christ. It’s nice and convenient that the Olympics had archery last week while I was preparing my sermon because the Church has always used archery imagery to understand our journey to salvation in Christ. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Our journey to salvation is one of ups and downs; getting things right and getting things wrong; falling down and getting back up again. Just last week we heard that the Apostles saw Christ feed almost 15,000 people with five small loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14.13-21) and yet the same Peter upon who’s faith Christ builds His Church, experienced poor focus. The Gospel says, “But when Peter saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink” (Matthew 14.30) Peter’s faith was strong enough that he was able to walk on water as long as he remained focused on Christ. As soon as Peter took his eyes off Christ, literally, he noticed just how bad the storm was and panicked. He lost his focus. If he was in archery, we would say he missed the mark….he sinned and began to sink.

Sin is nothing more than missing the mark, my dear brothers and sisters. In fact most of you know the Greek word for sin, αμαρτία, actually means to miss the mark just like in archery. Every time we sin we sink just like Peter. Dwelling on the storm allowed the fear in Peter to turn to panic when he looked away from Christ. We are in a storm too aren’t we my dear brothers and sisters? Our storm may not be visible like the waves crashing against the side of a boat, but they are just as powerful.

The waves were so powerful the Gospel tells us the “boat was beaten relentlessly,” (Matthew 14.24) as if it were a small toy. The Apostles were so afraid they thought Christ was a ghost at first. They couldn’t even recognize Him. Whenever we feel the waves of life beating against us, and they do beat against us, we cannot allow ourselves to dwell upon them or else we will sink. But…my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there are times, many times when we lose our focus on Christ and begin to sink. So what are supposed to do when all seems lost and we begin to sink? There are three things we must do…

First, we must remember that even in those times when we feel the waves of life beating relentlessly against us that Jesus Christ is never too far away. We should take comfort in this morning’s Gospel for reminding us of that simple point. We are told by Saint Matthew, “Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them and said, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I! Don’t be afraid.’” (Matthew 14.25-27) Jesus is never too far away from us to comfort us and be with us in our struggle.

Second we must recognize Christ in our life just like the Apostles had to first realize that He was not a ghost when Peter said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” (Matthew 14.28) We must call out to God to give us the ability to defeat the storm that is around us so we can approach God. For us here in Florence that means we must find the time and courage to come to Church where we can be with God in His House. There are a number of times throughout the week when we can come to Church, not just on Sundays. Look at the monthly newsletter or check out the website for the service schedule. If there isn’t a time that works for your schedule, call the office and make an appointment when you can come and sit in the Church or call me and we can sit together. Each morning, Tuesday through Friday, I pray a small Orthros service in the Church at 8:30 before I begin my day in the office. Feel free to come during that time and sit and listen to the hymns and prayers of our Church. And whenever you do come to Church, you don’t always have to worry about formal prayer books or structured services. Just look up and keep focused on Jesus in all Icons.

So first we have to remember that God is always nearby. Second we have to recognize Him, and third when we do fall or start to sink we must be willing to reach out to Him as Peter did and cry, “Lord save me!” and Jesus will reach out and grab us and pull us to safety so we can try again.

On the archery field each person gets only three arrows, only three chances, to hit the bullseye. When we miss the mark, there are no more chances. In life’s field, we have three things to keep doing until we hit the target…
1. Remember God is never very far away
2. Recognize God when we see Him and then go be with Him
3. When we do fall, and we all do, we have to pick ourselves up and try again

And the best part is…..we never run out of chances.

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