Learning to Ride a Bike
It is a well-established rite of passage in the American society, to learn how to ride a bike.
For many of us, both men and women, we can remember the day we finally shot off, soaring down the road and ready to conquer the world. If you share such a memory, you also remember the trials that came before that grand day. I still picture, as vividly as if it were only yesterday, the hours and hours of lessons with my dad. I’d perch on top of the bike and cling to the steering wheel as though my life depended on it. My loving dad would hold one firm hand on my shoulders and run forward as fast as he could, as I pondered what death was like. Then, to my utter horror, dad abandoned me. I’d shoot forward as fast as a jet, screaming as loud as one, and finally collide into a pile of earth and dirt. After the haze cleared, I think I begged God and all men of good will to have mercy on my soul and let me burn the bike, but instead, my dad made me get right back on it and start over again.
These aren’t very pleasant memories, actually, and I’m still probably traumatized by them, somehow… But the day finally came when the bike didn’t crash, but kept going and going as the whole world flew past me.
The pain from the lessons no longer mattered. I’d crossed a barrier.
There many lessons that we learn from riding a bike, but chief among them, is the lesson of Trust. Throughout the lessons, I harbored a frustration with my father. I thought he was torturing me. But gradually, that frustration morphed into gratitude, when I discovered that all along he’d been preparing me for freedom.
Now, isn’t this a bit like our relationship with our heavenly Father…
We read today of a certain nobleman in Cana of Galilee, who, when he encountered Jesus Christ, learned how to trust.
Jesus was passing through Galilee when this man of great wealth and authority approached Him. “Please come to my home,” the nobleman prayed, “my son is sick and at the point of death, and if you visit, you will be able to heal him.” Christ hears his prayer, but He doesn’t respond directly. First, He tests the man. “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe,” He tells him. Then the nobleman begs again, “Sire, come down before my child dies.” And Christ speaks, “Go thy way; thy son liveth,” and the [nobleman] believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way,” to find that his son was healed, indeed, on that very hour.
What does it mean to trust and what trust look like in our relationship with God?
Imagine for a moment what was going on in the mind of this nobleman during his encounter? His son was dying, and he must have grieved as any father would. As a nobleman, you can be sure he did everything possible to cure his son. He was rich enough to employ the most educated physicians of his times. Every medicine available and science at hand was applied to this boy, but without any success. So where else could he turn? Then he heard the news that Jesus Christ was coming, and he remembered the miracle at Cana when our Lord turned water into wine. Maybe he attended the wedding and saw the miracle himself, or perhaps he had only heard about it and had pondered over it as the days passed by.
Sometimes, we modern men and women (supposedly enlightened) assume that people believed in miracles long ago because they didn’t know any better. C. S. Lewis refers to this as anachronistic snobbery, and it’s not only unfounded, but it’s actually embarrassing if you think about it. The fact is, people in the first century believed in laws of nature just as we do. They knew that when you’re dead you’re dead, and there’s no going back. For instance, one of the biggest proofs of the resurrection is the fact that in that world, at that time, the idea of a resurrection would have been absolutely absurd in the mind of Jews and pagans. The Jews never expected their messiah to die and resurrect. They would have laughed at the idea. The pagans, likewise, believed in all kinds of magical events, here on earth, but for them death was absolute, and not even the gods could change that. We have proof in the resurrection simply because no one was expecting it, and yet so many thousands came to believe in it. This can only be explained by one thing, the fact that so many thousands actually observed it.
So this nobleman in Cana was rational and educated. We can be sure that he struggled with faith just as much as any of us. Yet, when nothing else could save his dying son, he got up, and turned to God. He walked out of his home and set off to find Jesus.
But, at that point, something was lacking in his faith. He insisted that Jesus come to his house, as though the Son of God could only work miracles in person. But Christ stops there and questions him. He stretched the man a little, in order to help him realize on an even deeper level, how powerful God is.
Jesus tells the nobleman: “Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe.”
Was the man’s faith strong enough that he could trust in God without a big show?
Then the nobleman begs a second time, but Jesus replies, “Go thy way, thy son liveth.”
As a nobleman, this must have been a bit of a shock. He had grown up a wealthy man, and was used to people doing whatever he asked. It was a jab in his conscience. Would his pride swell up? Would his weak faith tremble? But it didn’t. Something was born in his heart that day. He went home believing and when he arrived home, he found that his son was in fact cured.
But it’s not quite over yet. He still tested the Lord just a little. On seeing his son cured, he asked his servants what hour it had happened on, because he wanted to be %100 sure that he could trust God. Finally, he was satisfied.
The greatest miracle in this story is not that the boy was healed. Rather, the more wonderful miracle is that a man had the strength to trust God at every step, through ever test and trial.
What does it mean to trust God?
It’s rarely the case that we either trust God completely or not at all. All of us have degrees of trust. What we learn here today is that sometimes all we need to bring to God is a seed of faith, and He will turn that seed into a tree.
Next week, we will start worshiping here according to the Mass of St. Gregory.
This is possibly the most ancient mass in the world, and has been unchanged since as far back as the 6th century. At that time, St. Gregory merely tweaked a few small parts in the Roman mass that had been taught and breathed by all Western Christians since the very first century. This is the mass of Western Christendom passed down by the apostles and saints through history, because the Church has always believed that we are as we worship. Our lives, who we are, how we think, and how we relate with God, are all shaped by what happens here at the altar. The Mass of St. Gregory is the same mass that shaped the lives of Sts. Augustine of Hippo, Catherine of Sicily, Patrick of Ireland, Francis of Assisi, and hundreds saints for thousands of years. It’s the same form of worship that countless martyrs gave up their lives to defend and preserve intact, which was celebrated on the American soil in Spanish and French missions, and which Fr. Frederick Faber once called, “The most beautiful thing on this side of heaven.”
We live in a society where mainstream Christianity is bowing down to every whim of secularism. Rather than conforming to the Spirit of Christ, churches are conforming to the spirit of the times. All of us have friends and family who are desperately looking for sanity in an insane world and for Christianity with roots. In more ways than one, the Orthodox Church and it’s unchanged worship and doctrines across the world is the one last harbor of apostolic Christianity. This is an exciting time for us, here at St. Benedict’s.
But meanwhile, change is always uncomfortable, no matter how good. When we make this transition next week, which Fr. James prayed for so many years ago as the parish moved into the Orthodox faith, the transition is going to feel a little different and maybe even a little confusing. There are only slight differences between the Mass of St. Tikhon, which we’re accustomed to here, and the Mass of St. Gregory. But really, the only difference is that the Mass of St. Tikhon had acquired a few protestant touches over the years, and the Mass of St. Gregory is simply pure, apostolicity Christianity.
Making the switch, essentially, is a bit like learning to ride a bike without safety wheels. So, if at first, the differences are uncomfortable, I want to encourage you to keep this image in your mind. The road can be bumpy at first, but you quickly learn how to fly.
What does this have to do with trust?
We’ve been given such a beautiful and profound mission here in Wichita Falls, Texas. At each new challenge or adventure, we must never take our eyes off of Jesus Christ, and we must always trust, as the nobleman once trusted, that God is with us and is guiding us at every step.
I’ll end here with this verse from the Book of Jeremiah. May it take root in your hearts and inspire strength:
“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).