First, Let Go of the Net

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (4:18-23)

Our Lord Jesus Christ was walking upon the shore near the Sea of Galilee and as He walked He spotted two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew, who were busy fishing that day as they did nearly every day since they were fishermen by trade. Little did these men know that they would be undergoing an interview for a new line of work that day. They were about to experience the world’s shortest job interview. They weren’t asked any questions. “What does your five year plan look like?” “What is your strongest attribute?” No. There were no questions at all. But that does not mean it wasn’t an interview. That doesn’t mean that Our Lord Jesus Christ wasn’t testing these men. He was and He did. His test was simple and straightforward. He gave them a directive and a promise and they would either respond with obedience in faith or they would reject His invitation.

“Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Ten words. These ten words completely turned the lives of these men upside down and in so doing, turned the world as we knew it upside down. If I say “Peter and Andrew” everyone knows who I am referring to. If I say “James and John” once again everyone will be fully aware. These men were nobodies but through their obedience to the invitation of Christ, they became glorified in Christ. Each of us is like these men going about our daily lives busy with whatever we are doing. Yet, the moment that the Lord Jesus Christ enters into our lives, something has got to give. Something has got to change. Jesus Christ has entered into your life and invited you to enter into His life. With God, it is always an invitation and never something forced. God is love and this love cannot compel using force. God desires the human heart to desire and seek and pursue after her love. This is how we enter into a relationship with the living God.

The disciples in today’s reading made a decision that day but then they followed it up by renewing that decision every single day of their lives from that point forward. The first day isn’t enough. What matters is actually today and what decision we have made for or against Christ. In this reading Christ says “follow me.” It is a simple statement to hear but not quite so simple in the unpacking. What does it mean to “follow Christ?” This is easy to see from the perspective of these 4 men in today’s gospel. For them to follow, meant to literally drop everything else they were doing and pursue after the man Jesus of Nazareth. But what about the rest of us? How do we follow Christ now?

We follow Christ by first studying His words and teachings and way of life. Sadly, I think we often neglect to read the gospels. What an impoverished and poor Christian life we live if we don’t study the gospels! We have the most important and life giving words ever written in all of history, yet we neglect them to focus on psychology, astrology, fiction, self-help, youtube and social media. I mentioned to one of the older and wiser priest-monks that I met on Mt. Athos that our churches were growing rapidly and he was not too impressed but rather curious. He wondered if people were coming for the right reasons or to simply have Orthodoxy as a crutch. I think He was onto something.

He has given his life to following and serving and making a life-long pursuit of Jesus Christ within the Orthodox Church. Are we giving our life to Christ and to His Church? Do we follow the mere words of Christ or do we try to follow the spirit of the Church that Christ established upon earth? For us the life of Christ is an integral whole. It is Christ’s words and deeds. It is the Church which He established. It is the sacraments and worship of that Church. It is the dogmas and teachings of the Church. It is the saints glorified through Christ. It is a way of life handed down to us through the centuries in order to bring us to healing and grace and deification. Each aspect of Orthodox Christian life supports and upholds the rest. They work together in harmony. You become an Orthodox Christian when you are received into the Church either through baptism or Chrismation. But you become an Orthodox Christian in your heart when you embrace her teachings and find a way to bring the mindset and pattern and daily life of the Church into your life.

We can’t become Orthodox Christians without sacrifice. What should we sacrifice? Many things. Just as the fishermen sacrificed many things in order to pursue Christ’s calling. One might say that they sacrificed everything, their comfort, their self-will, their occupations and expertise. They even left the comfort of their homes and their families. Likewise, we are called to sacrifice. We start by sacrificing our earthly mindset and way of thinking and understanding the world. We are called by St. Paul to renew our minds in Christ. He writes to the Ephesians and says,

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self,which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”Eph 4:17-24

When we follow Christ we put off the old man and his ways and his thinking. The fishermen left their nets. The couldn’t hold the net with one hand and follow Christ with the other. They would be split in half. So they sacrificed everything for their desire to know God.

We are energized and brought back to life and renewed by putting on the new man. This begins in baptism and continues as we struggle in the spiritual battle, reading, praying, repenting, studying, worshipping, receiving sacraments, loving, serving and rinsing and repeating forever. That is our path to peace and joy and depth with Christ. But first we must let go of the net. Innumerable are the promises for those who follow in faith.

“The kingdom of heaven has no price tag on it: It is worth as much as you have. For Zacchaeus it was worth half of what he owned, because the other half that he had unjustly pocketed he promised to restore fourfold. [Luk 19:8.] For Peter and Andrew it was worth the nets and vessel they had left behind; for the widow it was worth two copper coins; [Mrk 12:42.] for another it was worth a cup of cold water. [Mat 10:42.] So, as we said, the kingdom of heaven is worth as much as you have.” -St. Gregory the Great

Bring whatever you have with joy, so that God may joyfully receive you. Amen

Source: Sermons