The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (4:18-23)
Two weeks ago we celebrated the great feast of Pentecost. The descent of the Holy Spirit into our lives. Last week we celebrated the Feast of All Saints. The Church showed us what the Holy Spirit can do in the lives of people just like you and me, when we are pliable and flexible and cooperate with the Holy Spirit. We see the culmination and the fulfillment of all the savings works of our Lord Jesus Christ. All of His powerful work was done on our behalf, so that we might become holy, become saintly.
This week, it feels as if we are taking a time machine backwards to the beginning of the gospels. We see our Lord Jesus Christ walking along the shore at the sea of Galilee, and then we hear His wonderful words to the disciples, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
When I begin my intro to Orthodoxy classes I always start by saying that there is a battle that is raging for your hearts and minds. It is swirling all around you. Advertisements, movies, news, social media, religions, philosophical systems, political ideologies, they are all trying to do more than inform or entertain, they are trying to capture your hearts and minds. They are trying to convince you to follow their system, to see the world through their lens. To do things “their way.”
To all of these I remind you that when you were baptized and brought into the Church, you or your sponsors in baptism, turned to the West and renounced Satan and all his works and you spit upon him. We turn to the west to reject Satan and we turn again to the east to proclaim the sacred Creed that has been handed down to us. Practically speaking, I think it is time to remind you that we have no creeds, no slogans, no way, no truth and no life that is not centered on Jesus Christ and His Church. Be careful what and who you support because you were bought at a price my dear friends, and no ideology or system bought you, you do not owe anything to anyone, but Christ your master! It was Christ himself who redeemed you!
As the Church takes us backwards to the calling of the first disciples, we are reminded that every day we are met by Christ who walks along the shores of our hearts and calls us “follow Me!” How are we responding to His call? How are we replying to His invitation? I can’t answer that question for you. I can only answer for myself. I can do better.
As Christians, our life is a constant reply to the Lord’s call to follow Him. What does our way of life say about us? How are we replying with the actions of our lives? How are we replying with our thoughts? How are we following Christ with our words? Do we love these words? Do we take them seriously?
When someone chooses to follow the call of Jesus Christ, he is asking Christ to invade his heart and his mind, and in return, Christ overwhelms our hearts with His love. This love overflows and spreads to others as we seek to share our love for Jesus Christ and our love towards our neighbor. Love is more than words. Love is sacrificial action, and we begin to comprehend this through our daily decision to follow the way of the crucified Lord, the suffering servant. The one who overcomes not through violence of force, but through silent suffering. That is our way, the way of witnessing to Christ, the way of martyrdom. It is not the easy way, but this is our way, a way that is blessed by God and given to us as our inheritance in the saints. When we open our arms to Christ and really follow His way, we attract others to our Master and Lord. When our love for Christ is abundant, others see this and they follow us like fish in a great school, one follows after the other.
St. Theophan the Recluse writes,
“The Lord chose the apostles, that they should be with Him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils.
Every Christian is chosen—chosen for similar deeds, namely: to be with the Lord, through unceasing remembrance of Him and awareness of His omnipresence, through the preaching and fulfillment of His commandments, and through a readiness to confess one’s faith in Him. In those circles where such a confession is made, it is a loud sermon for all to hear.
Every Christian has the power to heal infirmities—not of others, but his own, and not of the body, but of the soul—that is, sins and sinful habits—and to cast out devils, rejecting evil thoughts sown by them, and extinguishing the excitement of passions enflamed by them.
Do this and you will be an apostle, a fulfiller of what the Lord chose you for, an accomplisher of your calling as messenger. When at first you succeed in all this, then perhaps the Lord will appoint you as a special ambassador—to save others after you have saved yourself; and to help those who are tempted, after you yourself pass through all temptations, and through all experiences in good and evil.
But your job is to work upon yourself: for this you are chosen; the rest is in the hands of God. He who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
When we follow the Lord Jesus Christ in love, we are kept close to Him. We are fed and nourished as His sheep. No shepherd ever ignores his sheep, even the weakest or the sick ones. In fact, he dedicates more time and attention to these because they need this extra attention and love. We are also protected because He is our shepherd. The shepherd is our frame of reference. With a shepherd, we have a purpose, and we are part of a community. Without a shepherd, we are lost in our lives. We wander from place to place and replace one cause with another, one possession with another, but none of them fulfills us or gives us true purpose. Imagine what would have happened to the first disciples if they had ignored the Lord! They would have spent their lives toiling away for a catch that spoils and starts to stink quickly, but through immediate obedience, they found their purpose in Him and have caught souls for the kingdom of God, as well as saved their own!
May we also be like the disciples and work to catch souls and to grab hold of that which doesn’t spoil or pass away, the kingdom of God. AMEN.