Homily for the Second Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 4: 18-23
St. Luke Orthodox Church, Abilene, TX
Sometimes we long for things to be crystal clear, cut and dried, totally black and white. We think that it’s easier to decide what to do when the options are laid out before us with no ambiguity or confusion at all. Unfortunately or not, life usually isn’t like that. There are shades of grey in our daily lives and we’re not always sure what we should do.
So we may think that Peter, Andrew, James, and John had it easy. Jesus Christ walked right up to them and said, “Follow me.” He told them to stop what they were doing, leave the life they had known behind, and become His traveling disciples. No longer would they catch fish for a living; instead, they would become fishers of men who would draw others into the new life that the Savior has brought to the world. They had to leave their nets behind in order to join the Lord in His ministry of preaching, healing, and casting out demons. They had a part to play in the coming of God’s Kingdom, which required a radical change of life. They would now use their time and energy in very different ways.
To this day, some hear that same clear and radical call. They leave home and what they have done so far in life in order to become priests, monks, nuns, missionaries, or take up other forms of full-time Christian service. We may envy them because of the apparently simplicity of their decision to leave the old behind and to undertake a new journey.
But things are rarely that easy. Hardly anyone takes such a step of faith without a lengthy process of discernment, a measure of fear and trembling, their own doubts, and the criticism of others who can’t understand why they left behind a conventional life for rewards that you can’t put in the bank. The truth is that few become rich and famous through radical discipleship. And who isn’t concerned about putting food on the table and the happiness and well being of their family?
Actually, there’s not that much difference between how Christ called His disciples and how He calls anyone today. The outward details may be different, but no matter what our age or our life circumstance, He invites us all to leave behind whatever nets we’ve become tangled in and to play our part in the ministry of His Kingdom. He wants to make us fishers of men who have aspirations higher than simply meeting our material needs through our daily work.
Of course, that’s hard enough to do today when so many people can’t find good jobs or sometimes any job at all. Christ did not denigrate any honest labor and neither should we, but neither should we accept the lie that the sum total of our lives is how much money we have or how much worldly prestige our profession or education may bring us. Remember that Christ did not start His ministry by calling the movers and shakers of first-century Palestine to be His disciples. He went after fishermen: hardworking, common people who had no illusions that they were important or sophisticated in the eyes of the world.
I’m sure that’s not what you learn in business school about how to assemble a leadership team for a new venture. The wealthy and powerful of that day have been forgotten, but the work of these apostles continues and we honor them for courageously laying the groundwork of the Church. No, it wasn’t easy for Peter, Andrew, James, and John to leave behind the life that they had known to follow a traveling rabbi. They surely had their own doubts and fears and faced opposition beyond what any of us can imagine. But they still responded to the call, despite the cost.
It’s entirely possible that some God will direct some of us to new forms of service that will require a radical reorientation of our lives. We may have here today future missionaries, priests, deacons, youth workers, or others who will hear a life-changing call.
For most of us, however, things will be different. Christ will call us to stay right where we are—in the heat and drought of West Texas—to be living witnesses of His salvation through our service in this mission, in our community, in our friendships and families, and in our current occupations. Most of us are called to use our gifts and talents in the service of Christ in our local setting, right where we are.
On the one hand, that’s comforting because we probably don’t want to quit our jobs and move away. But on the other hand, it’s never quite as exciting to stay at home, to remain where we have been for years, to face the challenge of being faithful in our present circumstances. It’s tempting to think that life would be better elsewhere, that it would be easier and more exciting to serve the Lord and our neighbors if we could start over in a new setting.
Yes, there is a time to move or to take on a new ministry in a new location. But the challenge to most of us is to open our eyes to the opportunities for service in the here and now. Yes, familiarity may breed contempt. We may be so used to thinking of life here in certain ways that we can’t imagine really doing anything differently. But that’s our mistake. Jesus Christ says to each of us, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He calls each of us a radical spiritual change, to the new life of the Kingdom. As members of Christ’s Body by the power of the Holy Spirit, we all have the gifts and talents to participate in the Lord’s ministry, to play our role in strengthening the Church and drawing others to the new life in Christ.
But in order to discern what we are called to do in the here and now, we have to listen. We need the spiritual clarity to hear, recognize, and obey the word of the Lord to us. Jesus Christ is not likely to appear visibly and tell us precisely what to do. We have to listen for Him in silence and stillness. This requires prayer, fasting, worship, and a faithful life. It’s a matter of taking our spiritual lives seriously, of genuinely working at opening our hearts, souls, and minds to God.
If something is important to us, we devote time and energy to it on a regular basis. If the life in Christ is important to us, we will do the same by daily prayer, faithful attendance at services, regular fasting, confession of our sins, generosity to the poor, forgiveness of those who have wronged us, and using our gifts and talents to strengthen St. Luke Mission. You can’t be a good athlete or musician or member of a profession if you don’t practice your skills, stay up to date on your training, and seek to improve. You have to work out, practice, and study; there’s simply no other way. And if we want to be in good spiritual shape to hear and discern God’s calling in our lives, we have to do the same.
We are members of one another in Christ. He is the Head of the Body of which we are members. A physical body won’t be healthy if any of its members is weak or sick. Likewise, our parish will be weak if each member does not maintain his or her spiritual strength. The Lord calls not only particular people, but entire churches to fulfill certain roles in the ministry of His Kingdom. We as a parish will able to discern and fulfill that role only if we all take the necessary steps to find healing and strength in Christ. The point here is not legalism, but the simple reality that we are members of one another. We serve the Lord together. And if we are to serve Him faithfully as a body, we must be faithful as particular people, offering our lives to Him through the spiritual practices of the Church.
As a parish community, we need to become fishers of men. We need to leave whatever nets hold us back from hearing and responding to what Christ is calling us to do right here in Abilene.
The same Holy Spirit who made those fishermen supremely wise and wonder-working ministers of Christ has come upon us. By His power, we may escape whatever holds us back and step forward into the brilliant light of the Kingdom in Jesus Christ, Who still brings life to the world. So let us leave our nets and follow Him through our personal spiritual disciplines and our life together as a parish family. Like those first apostles, let us truly become fishers of men.