Saturday, September 21, 2013

How to Become "Fishers of Men" in the Context of our Daily Work: A Homily for the 13th Sunday After Pentecost in the Orthodox Church

St. Luke 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 16: 13-24
                  I am sure that every one of us has felt at some point in our lives just like the frustrated fishermen did when Jesus Christ found them washing their nets.  They had fished all night and caught nothing at all.  As happens so often in our own lives, things had not turned out as they had hoped despite their best efforts.  They were disappointed and frustrated to the point of giving up.   But then the Lord told them to get back to work and let down their net.   They did so and somehow caught so many fish that their net was breaking; then they hauled in so many fish that their weight almost sank two boats.
            That must have been quite a scene, and it was so astonishing that St. Peter recognized this tremendous abundance as a miracle.  He fell down before Christ and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” But the Lord responded said, “Do not be afraid.  From now on you will catch men.”  Then the disciples left behind their boats and nets and followed Jesus Christ.
            That day probably began like any other day in the family fishing business that they had always known.  The men were busy with their work and did not expect anything unusual to happen.  Over the years, there had surely been many times before when they had caught nothing.  So it was time to wash their nets and hope for the best the next time.  But in the midst of their disappointment and resignation, the Lord blessed them in a way that helped them see their lives, and calling in life, in a new way.  Their work would no longer be catching fish, but bringing people into the eternal life of the Kingdom of God.
            The details are different, but Jesus Christ says something very similar to us all.  No matter what we do every day, no matter how satisfied or disappointed we may be with our circumstances, the Lord invites us to participate in bringing the blessings of His Kingdom to the world and all its inhabitants. 
            Of course, the disciples were called to a special ministry in the founding of the Church; they had to leave their old occupations and serve the Lord full-time as evangelists, apostles, bishops, and ultimately as martyrs.   Some continue to hear similar callings to this day. But most of us will remain right where we are for the foreseeable future, in the familiar circumstances of our families, neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools with all their strengths and weaknesses.
            Familiarity often breeds contempt, and we may be tempted to think that because we do not have our “dream job” or live in a setting more to our liking that we are somehow failures.  When we think in those says, we forget that the measure of our lives is not in success according to the standards of the world or even to our own preferences.  The fishermen did not expect a miraculous haul or a new calling in the midst of their frustration.  We cannot place limits on what God is doing through us and with us even when we are disappointed, frustrated, and unfulfilled.    
            Likewise, we may think that really holy people are all in monasteries, seminaries, and mission fields, not in the mundane circumstances in which we find ourselves.  We may doubt that what we do each day could be truly pleasing to God and what we are really called to do.  We must remember, however, that every bit of our life and work is called to become holy.  Everything that we do provides an opportunity to be stewards of God’s creation and to offer our lives and the fruits of our labor to the Lord for blessing and fulfillment. 
            For Jesus Christ is present to us in every human being whom we encounter at work, school, or elsewhere since we all bear His image and likeness.  Every human being and the entire creation are called to shine with the light of our Lord’s glory.  In our daily lives, we are all to become priests who offer the world back to God for His blessing.  We are all to become iconographers who bring out the beauty of the creation so that it manifests the life of our Lord, so that it becomes an image of His Kingdom.   That is as true for every one of us as it is for the monks on Mt. Athos and our bishops and patriarchs. 
            In order for us to accept this high calling, we must learn from St. Paul about how to work every day as priests and iconographers of the creation.  We need to obey his teaching to “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.  Let all that you do be done with love.”  Some have claimed that Christianity is a religion for the weak, for wimps who want to feel better about being the doormats and losers of life.  But those who take up their crosses and follow Jesus Christ know that this is not a way for the weak and timid, but for those who boldly step out in faith to resist the temptation to do what is easy and popular and satisfies our self-centered desires.  
            In contrast, the true Christian life requires discipline, self-sacrifice, and the sort of dogged commitment characteristic of athletes, soldiers, and others who do the hard work of sacrificing for a good higher than themselves.  Opportunities to grow in this kind of life are available to us all in whatever set of circumstances we face today.  
            Some in our parish care for the sick and troubled; some take on the great burdens of defending our nation or protecting us from crime; some provide jobs by running a business or provide goods and services that people need in order to live a decent life; others teach; some take care of a home or a family; some go to school; and some are retired.   At times, we all get discouraged and frustrated; we have conflicts with others or feel neglected or mistreated by them.  At times we may wonder if there is any point at all to what we do every day.  When we feel this way, we must remember that the Son of God has entered into our world and blessed every bit of it.  He wants to sanctify every human being, every relationship, every responsibility, task, and assignment that we have—and every word that we speak.  Nothing is foreign to Him; nothing is outside of His love and salvation.
            When we live and work faithfully in our present circumstances, we have the opportunity to transform a portion—no matter how small-- of God’s good creation for His glory.  And we are reminded that salvation is not a matter of the spiritual experience of isolated individuals, for we all journey together toward a new heaven and a new earth.  Jesus Christ’s ministry of feeding the hungry, healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, and proclaiming good news to the poor shows that His salvation concerns the real-life challenges that people continue to face in the world as we know it.  He showed God’s love for the hated Gentiles and Samaritans, for people who had fallen into great sin and were shunned by respectable people.  In His Body, the Church, all peoples and nations are to be reconciled and united in the life of the Kingdom.
            Whether we see it or not, the circumstances we face each day provide an opportunity to play a role in bringing salvation to the world and all its inhabitants.  Everything that we do and say at work, school, or among family and friends should be sign of God’s blessing to those we encounter. We all have the opportunity to forgive; to work toward reconciliation with those from whom we have become estranged; and not to let greed, ambition, or power get in the way of relating to others with honesty, kindness, and decency.           Of course, our work must support us financially if we are to live in the world, but there is a difference between meeting our legitimate needs and selfishly worshipping comfort, convenience, and “the almighty dollar.”
            Our calling is to use the challenges and blessings of our daily grind to grow in holiness as we play our role in making this world an icon of God’s salvation.  That’s how we will become fishers of men in our daily work.  For salvation is not an escape from the world, but its fulfillment.  Spirituality is not about separating ourselves from others, but about serving one another in Christ-like humility.
            Human labor has fashioned wheat into bread and grapes into wine.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, they will soon become the Body and Blood of Christ, our salvation, our Communion with the Holy Trinity.  The same will be true of our daily life and work in the world when we offer ourselves and all our labors to Him.  Then like the first disciples, we will move from frustration to amazement at God’s blessing to become fishers of men.    



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