In the name of the Father.Of the Son of the Holy Spirit glory to Jesus Christ.
This is a particularly bad day to be in an Orthodox Church if you are one of the people who subscribe to the Gospel of Prosperity, because both Saint Paul and Saint Luke are teaching us that such is not the way that it is. Listen to the words that were just read from the Epistle of Saint Paul to the people in Corinth.
"We are enduring great afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, and hunger. They are treated as impostors, as unknown, as dying, as punished and sorrowful. They have nothing and yet possess everything."
Inside of those words, we come to understand what it means to follow Christ. We come to the recognition that those who are God's favorites are not among the people who are the most successful in the eyes of the world.
It just doesn't happen.
Which brings us to today's Gospel reading. It's interesting, I think, that we don't know what Christ was preaching to the crowds. Saint Luke records that Jesus got into Peter's boat and asked him to put out from the shore a little bit. The Holy Father's talk about this and they say that that this is Christ being who He is - being God, showing no favoritism.
If Jesus stands on the shore, people will surround Him. There would be people in front of Him, people behind Him, and and it could appear to be showing favoritism for some who are nearest to Him. So He uses the surrounds to assure that all are before Him. Nobody can be can be to His rear, so none can be offended by position.
So we find Jesus speaking directly to everyone who's in front of Him. I wish we knew what it was that He had said because clearly there was something in that message that's moved the heart of Peter. Why do you say that Father? Well, we know Peter to be somewhat of.... Let's just use the words that come to mind. Peter could be a bit of a hot head, right? And so when Jesus finishes His preaching to the people, He turns and says to Peter, "Set sail and go out for a catch." We can imagine Peter just being completely and totally flabbergasted by this. But to his credit, Peter withholds what is probably his own human nature, perhaps because of what he just heard Jesus say to the crowd, and he says, "Well, we've we've done this all night long. But since it is You, Lord, Who issues the invitation go out, well then let's go out and set for that catch." But Peter adds his own invitation. "If You'll come with us and You'll tell us when to let down the nets, then we'll go."
And so they go. And we know the rest of the story. There are so many fish that Peter, Andrew, James and John are amazed. They've never seen a catch like this before. Peter knows the Sea of Galilee, Lake Gennesaret. He's been a fisherman for years. He's been taught by other good fishermen. They and he know exactly what to expect out on those waters. But what they see on this day is completely and totally beyond expectation, so much so that Peter falls at the feet of Jesus and says, "Leave me, Lord. I'm too sinful to be around a Person like You."
Inside of that confession is already the confession that Peter will offer when Christ asks, "Who do you say that that I am?" Peter's later response, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" is buried in today's words that Peter offers at seeing today's catch, where paraphrasing he says, "I'm sinful - You're not!" Peter already knows that the purity and the holiness of God is unable to occupy the same place, the same space as one who is so filled us with sin as I am, as Peter sees himself to be. This recognition in its fullness is inside of Peter.
Now you would think that with what Peter, Andrew, James and John have just encountered, that they would be beyond rejoicing. They're rich now, at least for a little while. Such a great catch brings the success that we were talking about in the opening line of today's sermon. Isn't this the Gospel of Prosperity?
But what is the response of these Apostles?
Jesus calls them out of this world when He says, "From now on you will catch people," in the translation that we just read from. Most of us know it better as, "I will make you fishers of men." That's Christ's next invitation, to come and follow Me, to be with Me from now on - permanently. We can imagine that with the success that Christ has just given them as a gift, they might say, "Well, first let me go and negotiate sale of the catch. Then we can have the money then to put into the mission, to help Your ministry."
Is Christ worried about that? Does He show any concern over the wealth that He has just created for these four men? Not at all!
We can hear them also plead, "Well, let us first go and negotiate the sale of our boats, so that other people might, You know, provide again additional income so that we can take that with us and have something to to hold in reserve."
That doesn't happen either. What does the gospel record?
The translation that we just read said they left everything. The Greek word used is ἀφίημι, which translates to abandon. They abandoned everything. The boats, the fish. None of it meant anything. In fact, James and John abandoned not just the fish and their boats, but they also left their father. The four left everything they'd amassed in this world, just walked away from it, to go and follow Christ.
This is what it means to accept faith as strongly as we hold to Holy Orthodoxy. When the call comes for action, all the things that are attached to the world need to mean nothing. That's not to say that we don't live and do what is important for the day. Peter and and Andrew were quite fine doing what they were doing up until this very moment in time - up until the moment when Christ issued the invitation, not the commandment, "I will make you fishers of men. Come. Follow Me."
But at that moment, there's there's no flipping the coin to decide. In fact, note as well that it's not possible for said coin to land on an edge in our faith. It's either yes or no. Heads or tails. Positive or negative! There is no maybe.
The Lord's invitation is (in today's jargon) binary. "You can stay with your boats. You can stay with your father. You can stay with the fish. Or you can follow Me. I leave the choice to you."
We know what they did. And we know that in what follows, two additional things are certain.
One of the certainties is that these four will follow in the path of their Master. They'll do it imperfectly, but they'll strive for meeting His expectations of them. And in so doing, they'll be subjected to all of the things that He had to endure - the hardships, the beatings, the rejection. We know this because many of them died by death on the cross. Some died by being pierced through with spears. Some died by beheading. Only Saint John managed to not succumb to a martyr's death.
The second certainty is that all of these things that would be endured here in this world would become their path to eternal life with Christ. In the final view of their lives, they're next to Christ in the kingdom of heaven. They're with Him. They were with Him when they left the boats, they were with Him during His ministry. He never left them even when he was in the tomb. He never left them after the Ascension. He was always there. He is always there. He's here today for those of us who believe as they believed, for we are taught from what they've left to us, to hold fast in our own lives to the traditions they've handed down to us. And so to a very real extent, these same words should be echoing in our own ears - "Follow Me!"
You see, we too are witnesses to the miracles of our Lord. And we are beneficiaries of those acts by our Lord. And so in a very real way, the Lord's invitation is to us as well. "Follow Me."
Lord, give us the strength and the wisdom to do Your will at all times, for You are holy always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!