Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, July 3, 2016
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (4:18-23)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
In order to grow more and more into the likeness of God, we must constantly be changing. Growth implies change. In this Gospel we see the birth of Christian discipleship beginning with an invitation to change that would alter the lives of four fishermen and ultimately the entire world. These four set off on an adventure with no hope of security leaving behind everything. Such a change! Now let me read a quote from Anthony DeMello.
“…As the great Confucius said, “The one who would be in constant happiness must frequently change.” Flow. But we keep looking back, don’t we? We cling to things in the past and cling to things in the present…Do you want to enjoy a symphony? Don’t hold on to a few bars of the music. Don’t hold on to a couple of notes. Let them pass, let them flow. The whole enjoyment of a symphony lies in your readiness to allow the notes to pass…”
It is interesting to me that the early Christian document called THE DIDACHE specifies that the best place to do a baptism is in “living water,” that is, running water like in a river. Always moving, always changing. You cannot put your foot into the same river twice, they say.
How brilliantly Jesus peppers his invitation with a metaphor about fishing. In this way Jesus validates them. He shows respect for their way of life. If they follow him, he will make them “fishers of men.” The metaphor carries with it mystery. What could it mean to be a fisher of men? The mystery makes it more appealing. In order to understand what he meant they would have to enter the mystery and in order to do that, they would have to change.
Like Abraham who accepted the invitation to leave his homeland to become the father of nations in a land of promise. As Tito Colliander tells us in the beginning of his amazing little book WAY OF THE ASCETICS, to enter into the Lord’s new way of life we too, like Abraham, must rise from our complacency, our comfort and all that is familiar and go where the Lord leads.
It is also a mystery when people respond to this call which is offered to everyone. We might love more information, more explanation. It is not given, perhaps because although the invitation is the same, each must enter it in her own way. I think it was Thomas Merton who said that if you recognize the path you are on, then you must be on someone else’s path. Each step is a step into newness. There are no cookie-cutter Christians. There are as many ways of saying yes to Jesus as there are human beings to answer. Holiness appears in a life like a new facet in a gemstone; each different and each beautiful, reflecting the light in its own way.
“You gotta walk that lonesome valley, you gotta walk it by yourself, nobody else can walk it for you, you gotta walk it by yourself,” says the old song folksong. It is true, of course, that we are never really alone.
As to why exactly they left the security of their homes and work and families again we are given no explanation. And we are even told that they did so immediately. Still no explanation. I think the Dutch theologian Edward Schillebeeck gives us a clue when he writes, “There is a moment when the interior light of the “eyes of faith” becomes one with the exterior light that shines from Christ…” It seems to me that something like this must be occurring here in this story. It is true that in the spiritual life there are moments of theophany when the light of Christ meets the light of God that is in all of us and those moments can be explosive. And then there is a sense that the invitation to follow Christ occurs every time we wake up and with every step we take. Our spiritual lives cannot consist of memory only because it flows like DeMello implies, ever moving, ever changing. The faith we had yesterday is not sufficient for the faith we need today.
For example, the glorious services of Pascha each year energize us, but are forgotten not long after the Liturgy of ended. But every moment we live in the light of the Resurrection as each moment gives way to a new and always different present. So we must keep our eyes open in a conscious effort to respond to the light of Christ that is always shining in each moment. To see in every moment and in everything his face.
Many of us saw the weeping icon that came to St. George a few years ago and were amazed at the power of the experience. But the moment faded the moment we left the church and we noticed that life kept flowing on.
The center of our spiritual lives is not the past, it is the present, not a well-known path, but a new one that will reveal itself step by step. We walk always into mystery on a path that cannot be spelled out by anyone or replicated by someone else. How each of us will become “fishers of men,” we must discover by doing.
~St. Mary Orthodox Church, Central Square, Cambridge, MA, https://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/sermons/2016/not-religion-but-life.