Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, September 22, 2019
The Gospel is according to Luke 5:1-11
Notice the way that Christ begins to teach Simon, James, and John the fishermen about the narrow path of self-emptying. He meets their needs and tells them what to do to find the fish that had eluded them all night. It brings Simon (later Peter) to a moment of self-realization. “Depart from me for I am a sinful man!” Jesus says one time among many times, “Do not be afraid.” The miracle of the fish, the stark contrast between the Lord and himself that Simon recognized, and the compassionate words of the Incarnate Divine Logos brought all three men to a pivotal decision. Shall we follow him and become “fishers of men?” Of course, they decide that they will, immediately.
Detachment is what we see here. It is the beginning of the process of salvation. Letting go of the ties that bind us to this world, its expectations and demands, to its supposed rationality and false belief in the fragmentation of reality, to the continual noise of our busy lives, to the fear of death and the desire for power and security that cloud our perception of reality, and tied to our sinful thoughts and actions as a way to escape the inevitable, to the dead-end path of acquisition and attainment that Jesus so clearly rejected clears a space inside of where the new life of holiness can grow. Today’s Gospel reading shows us what the first step looks like which is the beginning of the movement from this world to the real one, from mind to heart, and from duality to single-mindedness. Anthony De Mello writes that we suffer because we believe lies. Christ is the Truth and it is he that sets free everyone who is set free.
The Divine Logos became incarnate and we, I believe, must come to recognize that we live for the most part in way that denies our own humanity. Salvation is a vocation and its fruit is the reintegration of the whole person, body, mind, and spirit in Christ. We live, as it were, disincarnate lives, existing almost entirely in our minds, fragmented from the deepest truths of who we are, even from our bodies. There is no better line in literature (to my mind) that describes this fragmentation better than this one from James Joyce’s DUBLINERS where he writes, “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”
We must overcome this fragmentation, which is painful and dehumanizing, to become truly human. “The glory of God,” writes St. Gregory Nazianzus is “a human being fully realized.” The reintegration of mind, soul, and body centered in Christ is the narrow path that leads to abundant life. We must detach from all that keeps us clinging to our temporal and earthly existence to know what this means. Bourgeault writes about this so succinctly, “Do not hoard, do not cling – not even to life itself. Let it be – ‘Not my will but yours be done, O Lord, into your hands I commend my spirit.’”
Christianity’s central theme is the Incarnation of the Divine Logos into human flesh and our salvation resides in the full embrace of the Lord’s and our own humanity. So, in whatever ways our choices to detach and follow Christ appear in our lives, we must answer yes or no often, for we are called throughout our lives time and again to awaken from our long sleep and begin at last to become what we were created to be. I love how David Bentley Hart puts it, “We are, as it were, doomed to happiness, so long as our natures follow their healthiest impulses unhindered…”
To come face to face with the Incarnate Lord is to first see that we are all of us sinful men and women lost in our own fragmentation caused by sin generated by the fear of death. To each of us he says what he said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. Follow me.” And his Church proclaims most brilliantly the clarion anthem, “He is Risen!” We see in Christ who and what we truly are and the contrast between what we believe about ourselves and how we were created to live is often stark and disturbing. Seeing this contrast and receiving his compassion has the power to propel us into the change of mind and heart that is necessary for the full benefits of the salvation he was freely given to grow in us and bear everlasting fruit.
~St. Mary Orthodox Church, Central Square, Cambridge, MA, https://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/sermons/2019/detach-and-follow.