SERMON ON LUKE 5:1-3
Sunday, September 22, 2019
In May of last year Matushka and I, (thanks to your generosity), were in the Holy Land. One of the first places that we visited was the city of Tiberias, located on the West side of the Sea of Galilee, otherwise known as Lake Gennesaret. I had been to Tiberias before, even stayed in Tiberias at a nice hotel with the late and ever-memorable Archbishop Job, Archpriest Dimitry Oselinsky, and a wonderful OCA tour group. But I don’t remember there being any holy sites to visit in Tiberias. It was a hub from which to travel to holy sites throughout Galilee and Samaria, but nothing in Tiberias itself. But the Holy Land is always full of surprises, full of delights, and Tiberias proved to be one of them. Unsure of where we were going, our Greco-Palestinian guide, Yianni, took us to the gate of what appeared to be a walled residence. Yianni reached up to ring a brass bell suspended near the front gate, and soon, the heavy gate opened and a young Greek Orthodox monk led us inside onto a lovely flower-filled garden courtyard. From the serene, rose-scented courtyard, steps lead us down to the monastery church, its air of mystery enhanced by gilded icons, brass lamps and elaborately carved wood. Inside the church there are three altars, three chapels. One is dedicated to the 12 apostles, another to Ss. Peter and Paul, and the last to St. Mary Magdalene. Sadly, I don’t remember the name of the young monk, but his joy and his enthusiasm were unforgettable, especially when he told us that on this site, 2,000 years ago, Jesus once spoke to a large crowd by the shores of the lake, sitting in Peter’s boat. This, he said, is also the spot where Jesus told Peter and the others to thrust the boat out into the Lake to go fishing again. And this, he said, is the spot where they hauled in so many fish that the boats were beginning to sink. This was the spot of the miraculous draught of fish. We were surprised and we were delighted. And that’s just how God is, isn’t He? The Apostles were certainly surprised and delighted with the miraculous draft of fish, and we were surprised and delighted to be standing on the very spot where it happened. Pilgrimages are like that, especially pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
Surprising and delightful. That’s how our relationship with God should always be. If our Christian life is dull, boring, and unexciting, then we are doing something wrong. Like what? Perhaps we haven’t been washing our nets! What do I mean? Let’s look. Before the whole miracle story begins, the Gospel says that the fishermen were washing their nets. It is kind of like a prerequisite to the miracle. Why were the disciples washing their nets? The answer is simple, if you think about it. The nets had to be washed because besides fish, they also gathered all kinds of other nasty debris. The method of fishing used at that time consisted of throwing nets into the water, allowing them to sink and pulling a drawstring to close the net and then pulling it back into the boat. This method of fishing will bring in any fish that are there, but it will also collect a good amount of debris as well-- dead fish, sticks, shellfish, garbage thrown overboard, seaweed, etc. would all end up in the net. Much of this flotsam and jetsam would have to be painstakingly picked out of the net and washed out of the net. It was a long and tedious job, but taking care of the nets was a primary concern for all fishermen.
We know, at least I think we do, that fishing is used repeatedly in the Bible as an analogy for preaching the Gospel. The fish are human beings, souls to be brought to God and placed in the boat of the Church. The fishermen represent the apostles. So what are the nets? The nets are the words and actions that the apostles must use to bring people to Christ. For us, who are not apostles, the nets still mean something: They represent our relationship with Christ, our life in Christ. Is Christ able to break through all of the flotsam and jetsam that clogs and clutters our lives? What do I mean? Well, let’s think of ourselves as a water pipe. If the pipe is clear the water flows. If the pipe is clogged, there is no flow, and the pipe is useless. In this analogy, it depends on us how clogged the pipeline gets.
Joshua ben Sirach says: “Whether a man be rich or poor, if he have a good heart toward the Lord, he shall at all times rejoice with a cheerful countenance” (Sirach 26:4). That’s what we want, isn’t it: surprise, delight, joy? How do we acquire this “good heart toward the Lord” so that we can begin to unclog the pipe, and clean up our nets, so that we can always “rejoice with a cheerful face?” Let’s find out.
St. Paul tells us in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (or your “nous.”) So for Paul, the opposite of a clean net, a clean pipe, a clean heart, is being conformed to this present, fallen, twisted age. In order to scrub and clean our nets so that Christ can break through and bring us joy, means to live differently, to think differently, to act differently in this world. That’s why St. Paul wrote: “Come out from among them and be separate” says the Lord. “Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18). So, the nets are examples of the good, authentic, righteous lives that Jesus taught and asks his followers to lead. So what then is the debris? It's all the things that interfere with living that life... our greed, jealousy, lust, ambition, self-love, whatever prevents us from living the best, most joyous, most surprised, and most delighted lives that we can possibly live. Perhaps we are not called to be fishers of men like the apostles were, but we are still called to be beacons of light in the world. What did the Lord say? “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). So let’s take care to clean our nets. It means to clean up our words and clean up our lives. Let’s work hard and painstakingly to ensure that Christ, the Living Water, can come flowing into our lives everyday, replacing dead religiousness with living faith, a living relationship, filled with surprise and delight. Amen.