Sunday, September 27, 2015: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost & First Sunday of Luke
The Apostles Aristarchos, Zenon and Mark of the Seventy; New-martyr Aquilina of Thessalonica; Venerable Ignatius, abbot in Asia Minor; Venerable Savvatios of Solovky
St Ignatius Orthodox Church, Franklin TN
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1
Gospel: Luke 5:1-11
The Apostle Paul tells us to separate ourselves from the world and to make “holiness perfect in the fear of God.” We should hear in this not simply a call to virtue but to Christian discipleship. To be a Christian means I longer arrange my life according to the expectations of the world but instead according to the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.
A life of Christian discipleship, of Christian holiness, is built the twin foundations. First these is that of divine grace poured out in the sacraments—especially holy baptism. Second—and important—personal repentance. The latter is often misunderstood with feeling bad about one’s self. This is not only simplistic it is misleading. Yes, the Apostle Peter confesses his sinfulness to Jesus—”Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord”—but in saying this he is speaking in relative, not absolute, terms; his words are motivated by humility not catastrophic thinking. What do I mean by this?
Peter see his sinfulness in light of God’s love for him. In the events on the lake, Peter comes to realize how deeply he has misunderstood Jesus. This is not simply a carpenter’s son or even a gifted rabbi. No Peter realizes, if only an inchoate manner, that he is in the presence of God Himself. This is why Jesus comforts Peter, James and John—”Do not be afraid”—and then reveals to them their true dignity.
No longer will they be fishermen. Now they will be fishers of men, evangelists and apostles whose preaching will overturn the world and draw all men to Christ in the net of the Gospel. The holiness that Paul calls the Corinthians to cultivate begins on the shores of the lake of Gennesaret.
As I said, repentance is more than seeing our shortcomings. True repentance is the fruit of knowing you are loved by God and seeing yourself as He sees you. The sorrow that we rightly associate with repentance is the fruit not of a negative self-image—it’s not, as I said above, the bitter fruit of catastrophic thinking—but of a gratitude born from humility.
Seeing what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, we see His love for us and grasp something of our dignity and value in His eyes. Standing bathed in His love, I also realize how little I have done with all that He has given me. This is why gratitude flows from humility and humility is born from repentance; God’s love for me, for each of us, far outstrips anything we can do for Him.
It is this, God’s great love not only for humanity but for every human person that is at heart of the evangelical and apostolic witness of the Church. Too often we confuse evangelism with apologetics. While both are important, the latter is part of the internal life of the Church. Apologetics isn’t about convincing those outside the Church of their errors but meant to build up the faith of those inside the Church; it is encouragement for the faithful not correction for those don’t yet believe.
What draws people to Christ is not well crafted arguments but love. And not so much God’s love for them but ours. This isn’t meant to minimize, much less dismiss, the primacy of God’s love. But when the Father wishes to reveal His great love for us, He does so by sending His Son to live among us as one of us. It is in and through His deified humanity that Jesus draws all men to the Father.
Look again at this morning’s Gospel.
Yes, there is the miracle of the great haul of fish but we can’t isolate this from Jesus’ friendship with Peter, James and John. The miracle serves to surprise the men, to help them see something about their friend that they overlooked. But just as we can’t dismiss His divinity neither can we dismiss the humanity of Jesus. It in and through the human act of friendship, of love in work clothes and with calloused hands, that Jesus reveals His divinity, the Father’s love and Peter’s vocation.
Love—human and divine—are meant to function synergistically; the latter purifies and deifies the former while the former reveals the latter. The evangelical work of the Church embraces both the immature believer as well as the unbeliever. Both are called to a life of personal Christian discipleship. Both are called to that life of continual repentance that makes it possible to grow in the knowledge and experience of God’s love passing, as Paul says in another place, “from glory to glory.”
This morning my brothers and sisters, Christ calls us to separate ourselves from the world. We are not to turn our backs on the world but on its myriad disordered desires. This is what it means to drop our nets and follow Jesus Christ in our daily lives. It is no longer the fallen and broken world that is now the standard of our lives but God’s great love for us. And it is God’s great love for all human beings that is the Good News we proclaim.
To do this, I must lay aside my sinfulness. Building on the grace of the sacraments, I must conform myself more and more to the example of Christ’s sacred humanity. This is what it means not only to live a life repentance but also to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. And without this? Well what do I have to offer to a fallen and broken world but my own fallen and broken life?
But with the grace of repentance and the strength that comes from discipleship what we have to offer is nothing less than the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ and, in Christ, our own lives.
Glory to God for all things!