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Weekly Message For 09-23-07: First Sunday Of Luke

As you listen to the words of today’s Gospel, you get the sense of what was going on; fishing was a popular trade on the Sea of Galilee. In fact, fishing was the most common occupation of people living in the small villages on the shores of that lake. Living on the shores of Lake Galilee with its abundant supply of fish, people understood fishing more than farming. Take a drive over to the other side of Monmouth County, and you’ll see this for yourself with the amount of people who stand at the waters edge with fishing poles, tackle boxes and nets in Keyport, Belford, Atlantic Highlands, and so many other little towns up and down the Jersey Shore.  That is the way it was and still is in most fishing villages: the whole town was into fishing.

The message of this Biblical text is that the disciples were called to become "fishers of men" or to "fish for people." Jesus used the metaphor of fishing because people in a fishing village with numerous fishermen would "get it." These people intuitively understood fishing because it was a way of life for them. Fishing was their livelihood. It was their way of making a living.

Jesus told his first disciples that they were to "fish for other people" and were to "catch people" for Jesus Christ. Jesus could not have chosen a better metaphor to help his first disciples understand what their job was: to fish for people and to catch people for Jesus Christ. Experienced fishermen and fisherwomen make a distinction between "fishing" and "catching." Some fishermen spend a whole lot of time "fishing" for fish but not much time "catching" them. Fishermen understood what he meant by that.

Jesus always used metaphors that his common and ordinary disciples could understand; remember, for the most part, they were uneducated people.  Jesus used plain, ordinary language so His Disciples would fully understand exactly what He meant when He spoke.

The meaning of this story two thousand years later is that we contemporary disciples are also to become fishers for men and women, boys and girls. We are to fish for people. But not merely fish but catch people for Jesus Christ.  This, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is another call for Evangelization; to spread the Good News, and to lead others to our blessed Orthodox Faith.

That was the first and basic mission of the first disciples and the early church and the church two thousand years later.

We find the same theme in the Gospel of John where the disciples asked their family and friends to "come and see" Jesus. The two phrases, "come and see Jesus" and "catch people for Jesus" mean the same thing.

As Orthodox Christians we are called to be evangelists, fishermen and fisher women. We are called to be disciples who say to others, “Come and see Jesus.”  We are all called to preach the Gospel.   In fact, one of the best slogans actually comes from St. Francis of Assisi, who said, “Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words.” In other words, it’s not just by our words, but by our actions that people see true evangelism.  To use another fishing analogy, “give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach him to fish and he’ll never go hungry.”

You cannot be an effective evangelist unless you have been caught by Jesus Christ. You cannot be an effective evangelist unless you have come and seen Jesus for yourself. We need to speak to others out of our personal experience of having been caught by Jesus Christ, of having come and seen the goodness and greatness of the love of God in Jesus, just like the words we sing and pray after Communion, “we have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the True Faith, and we worship the undivided Trinity who has saved us.”

After Jesus’ words to his disciples to “follow him,” Jesus then tells his disciples that they will “become” fishers of men. In their years together, Jesus will teach his disciples to become evangelists. Centuries later, disciples are still learning to become "fishermen" for Jesus Christ.

Sadly, my brothers and sisters, for all of the talk about bringing others to Christ, we fail miserably in actually doing it.  That is, we talk about fishing but never get around to fishing. We do a good job at selling nut rolls and pierogis, but that is food for the body, not the soul.  Mind you, the stuff we make in the kitchen can help lead people into our building, but we need to do a better job of inviting them to come back for church on Sunday, so that they can see Christ’s love at work within our little, and soon to be larger, church building.

Today, certain denominations are more evangelistic than others.  For instance, the Mormons are more evangelistic than other denominations. The Mormon church, regardless of not teaching the truth about Jesus Christ, is growing by leaps and bounds here in the United States. Other denominations are not.

Why? One reason is that Mormons youth spend two years in training to be missionaries and their intensive training in evangelism makes a difference. When I worked in Harrison, they rented the upstairs apartment in the funeral home across the street.  The young Mormon missionaries are sent out two by two, and we are all aware of seeing those young men in their dark suits, walking or riding their bicycles through a neighborhood. In other words, Mormon young people learn how to become "fishermen" for Christ.

As Christians, we are not automatically evangelists or fisherman/fisherwoman. It took Jesus one to three years to teach his disciples to become evangelists. We too need to be in the process of becoming fishermen for Christ and witnesses for the gospel.

Matthew, Mark and Luke have parallel stories and John’s version is very different than the synoptic gospels. Specifically, the first three gospels talk about the call of two sets of brothers who were in the fishing trade: Peter and Andrew, then James and John. The Gospel of John tells us a story about the first week in Jesus’ life, beginning with stories about Andrew and Peter and then Philip and Nathaniel.  In the quiet of your own homes, take some time and examine some of the details and differences between these four versions of similar stories. Each of the four gospels tells its version of the story in a slightly different manner.

Our Gospel reading today from St. Luke is the most interesting version of this story. We discover for the first time that Luke is a fantastic storyteller. Read on through the entire Gospel according to St. Luke and you will soon discover that Luke is the author of many of the best parables from Jesus’ life. Some scholars say that Jesus/Luke is the “father of the short story.”  Recall his stories of the Prodigal Son, the Rich Man and Lazarus and Mary and Martha to know that Luke was a gifted storyteller, and now that our church calendar his made the “Lukian jump” in our cycle of Gospel readings, we will hear the Gospel of St. Luke each Sunday and throughout each week until we reach the Nativity, almost 14 weeks of St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ ministry.

All four Gospels agree on what it means to be a Disciple of Christ:  God uses disciples to "catch people" for Jesus Christ. This is the first thing that Jesus said to his disciples, and this statement about fishing set the tone for the rest of his ministry, culminating with His Ascension to Heaven, when He told His Disciples, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19)

It is entirely appropriate to hear this Gospel lesson today, as we get back into the cycle of a new Liturgical year on the church calendar, a new school year, a new beginning  for our religious education classes, even a new season on the earth’s cycle, as Autumn began this morning.  This is another appropriate Sunday to invite a friend to church, for the message of today’s Gospel is that of Discipleship. 

As we continue our journey as Disciples of Christ, let us all do a better job of evangelizing, and bringing others to Christ. There are ample opportunities to come to church and hear Christ’s message to all of us as fishers of men.  As I mentioned, we will hear many of the great Gospel stories recorded by St. Luke between now and the Nativity; as we make our way up to the Nativity of Our Lord, we will celebrate other Molebens and  services that will allow all of us to get ourselves ready for Jesus’ glorious birth in the flesh; we continue our monthly devotional service and prayers of healing through the intercession of St. Nectarios; not only do I encourage all of you to set aside time in your lives to join us in church for some or for all of these services, I’m imploring you!!  Don’t turn your backs on Christ!  Come to church and benefit from the power of prayer and intercession by the Holy Spirit.  Bring a friend with you, and let them see that when it comes to prayer, we mean business.  But most of all, come because it’s a gift of time that, when invested in Christ, reaps rewards far greater than anything else.  That, my brothers and sisters, is my prayer for all of us this day.  Amen.


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