We gather this morning as a smaller group, for today our beloved Father in Christ, Metropolitan Nicholas is celebrating his 50th Anniversary of Ordination to the Holy Priesthood at his home parish of St. John’s in Perth Amboy. In fact, it is 50 years to the exact day, and as I recall hearing from Vladyka himself, there had been a big snowfall that weekend. Father Lucas was a classmate of Metropolitan Nicholas, and was invited to celebrate with him on this special occasion, and several of our faithful parishioners have gone to church there, and will be at the banquet this afternoon in Woodbridge. I’m going to the banquet later myself, but it was my good fortune to be able to celebrate here at home with my own parish family.
Yesterday I celebrated an anniversary of my own; it was five years ago when Metropolitan Nicholas ordained me, right here, to the Diaconate. Honestly, it seems like only yesterday, but indeed time does fly. The old saying is true: time and the tide wait for no man.
So as we celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of Metropolitan Nicholas’ public ministry as a priest servant of God, so too do we celebrate the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry after His baptism in the Jordan by St. John the Baptist. As we pick up our reading today, Jesus had departed left St. John at the Jordan River, and went on a 40 day retreat in the desert, where He was tempted by the devil. We pick up our reading where Jesus had just heard of the arrest of John the Baptist, and so he goes to the land of Zebulon and Naphtali, where he speaks the words of the prophet Isaiah: “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.” (Matt 4:16) This is Jesus beginning His public ministry by revealing Himself as the Light of the World, and carries with Him the theme of His ministry, which would only be three years on earth, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
John’s arrest signaled the end of his ministry. Jesus’ ministry began where John’s finished. Jesus’ continuation of John’s message validated John’s ministry as the forerunner and Jesus’ own ministry as the one John had prophesied. Isaiah had prophesied that a “great light” would come to the land around the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus began calling disciples soon after settling in Capernaum. Notice that Jesus didn’t go to the synagogue to call disciples; He went to the seaside. Jesus chose to put His own faith in simple people, rather than the learned and the clever. Jesus chose men with open minds and open hearts; men whom He could teach, without them having any self promoting agendas. Andrew and John were disciples of John, who introduced them to Jesus. This introduction changed their lives. What happened when Jesus’ light began shining in the lives of these men? They became more than they thought they could be. These men thought they were nothing but fishermen. Jesus shined a light on their potential in God’s eyes.
They sacrificed more than they thought they could. Leaving their nets meant more than leaving their livelihood; they left their families as well. They saw God work as they never knew He could. Every time Jesus performed a miracle, Peter, Andrew, James and John saw something about God’s mercy and love than they had ever imagined. Any teaching about God’s punishment through illness disappeared as they saw Jesus heal someone out of love.
The Gospels are full of events where Jesus continued to astound Peter, Andrew, James and John. These men became the core group of the disciples. None of them were perfect, but they all were instrumental in Jesus’ ministry and in the beginnings of the Church.
Jesus continues to call people. The proof of this is that seminaries are still open around the world. There are still men and women who continue to give their lives to Him by serving Him through our Blessed Orthodox Church. Jesus continues to shine His light into the lives of those He calls, as He has for our beloved Bishop, as well as our own spiritual father, Father Lucas, who will celebrate his own 50th Anniversary this June.
Jesus is also calling you, my brothers and sisters. Will you answer His call? Will you serve Him with gladness? Or will you ignore Him and turn away? The answer lies within your own hearts. That you are here this morning tells me that you ARE serving Him within your means. How about those who aren’t here today? Not those who are in Perth Amboy; I mean those who should be here but aren’t; those who used to come regularly and have fallen away; those who have turned their backs on Jesus. These are the souls who wound Jesus each day, for their actions are hurtful. It is our duty, as Disciples of Christ, to be bridges that lead these souls back to Christ. You can help be a light of Christ by being a shining example to them. That light that shines out from you helps them to find their way in their darkness.
That is my prayer this day for all of us, my brothers and sisters. Let us use our own gifts and talents to help bring others to Christ. May God bless you all as we continue our journey as His Disciples. Amen.