Leaving success to follow Christ

Homily 327 – 17th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
September 23, 2018
Epistle: (182-ctr) 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1 and (210-ctr) Galatians 4:22-31 (Forerunner)
Gospel: (17) Luke 5:1-11 and (2) Luke 1:5-25 (Forerunner)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Our community experienced a horrific week. A second young woman is killed, this time in our town. And for no reason.

It is a strange phrase – for no reason. Is there a reason that would justify this senseless act? The murder of anyone, the murder of a young woman? Certainly not.

What it can do is remind us that our own death is coming at a time we do not know. The Lord makes this very clear throughout the Gospels.

What it can do is remind us that horrible things do happen to good people. And good things happen to bad people.

So we live our lives preparing for the Kingdom of God. Then we can live without fear. That is, we can truly live. This life is a beginning – an incubation, if you will.

It is difficult to live with this attitude. So much of our focus is on this life, and so little on the Kingdom that is to come. Society, our friends, our families – many don’t appreciate, or even recognize, that this world is not our home. That this life, subject to decay and corruption, is not the singular reason for our existence.

We cannot – must not – let fear define us, nor let fear limit our love for our neighbor. Limit our help for those in need.

After a not as nearly significant disappointment over a fishing trip, the Lord offered some advice: Begin again. Don’t let past results define future performance. Don’t be afraid – but put out again.

In obedience, St. Peter and his partners put out again, and the boat was filled with fish, more than the boat could handle. He was, in short, a success, as we define it.

St. Peter recognized the miracle. And like many encounters with holiness, St. Peter prostrated himself before Jesus and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”

That reaction is common when we truly encounter holiness. Sometimes, people are reluctant to approach the chalice for communion because they recognize the holiness of the Body and Blood, and the unworthiness and uncleanness of themselves.

But notice the reaction of our Lord. He offers us a four word solution: Do not be afraid!

Do not be afraid! What a concept!

There are other times in the Gospels where Christ appears to his disciples and the first thing he offers?

Peace! Peace be with you.

Yet, throughout our prayers in our prayer books we are reminded of our own unworthiness, our own fallibility, and our own sinfulness. And sometimes, we give up.

When the chalice is brought out, the proclamation is “In the fear of God …”

We understand that this word “fear” means “awe” – as in “awestruck” or “awesome”. But some take it literally – be afraid of God, and don’t even think about drawing near. And as a result, some refuse to even come to receive the offering which Our Lord gives to us.

Now – this is not to indicate that God accepts us as we are. Because He doesn’t. He receives us – accepts us – in love, surrounding us with His Love.

He is still a God of transfiguration – a God who is concerned not with our fallen-ness, but with our acceptance of His Grace, and His Love.

It is noteworthy that our Lord didn’t tell St. Peter to “not be afraid” and then return him to fishing with his partners. Our Lord told him not to be afraid – so that He would then be transformed – transfigured – and become as He said a fisher of humans.

This wasn’t, as we might imagine, an instantaneous change. Sometimes our society, driven by the Protestant ethos and an instant gratification expectation, believes that change should be instantaneous.

But it isn’t.

St. Peter spent the three years of Christ’s public ministry at Christ’s side. Continually not understanding what was happening.

Yet, here, he took that critical first step on the journey. He, and his fishing partners, brought their boats to shore, left everything, and followed Christ.

That is radical.

We see a similar passage of time in the writing of St. Paul in his second epistle to the Corinthians: “So that we may bring our holiness to completion, in the fear of God.”

There is that “fear” again. But also – the passage of time. “Bring to completion” is the statement St. Paul makes. Which implies time passing.

Brothers and sisters, encountering holiness can be frightening Encountering life can be frightening. But we have nothing to fear. Because God loves us – and God is forming us, transforming us, transfiguring us.

Formation has very little to do with our decision making. We cannot reason with ourselves and be formed. In some respects, formation is simply resignation to the fact that we aren’t in control. And we aren’t.

And when we recognize that we aren’t in control – and that God is – we can finally begin our own transfiguration. Our asceticism then begins to transform us.

We can fear God without being afraid. We can encounter holiness and be thankful.

God become incarnate – living among us – and offering Himself on the cross, in order that we might be unafraid.

He did it out of His Love. So that we might put out again, and then leave it all to follow Him. So that we might be united with Him, in faith, and in love.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!