Sun, 10 October 2021
Homily on Luke 5:1-11.
Introduction: How Christ Builds the Church
This is a beautiful story from the ministry of Jesus Christ. It comes on the heels of his Baptism, his temptation by the devil in the wilderness, and the beginning of his preaching ministry in the synagogues of Galilee. In this Gospel, Christ has started building something very special; something that would never fall; something that would bring healing to broken humanity; something through which He would change the world. He began building the Church. And He did it with simple fishermen on the side of a lake.
Continuation: We are Building, too
Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, we are about to begin building. We want to build something that will never fail; something that will bring healing to broken people; something that will transform a troubled community. We are building a new parish. Today’s Gospel provides a wonderful lesson for us on this very thing.
In his homily on today’s Gospel, St. Nikolai Velimirovich writes;
“Except the Lord build the house, all who labor labor in vain.” (Psalm 126:1) If the builders build in God’s name, they will build a palace, even their hands are weak and their material poor. If, though, the builders build in their own name, in opposition to God, the work of their hands will be brought down as was the Tower of Babel.
There is no power that can bring God’s work to ruin. Pagan palaces and cities fall into ruin, but God’s huts remain standing. That which God’s finger upholds stands more firmly than that which [the mythical titan] Atlas supports on his back… May the almighty Lord preserve us from the thought that we can achieve any good without His help and His blessing…
Today’s Gospel should serve as a warning that such vain thoughts must never be formulated our souls. It speaks of how all men’s efforts are in vain if God does not help them. While Christ’s apostle’s were fishing as men, they caught nothing; but when Christ commanded them to cast their nets once more into the sea, they caught such a great haul of fish that their nets tore.
Why would anyone think they can build something worthwhile without Christ? I don’t know. It is futile. We know better. But we do it all the time.
Understanding the Curse of Sin: the example of marriage
Let’s look at the example of marriage. So hard to get it right, and so many ways to get it wrong. Why is it so hard? It isn’t because people aren’t trying. In fact, they are trying all kinds of things… but they aren’t working very well. At best, some couples might end up with a marriage that lasts, but marriage was not just meant to endure. It’s not supposed to be like a boxing match that makes it to the final round; with the two so tired they can hardly lift a glove and they just lean on one another gasping and looking forward to the bell (or, as is as likely to happen in marriages, the two just hang out in their separate corners doing their own thing until the final bell sounds). A good marriage does more than last, it brings joy to its members and its fruit brings happiness that endures from generation to generation.
But why is this so rare? It should come as no surprise. Most of our children come from broken families. It isn’t their fault, but this really puts them behind the eight ball. They come from broken families and a broken world, so they have bad examples and have internalized all the wrong instincts. Brokenness has been imprinted in their minds and hearts; this cannot help but shape their actions, no matter how good and noble are their intentions. Even if they try to rise above and do things right, what examples are they going to follow? Television? Movies? Their friends? Their hearts? None of these are reliable guides – all of them are fallen. If statistics are correct – and there is no reason to doubt them – our young men are learning more about how to relate to women from pornography than anything else. And the expectations and self-respect of our young women are being influenced by this same blighted culture.
Is there really any wonder that we are so bad at marriage? That even young couples who try to get it right often end up building a perverted parody of the kind of blessed union of flesh and spirit that we celebrate in the Mystery of Crowning? That we have far more “towers of Babel” than temples of true love?
Reiterating the Problem… and the solution
To repeat the Psalm; “Except the Lord build the house, all who labor labor in vain.” (126:1). We cannot overcome our own brokenness by trying harder or following the examples and guidance of people who are broken, too (St. Matthew 15:14; … if the blind lead the blind both will fall into a pit). An alcoholic cannot live a healthy life by trying harder; he has to admit his problem, heal and transform his heart and habits. And he has to let God be the foundation of this process. This is why twelve step programs are so successful: they transform the hearts and habits of the repentant, with God as the foundation of the process. How many people with addictions do you know that continue ruining their lives because they think they can work everything out on their own?
But the alcoholic and philanderer do not just hurt themselves. We know from history and our own observations that the children of alcoholics and broken homes are cursed by both nature and nurture. Again, it isn’t fair, but it is true. If we want the next generations to succeed we have to be honest about both the cause and the cure of what ails them and us. The cause is our brokenness and the cure is Christ Jesus. The cure is His Body, the Church. The cure is the Way of Holy Orthodoxy. All else is vanity. Towers of Babel. Sand castles in a low tide.
Back to the Today’s Gospel: becoming fishers of men
The curse of sin is the very thing that Christ came to remove. To put it in very practical terms, Christ came to save our marriages, to heal our addictions, to restore our sanity, and to replace our sorrow, pain, and frustration with joy and eternal blessedness. That is to say, He came to save us from the very real, very specific, and very damning problems in our lives. And not just ours gathered here today, but everyone’s. A world that was created good groans in agony, and our Lord loves it too much to allow that to continue.
And so He became a man, He taught us, He dies for us, He was Resurrected and Ascended into Glory, and, more to today’s point, He established the Church to be the Ark of our salvation. What a beautiful image a boat is for the Church. Think about it: we are drowning in a sea of sin and trying to tread water amidst a storm of temptation. We cannot survive this on our own, and it does not help to band together – eventually even the strongest swimmer must succumb to weakness; moreover, the weak are infamous for dragging the stronger down. It is a terrible situation to be drowning in this stormy sea. Our breaths are numbered, and we are sure to die in agony. It is only a matter of time. But into this bleak scene comes salvation: the apostles cast out their nets and pull us in to the safety of the boat. We can finally breath without struggling. It is calm in the boat. It is here that our real healing begins… and as part of that healing, as part of our cure and The Cure, we ourselves are given nets and told to put them to use.
Conclusion: we cannot catch men if we don’t try; we cannot catch men if we don’t learn how
We are in the boat. Here at Holy Resurrection, we have the fullness of the faith (we are like a fractal of the Universal Church) so it is fair to say that we are both in the boat and the boat itself.
But remember that bit earlier about how nature and nurture conspire against our marriages? You know me well enough by now to know that I wasn’t just talking about marriage. Marriage is an image of the Church: the union of flesh with one another and the union of that one flesh with God (Ephesians 5:32). Why should we think that we are naturally any better at living as the Church than we are with marriage? The same forces work against us: we suffer from both nature and nurture. Just as good intentions are not enough for the children of broken homes, they are not enough for us as we try to build this parish. Without serious help, we will just end up building the equivalent of a miserable and failed marriage, another Tower of Babel, a perverse monument to our own fallenness. We need help. And I don’t mean hiring consultants or trying to find the perfect priest – this is even more important than that.
Without Christ, we are like the Apostles in today’s lesson before our Lord came; “toiling all night and catching nothing” (St. Luke 5:5). It had been a hard night and they had given up on catching anything, but then Christ came and told them to go back out, and they caught more than they could carry. So many that their boats almost broke.
Brothers and sisters, the Orthodox community of Asheville has been through hard times. Like Simon in today’s lesson, we have good hearts and the best of intentions, but we are tired; and we had pretty much given up on catching fish.
But the Lord told us to get back out there and get it done. And so we get back to it. We try again.
We are smart in the ways of the world. We all have ideas about how this should be done. We will be tempted to rely on our own strength and our own hearts. But our hearts are broken and our strength will fail us. “Except the Lord build the house, all who labor labor in vain.” (126:1). But for those who put their trust in the Lord and in His way – there is no limit to the good that they can do.
This is where we are. We have given our lives and the future of this parish to the Lord Jesus Christ. Like Simon, we don’t always see the point of what the Lord commands, but also like Simon, we will follow Him. We know how that story ends, so we know how ours will, too.
The catch will be great; so great that our walls will scarcely be able to hold the number of men, women, and children we have pulled in to the safety of the Church. So great that we, like Simon calling for the second boat, will have to plant another parish to give us enough room. After all, there are a lot of people drowning in the waters around us. We cannot allow them to perish – it is God’s will that all be saved and come to the fullness of the Truth.
It is a tough calling.
But we do not labor in vain: because we are building according to the Lord’s command. We are transformed into fishers of men.