“Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” What a beautiful invitation. “Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” This invitation has a two-fold purpose. The first is a general invitation to all of us to take up the work of evangelization, the work of building up the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, and adding members to the Household of God. The second purpose is a call directed to the sons of the Church to become priests of Jesus Christ, ministers of the Most High.
Jesus’ invitation to follow Him and allow Him to make us fishers of men is foundational to the growth of the Church. But somewhere along the line, we have forgotten this, both a Christians and as Church.
For years, I have been frustrated and bothered by the gimmick versus Gospel approach to ministry and evangelization. Unfortunately, this has become quite commonplace in the Catholic Church today and has been standard fare in the various Protestant denominations for decades. It seems that our brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church and those in the Protestant ecclesial communities do not think Christ’s Gospel is quite good enough to reach folks, so they come up with all kinds of gimmicks and gadgets to get people in the door, to keep their attention, and to grow the Church.
How many priests and other clergy do you know that use clever tricks and treats to get people into the pews and keep them coming back week after week? Never mind that true believers should have the desire to attend Divine Services to worship and give thanks to the Almighty God in spirit and truth, regardless of how “entertaining” things may or may not be.
It is a sad fact that many of our brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church and other ecclesial communities want “big screen productions.” They want a stage instead of a pulpit. They want actors and sports figures and politicians speaking from the pulpit on the major hot-button social and moral issues of the day. They want dancers and performers swaying and jumping down the aisles on Easter morning. They have Santa Claus bringing up the gifts and children putting on a living Nativity play in place of the Gospel. In short, they want to be entertained instead of worshipping God in the most sublime and perfect form of worship and prayer there is.
I have heard of Catholic and Protestant parishes resorting to gimmick’s like “give-a-aways” as an enticement to get people to come to church. For example, one Catholic parish on Mother’s Day several years ago gave away $50 gift-certificates for a spa makeover to the mothers who came to Mass that day. This same parish did a similar “promotion” for Father’s Day. To the fathers in the parish who came to Mass, they gave away fishing rods, tackle boxes and some other fishing gear. It was reported that both these “promotions” were quite successful in raising attendance. In fact, it was reported that attendance at both these “events” exceeded previous years’ attendance records for both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day by 160%. Since they were the largest crowds the parish had ever seen on previous Mother’s Day and Father’s Day Masses, it must have been good, right? I do not believe so.
We do not need “gimmicks” to make the Gospel relevant or appealing. The Gospel itself is sufficient. Christ is sufficient. We do not need to decorate or enhance either of them just to get someone’s attention. All we need to do is preach and live the Word, in season and out.
I know “gimmicks’ draw crowds but that is not what we are called to do. As members of the Body of Christ, we are not called by our baptism to draw crowds. We are called to bear witness to Jesus Christ and His Gospel and to live faithfully in them both. In other words, we are called to be faithful disciples of Jesus, and to make more disciples, teaching them to observe all that He commanded.
I will take it for granted that everyone here this morning wants to be useful to Jesus. If you do not, then I would question whether you could be a true believer in Christ. If you truly want to be useful to Christ, you must first embrace all His Words and teachings, without exception. Then, and only then, will you be able to truly become a fisher of men.
As Orthodox Catholic Christians, it is an urgent task for us to carry out the command to bring people to Christ. I think most of us understand this but the question is, “How can we influence others to come to Christ?” The answer is very simple. Live the Gospel as your life’s rule and live fully in Christ, doing all that He commands you to do. Follow the path which He Himself carved out for you.
We cannot be fishers of men if we do not learn how to fish. The sinner will not convert the sinner. The ungodly man will not convert the ungodly man. What is more to the point, the worldly Christian will not convert the world. To convert the sinner, we must become righteous. To convert the ungodly, we must be godlike, we must become holy. To convert the world, we must renounce the world and seek the Kingdom of God, we must seek to live in Christ.
If you are of the world, no doubt the world will love you as its own, but you cannot save the world. If you walk in darkness, and belong to the kingdom of darkness, you cannot remove the darkness. If you march with the armies of the evil one, you cannot defeat them. I believe that one reason why the Church at this moment in time has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the Church.
Jesus comes to you today, and says, “Follow Me!” Was Jesus found at the theatre? Was he found at sporting events? Was he found at places of amusement or entertainment? Was he found “hanging out” with the elite of His day? No, He was not. He was found among the sick. He associated with sinners and outcasts. He was found among the marginalized and despised of men. Like a physician, He went among them healing them and comforting them. Like Him, we too must walk among the forgotten and poor. Not just the physically or materially poor, but the spiritually poor as well. Do not think for a moment that those who seem to be well-off have it all together. They may have everything they want materially, but I can assure you many of them are suffering from spiritual poverty.
There is a great gulf that exists between people of the world and the Savior. It is to those whom Christ calls from the world that He entrusts the work of saving those who are in the world from themselves and from the temptations and assaults of the evil one. The ones that Christ call to this great work we call “priests.” These priests are called to come and live with Christ. They are to be associated with Him every day. They listen to Him teach the eternal Gospel. They are His personal servants and His close friends. They bear witness to the miracles He performs and the justice He meets out. They are called to be one with Him in His work and to continue His ministry on earth.
Priests are called to be the living icons of Christ among the faithful. They are the spiritual fathers and elders of the people, teaching them how to live the life of the Savior and follow His example. They impart and interpret God’s laws and teachings. They feed the faithful with the Bread of Life and the Cup of Eternal Salvation. Like good shepherds they care for and guide the flocks which they tend, keeping them safe from the attacks of wolves and other predators.
As consecrated ministers of God, they share in the afflictions and trials, of the faithful entrusted to their care; they witness their secret agonies, and they see their many tears.
Priests of Jesus Christ are filled with His love, compassion and mercy. They are fountains of healing water which alleviate the spiritual, emotional and physical thirst of the faithful.
They are one with Christ and Christ is one with them. Priests are the mouth, hands, feet, legs and arms of the Lord Jesus.
Priests transform the world. They do so by offering sacrifice, by blessing and sanctifying persons, places and things; by praying constantly, and by fasting. Their entire life is dedicated to preaching and spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Finally, they encourage and lead the faithful in apostolic works and by the example of their lives, they show the way to salvation.
To the young men in our parish and throughout our Archdiocese, I urge to listen carefully for the call of the Lord to serve Him as His priest. Do not turn a deaf ear to Him. Keep an open mind and consider the great things you can do. As a priest, you can change the world; not all at once of course, but one person at a time.
And to all of you in this congregation today, I urge you also to involve yourself more in the work of evangelization. We are all commanded by the Lord to go out from this place to make disciples and build up the Body of Christ. Be creative, beloved, in this work. There is much that can be accomplished in this area.
A Christian should be an apprentice of Jesus and learn the trade of the Savior, the trade of saving souls. But before you can save someone else’s soul, you must first see to the condition of your own soul. Make sure your soul is clean and pure, free from sin and all defilement. Live in fellowship with Christ, and people will notice that you have a certain demeanor about you, one that makes you capable of teaching and winning souls for Christ.
If we are faithful to the Lord, if we are faithful to His message, He will make us “fishers of men.” Some will protest and say, “I am not going to preach this old, old Gospel. It is out of date and out of touch with reality. We need something new and fresh.” What happens then is that these people will preach their own version of the Gospel. They will preach everything but the Gospel. They will preach about love, but a love that has no connection with God. They will preach about the sovereignty of one’s conscience over the moral laws of God. They will preach friendly things and fashionable doctrine. They will preach that punishment of sin is antiquated and that the devil does not exist. They will want to preach to the intellect of this age instead of the eternal things of God.
But truth does not change, beloved. Truth remains the same. Truth is the foundation upon which the world and the universe was created. Truth is the Word of God and it is changeless and eternal.
When Jesus calls a person to be a disciple or an apostle, or a priest, such a person is not at that time what Jesus wanted them to become. He promises to make us into what He wants us to be. Christ does not choose the “cream of the crop” to be His disciples, His apostles, His priests. No, He chooses common laborers. He chooses the poor. He chooses the weak. He chooses the unlikely.
Look at the Apostles. They were not perfect. When Jesus called them, they were men who were simple workers who were poor. They were uneducated, had little spiritual perception, and were self-centered. They were often harsh and proud. They were weak and cowardly and selfish. Yet, Christ called them, formed them and made them leaders of the Church.
God is not bound by who we are. Jesus looked beyond what the Apostles were initially to what they would become. The important principle at work here is those whom Christ has called, He enables and empowers to perform the task to which they have been assigned. Jesus did not simply command His disciples to become fishers of men but He promised to make them fisherman after men’s souls.
When we become fishers of men, we cast the net of the Gospel into the sea of humanity. The lakes in which we fish are the villages, towns and cities of the world. The bait that we use is the example of our own lives and the fulness of the Truth, which only the Orthodox Catholic Church possesses.
In closing this morning, we must understand one of the most effective things good fisherman do. They know that the more often they cast their nets, cast their fishing poles, the greater the likelihood they will catch fish. We must be willing to go where the prospects are and cast our nets a few times.
We may not be like Peter who preached one day and added three thousand souls to the Church. We can, however, be like Andrew who, after he had been brought to the Savior, found his brother, Peter, and brought him to the Lord. Peter fished with a net, so to speak, and caught large numbers. Andrew, meanwhile, fished with a pole and line, catching one fish at a time.
We may not be called upon to preach to great multitudes or even to groups, yet we can witness effectively to individuals one by one – the pole and line method. Either way, we can change the world.