…The people pressed upon him to hear the word of God…
(St. Luke v. 1)
Are you spending your life pressing upon [Jesus] to hear the Word of God? (Idem) And if you are, what good has it done you? Do your neighbors recognize the Word of God alive in your souls? Or does your Christianity involve rather more of an institutional identification that has made others think no further than this address or location? Jane is a quaint gal. I believe that she goes to that Anglican Church near the Mexican restaurant. Perhaps you come to this church and hear the Word of God on Sundays. Does your religion travel with you out of these doors? St. James tells us, Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only. (St. James i. 22) Are you doers of the Word or hearers only? Hearing is one thing; doing is quite another. Today we are invited to press upon Jesus to hear God’s Word so that hearing it we might then obey. Obedience will be the key to doing God’s Word.
Prior to this morning’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus had been thrown out of His home town of Nazareth, barely escaping with His life. No prophet finds acceptance in his own country. (St. Luke iv. 24). So, He travelled into Capernaum where His Word was both authoritative and effective. In Capernaum, Christ had cast a demon out of a possessed man, driven out a fever that gripped Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, and had cast unclean spirits out of many others. Finally, He had retired to a desert place to recuperate in prayer.
Next we read that Jesus moved down into the fishing village of Genesaret, thronged by a mob of people who would hear the Word of God. That the crowd was now determined to hear God’s Word is a sign that they are alert and awake to the spiritual power that must have been beneath and behind the signs and wonders that He performed. To see Christ alive and at work in the mundane compels seekers to hear God’s Word and to follow Him into another dimension. Because the crowd was so large and its press upon Him so great, Jesus entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. (St. Luke v. 3) If we would press upon [Jesus] to hear God’s Word, we must allow the Word to thrust out a little from the land. (Ibid, 3) The land signifies the established world of human reason, commerce, and busy-ness. The business of the land is characterized by that clamor, confusion, hustle, and bustle that always accompany man’s obsessive pursuit of earthly ends. Christ must thrust out a little from the land in order to be freed from those earthly distractions that compete loudly and selfishly with the Word of God that the people would hear.
But notice too that our Gospel image provides us with an image of two kinds of people that are involved. First there are the people who must be content to remain on the shore to hear God’s Word, and then those whose hearing will yield to obedience. Of course, Christ intends that both groups should be caught up in His net as spiritual fish eventually, as Archbishop Trench reminds us, but the Apostles must be converted from hearing to doing first so that later they could become fishers of the other men for Christ. So, Saint Peter in particular, and then Saints James and John who were with him in the boat, represent the fish that are first caught up into Christ’s net. The people on the shore represent the fish that will be caught on land once the Apostles return from having been culled from the deeper waters of Christ’s spiritual sea. Each group signifies the different stages of hearing and doing that characterize man’s nearness and distance from God in Jesus Christ.
Next, we read that both the fish out of water on the land and the fish out of water in the ships hear the Word of God preached by Christ. One group is invited to hear and then to launch out further onto the sea through obedience. Simon, like his fellow fishers, has had a long, unsuccessful night of fishing. Matthew Henry tells us that One would have thought this should have excused them from Christ’s sermon; but it was more refreshing and reviving to them than the softest slumbers. (Comm. Luke V) The people on the shore would hear Christ’s preaching, but they did not have the same need for its immediate refreshment. The fishermen on shore washed their nets and went to bed. The Apostles would turn from their failure and fatigue not only to hear the good Word that Christ would speak but also to discover its power through obedience. Obedience perfects hearing. When Christ had left speaking, He said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto Him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing…(Ibid, 4,5) The Apostles worked hard to catch their fish, but Christ always has a better work for them to do when earthly occupations fail. With all the same industrious zeal that made them try their hand at good fishing, they would turn to Christ for succor. Christ would take their perseverance and passion and inflame it anew with His plans for them. For though Peter’s natural gifts might falter and fail, he entrusts himself to Christ with hope for another kind of gain. Nevertheless, at thy Word, I will let down the net. (Ibid)
And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. (Ibid, 6,7) The miracle does not arrest them all in the same way. Peter, James, and John call on their partners to pull in the haul of fishes that caused the boats to sink. James and John remain still and speechless. Peter alone will give voice to their wonder and awe. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: and so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. (Ibid, 8-10) St. Peter is overwhelmed by the power of God that he experiences in the Person of Jesus Christ. Nature’s creatures which had only recently refused to cooperate with the fishermen’s efforts were now jumping to obedience at the Lord’s command. No natural need, no natural alarm accounts for this unanimous tendency amongst the fish; drawn by an unseen force, they forget their favorite pools…and all head one way. The Lord of Nature has bid them come. (R. Knox, Parochial Sermons, Ignatius, p. 501) Both Christ’s rule and nature’s obedience compel Peter’s self-abnegating collapse. Archbishop Trench describes what Peter must have felt: The deepest thing in a man’s heart…is a sense of God’s holiness as something bringing death and destruction to the unholy creature. (Miracles, 102)
The crowd on the shore heard the Word of God from Jesus. The fish heard the Word and offered themselves to Jesus as instruments in the conversion of the Apostles. Peter obeys and the natural world acknowledges Christ’s power. Father Mouroux reminds us that man must realize that [he] is dust and ashes before his God, that however much he abounds he is always a poverty-stricken thing hanging on the Divine Mercy, and however much he may be purified he is still a sinner face to face with Holiness. (The Meaning of Man, p. 217) The fish only and ever hang upon the Divine Mercy for their existence. The strength of Jesus and the humble submission of nature’s creatures coalesce. Peter falls down and joins his friends –the dying fish. The fish die in order to become useful to the living God. Peter must die spiritually in order to do the same. Peter is a fish caught up into the net of Christ.
Yet it is Christ's will that this death which Peter, James, and John begin to endure should be turned into new life. Again, with Archbishop Trench, they find themselves in a state of Grace, in which all the contradiction is felt, God is still a consuming fire, yet not any more for the sinner, but for the sin…[for they are in] the presence of God…[whose] glory is veiled, whose nearness…every sinful man may endure, and in that nearness may little by little be prepared for the…open vision of the face of God. (Idem) Jesus says, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. (Ibid, 10) Peter, James, John, and the other Apostles are called to become fishers of men. But not before they have begun to move beyond their outward and visible, fleshly and bodily natures into the spiritual, inward, and immaterial ground of their being. What they must see is that once God’s Word’s is heard it must be obeyed, and that once it is obeyed it will yield the power that coverts and saves all manner of men.
So what does it mean to be caught up as spiritual fish into Christ’s net and to become fishers of men? We read at the conclusion of our Gospel that when the [Apostles] had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him. (Ibid, 11) Our Gospel seems to make clear that the Apostles became not only hearers of God’s Word but doers also, and doers because they became obedient to Christ. So forsaking all means that doing that industriously and zealously acclimates man to the will of God. Forsaking all means that obedience that surrenders to Jesus. Hearing God’s Word from time to time will not do. Our doing must be Christ’s working of deliverance from sin into our lives.
In closing, let us remember that the power of God in Jesus Christ can flourish and bloom [only if] it is welcomed; it can act [only if] it is activated, [for] all the infinitude of its power comes from the adoring passivity in which it lies open to God. (Mouroux, p. 217) The Apostles had every natural reason to return to their earthly fishing because of today’s miracle. But instead their hearing of God’s Word in Jesus Christ drew them out of the deep waters of sin to become doers of the Word through obedience. Obedience is, of course, a virtue of supreme importance if Christ would draw us into the net of salvation. And that salvation had better be evident in our lives both in Church and beyond. Christ wants to recognize in us what other people have too –that we are fish out of water. Amen.
God is the Judge; He putteth down one, and He setteth up another.
(Ps. lxxv. 8)
Trinity-tide is all about spiritual fertility and progress. In this season, we are called into a state of sanctification and redemption that ensures our safe and eventual passing through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal. (Collect) Today we shall learn that one of the chief obstacles that frustrates our spiritual advancement is judgment or judging. Jesus tells us this morning, Judge not and ye shall not be judged (St. Luke vi. 37). God is the Judge, as our Psalmist reminds us, and God’s Judgment is offered to us as a measure which has all the potential of transforming our lives and imparting the efficacy of severe mercy to others. Once God’s Judgment begins to inform and govern our lives, we shall begin to feel that the sufferings of this present time, the fruits of God’s severe mercy, are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. (Romans viii. 18)
Yet if you are a healthy Christian, trying to live by the principles of Holy Scripture, you might be frustrated. But, you are thinking, we are living in a society that is not interested one whit in God’s judgment or God’s will for human life. But, you protest, would it be too much to ask for a bit of God’s judgment and even wrath to singe and startle a few of our neighbors into some consciousness or realization of His Almighty desire and power? After all, our nation has been reduced to an adolescent free-for-all, where men are calling ‘good evil’, and ‘evil good’. To make matters worse, they are teaching this to our children. God’s judgment and will don’t seem to figure even remotely into the way people are thinking and acting. It seems as if people are getting away with murder and more! And, of course, you are right about all of this. An honest assessment of our present situation must lead us to conclude that the Western world seems bent on the eradication of any sense of God’s judgment of good and evil and right and wrong. Judge not, you ask? How can we hope to do this, if we are bidden as Christians ‘to abhor that which is evil, and cleave to that which is good?' (Rom. xii. 9)
If these are your protestations, your preacher is here to tell you that you are not entirely wrong, though also not entirely right. Our Saviour reminds us that we forsake God’s Judgment of human life at our own eternal peril. He says, Be ye therefore perfect even as your Heavenly Father in Heaven is perfect. (St. Matthew v. 48) He nowhere tells us that we should not judge or discern between good and evil, right and wrong, or virtue and vice. This we must do if we hope to be saved. For every man shall be judged. But in order to best surrender to and live under the ruling and guiding light of God’s Judgment of our own lives, He insists that we had better stop judging others.
No doubt you have heard that old adage, Love the sinner and hate the sin. This is our Saviour’s teaching, who knows [only too well] what is in [the heart] of man. (St. John ii. 25) But to avoid disastrous consequences that result when we confuse the two, Christ teaches us to look at sin in our own lives. John Calvin tells us, difficult or not, if we don’t distinguish between the two, we might very well be weaving our own ruination. He observes that all men [tend] to flatter themselves, and every man passes a severe censure [or judgment] on others. There is hardly any person that is not tickled with the desire of inquiring into other people’s faults. (Harm. of Gospels, xvi.) We tend to have an overweening interest in other people’s sins. It makes us feel better about ourselves and thus free to forego the amendment of our own lives since they don’t seem to be all that bad in relation to others.
Yet separating out the sin from the sinner is what Christ intends for us to do, if we will be counted very members incorporate in His Mystical Body. He expects this from us since He Himself has separated out our sins from us sinners, in order to conquer the one and reform the other. Prior to this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus had been teaching His disciples the Beatitudes. He concludes with a warning, telling them that if they do not come to need His merciful love which alone can overcome their enmity with God and make them His friends, they will not be saved. But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you… For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.... But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. (St. Luke vi. 27-36)
Rather than rendering evil for evil, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, Jesus reminds His disciples that if the healing mercy of God does not overcome their sinning in this life, the justice of God will in the next. Knowing full well that His own demise is imminent and that they will betray Him, He teaches the Apostles about a forgiveness that will be theirs in His Resurrection. Later they will remember that if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans v. 10) As the Apostles and disciples would come to experience, a sinner today might become a saint tomorrow through the forgiveness of sins that Jesus Christ imparts through His Death and new Life. We are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Romans iii. 23-26) Our Heavenly Father’s mercy is so great that His justice has decreed that His Son should die unjustly, that we might see how the love of God mercifully conquers all evil as pure good will make the enemies of God into His friends.
Is there injustice in the world? Absolutely. But where is it found most profoundly? In the unjust death of the Holy One of God who suffered at the hands of unjust, judgmental men. Judgmental men judge, pass sentence, and often kill. Rather than hating the sin, they hate the one they have judged to be the sinning sinner. We do the same. We judge and we condemn, conflating sin with the sinner. How swift we are to hate the sinner for his sin. How quick we are to say, I cannot forgive that man his trespass against me. But, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are. We expect God’s forgiveness and yet we cannot bear to share it.
Today Jesus reminds us that if we judge and do not forgive, we shall be judged and not forgiven. God is perfectly fair. We shall be rewarded with the very quality and quantity of justice that we have meted out to others. But if we begin to embrace and perfect the forgiveness of sins in our hearts as what we do not deserve and can never earn, we might begin to be so overwhelmed by the gift that we cannot help but share with others. If we begin to search not for the mote that is in [our] brother’s eye, but the beam that is in [our] own eye, (St. Luke vi. 41) we might be doing ourselves a great service. After all, the sins of others that most distract and dismay us are outward and visible signs of our own inward and spiritual insecurity, immaturity, and imperfection. We ought rather to be turning our minds to own weaknesses and temptations; they should provide us with sufficient food for thought. God’s desire and ability to work them out of our lives ought then to strike us as an inestimable benefit and help. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 St. John i. 9)
In the Lord’s Prayer, we petition our Heavenly Father to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Romano Guardini tells us that this is what it means: When you begin to pray…and suddenly remember that you have a grudge against someone, forgive him first! If you do you’re your unforgiveness will step between you and our Heavenly Father and prevent you from reaching Him. (R.G.: The Lord, p. 302) This does not mean that we somehow earn God’s forgiveness through our forgiving. God’s pardon is pure Grace, which is not founded on our worthiness, but creates it. (Idem) If we would make room for God’s forgiveness, with all urgency we must be emptied of any unforgiveness. If God’s desire to forgive, heal, redeem, and save us is to take effect, we must discover our desperate need for it! Furthermore, we should forgive because we should love. Forgiveness is so free because it springs from the joint accomplishment of human and divine pardon….The one who pardons resembles the Father ‘who makes His light to shine on the good and the evil, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.’ (St. Matthew v. 45, Idem) When we forgive, we are freed from the chains of resentment, bitterness, anger, and revenge. When we forgive, we begin to see all other human beings in the light of God’s loving desire for their salvation. This is God’s justice, that His forgiveness offers salvation to all men. That some will not accept it is none of our business. We must forgive all men if love will possess and move our hearts to Heaven. Who knows, then some of them might notice. Amen.
For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. (Acts xi 24)
This morning we celebrate the Feast of St. Barnabas the Apostle, traditionally observed on the 11th of June. The name Barnabas comes to us from the Hebrew bar-naba, and it translates roughly into the son of encouragement or the son of prophesy. St. Barnabas had come to Jerusalem from his native Cyprus of a Levite family. His birth name was Joseph. The Apostles welcomed him into the nascent Church and gave him the name of Barnabas. Through his generosity he sold his land and offered all the proceeds to the Gospel endeavor. Both his charity and encouragement in St. Paul’s conversion figured, no doubt, into his naming. We know too that he was a cousin of St. Mark the Evangelist.
Early on, following his own conversion, we learn that Barnabas defended Saul of Tarsus, soon to be Paul, against the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem, who distrusted the efficacy of his self-proclaimed conversion. In the audience of the other Apostles, he made it clear that the same Saul who had consented unto Stephen’s death, had now come to embrace and defend Christ fearlessly in the public square. Barnabas thus promoted Saul’s ministry until it was judged more prudent that he should spend the early days of his new conversion away from Jerusalem in his own native land.
We next hear about Barnabas in 11th Chapter of Acts, when he was sent to the newly founded Church in Antioch. There new believers had been evangelized by Jewish Christians who left Jerusalem after Stephen’s stoning. Because of his mercy, forgiveness, and patience towards Saul, Barnabas was judged a suitable teacher for a mixed community of Jewish and Gentile faithful. His breadth of spirit must have been more than evident to the Apostles, given that he came from a Jewish family that had survived and prospered in and alien and unfriendly pagan Cyprus. The temptation to cleave jealously to his Jewish identity even after surrendering to Christ would have been strong. Nevertheless, he appears to have left most of that behind. Because Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith, many Gentiles in Antioch were added to the Church.
During his time in Antioch, he even came to acknowledge his own limitations and the need for Saul in his teaching ministry. So he set out for Tarsus to reclaim his old friend, to enlist his mind and mouth in the service of the Gospel. Barnabas was an able enough evangelist, but Saul would prove essential to the explication of the Gospel’s harder truths. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. (Acts xi. 26)
After one year, at the instigation of Agabus, who prophesied a great famine throughout the world in the reign of Claudius Caesar, Paul and Barnabas gathered generous alms for relief of the poor Church at Jerusalem. From there they were ordained as missionaries and took along John Mark on what is known as the First Missionary Journey of the ancient Church. St. Luke, describing their evangelical journey in his Acts of the Apostles even registers a difference in emphasis with his ordering of their names. What had begun with Barnabus and Saul would be thenceforth Paul and Barnabas. Paul preeminent importance to the process of conversion, by reason of his theology and its practical moral application, was duly noted. His Gospel teaching and exhortation earned him converts in every heathen city of the ancient Mediterranean. At Lystra the people were so struck by his oratory and then its power to heal a man crippled birth that they came to believe that he was an incarnation of the messenger god Mercury. At the same time, unsettled as they were by Paul, they were equally moved in another way by his companion in arms Barnabas. Barnabas’ composure, silent nobility, and spiritual gravity struck them as the incarnation of Jupiter himself.
The two personalities could not have been more unlike. Perhaps they were destined to have a falling out. The New Testament, to its credit, will continue that age-old Jewish tradition of never sparing us the details of both progress and problems. It provides not only four Gospels with detailed description of how Christ’s enemies, persecutors, and slanderers do their best to undo Him. We have also the honest to God truth about his cowardly, unfaithful, inconstant, and tepid friends! Then we have an honest account of how the same friends fell in and out with each other. The source of their disagreements often related to the Jewish Law’s requirement of circumcision and its incessant urging by sect of the Pharisees. Peter finally resisted the tradition and its racial overtones concluding that the Law was really more of a burden than a boon. Because it could not save, he and his fellow Apostles ruled that it should not be imposed upon the Gentile converts to the faith. Paul and Barnabas stood firm with the others on the ruling, convinced of the Gentiles’ conversion declaring all things that God had done with them. (Acts xv 4)
Soon after Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch with Silas and Jude. Together they preached the Gospel to the Church and emboldened the brethren. But next we read that:
Some days later Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; and Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. (Acts xv 36-end)
St. Luke leaves us with little doubt about who was to blame. Barnabas felt through privilege of blood-tie that his cousin John Mark should accompany them. Blood is thicker than water. Natural man assumes instinctively that his next of kin has rights that others don’t. But Paul isn’t much interested in the blood-tie. To his mind, the blood-tie is what Christ had come down from heaven to help us all to get over. Christ taught and Paul reinforced the fact that any sense of self-inflated importance based on birth-right was as good as useless in the face of God’s calling and judgment. In Christ what Jew and Greek alike came to learn was that God’s eternal weighing and measuring of man’s destiny would hang in the balance of righteousness or sin. Paul knew only too well that the only blood-tie that mattered was the tie to the blood of Christ shed once for all for the sins of the whole world. And that tie could be established only through the soul’s willful surrender to God. What was of utter importance for Paul was not any earthly blood-tie but a spiritual tie that Christ intended to establish with all men through His Holy Spirit.
Paul was not happy with Barnabas’ intention to include John Mark in their planned journey. Mark had left them at one point. Paul must have concluded that he was inconstant, unreliable, fickle, or maybe even faint-hearted and cowardly. Paul would have been impatient with any spiritual immaturity in the characters of those chosen to accompany him on his evangelical journeys. So he separated himself from the two brethren because of Barnabas’ over-indulgence of Mark’s weakness and unresolved sin.
In Barnabas we find a very dangerous tendency towards accommodating and enabling the bad behavior of kith and kin. Of course the disposition is not limited to blood relations. Oftentimes dear friends whom we have made through choice become closer to us than relatives. In either case, with St. Barnabas, we are tempted to tolerate bad behavior in them. We expand and enlarge the borders of charity to the point of surrendering and submitting to what we might not otherwise endure in those less close to us. St. Paul knew that this was a dangerous precedent to set on the side of the Church’s leadership. To have established an exception on the top for the hierarchs while demanding submission to a rule on the bottom from the laity would have flown in the face of Gospel truth. And Paul believed that if the truth was thus sacrificed, true charity would be thrown out altogether. For, as Cardinal Newman shows, the kindness, or seemingly-harmless tolerance that is its equivalent, which St. Paul found in St. Barnabas, wasn’t charity at all! Does not our kindness more often than not degenerate into weakness and thus become not Christian Charity but the lack of it? Are we sufficiently careful to do what is right and just, rather than what is pleasant? (J.H. Newman, ‘Toleration for Religious Error.’) True charity can never be acquiescent in evil. For though, as the same Apostle says, charity suffers long, is kind, envies not, vaunts not itself, and is not puffed up, it also seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. (1 Cor. xiii. 4-6) The point is that true charity wills the good of another in the light of God’s truth and does as little as possible to enable sinners in their sinning. Love the sinner and hate the sin. But we cannot truly love another if we don’t do our utmost to help sinners to see their sin and to come out of it.
And so today we are called to to embrace the charity that reveals firmness, manliness, and godly severity. (Idem, Newman) Otherwise our kindness becomes lanquid and unmeaning because it is not directed and braced by principle and thus indulges those who should be chastised. (Idem, 405) In the end, Barnabas must have been able to practice his own version of this virtue on John Mark. After all, we do find John Mark, at one point, back supporting St. Paul under the duress of his house arrest. Perhaps Barnabas’ exhortation encouraged and facilitated St. Mark’s reconciliation with Paul.
St. Barnabas is the patron saint of Antioch and Cyprus and also the Patron Saint of Hailstorms. He is depicted often in painting with St. Matthew’s Gospel in one hand, which he was said to have transcribed, and with a burning ball of fire in the other. The fire is the symbol of his martyr’s death by burning in his own native land. It might also be a blazing reminder of the love that filled the heart of his friend St. Paul, true charity that was unafraid to demand better behavior from the faithful because they ought to have been on their way to the best. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons