As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:18-19)
Two Sundays ago we celebrated the Feast of Pentecost. On that day, 2000 years ago in Jerusalem, God poured forth His Holy Spirit on a group of rather ordinary people, people like you and I. Those people were transformed by that experience and went into all the world to proclaim that Jesus was risen from the dead and that the Kingdom of God was open to all of us who will love God.
Since that time, the Holy Spirit has inspired other people like you and I to hear the Word of God and to share God’s revelation with all the world. Every year some people are inspired by God – some are baptized into Christ. Indeed, it is the Holy Spirit at work within our lives which enables us to hear the Gospel and to desire to follow the Christ’s commandments. Some people become filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, some work as peacemakers, they are patient and kind and try to bring healing to people who are at enmity with one another. People are inspired to be meek and gentle, to exhibit self-control, to speak wisdom and bring light to others who are in darkness or confusion. Some by the same Holy Spirit bring healing to the sick, or comfort to those in need. Some are inspired to be charitable, generous, loving, forgiving and good examples – all inspired by God’s Holy Spirit. When we live our lives according to the Gospel commandments, we become evangelists – we don’t have to tell others about Jesus Christ, we show them Christ alive in our hearts and homes – they see the light of Christ through how we live and what we do.
Whether we realize it or not, whether we feel it or not, it is God’s Spirit that works in us because we have been baptized into Christ and have received the Holy Spirit through Chrismation. For some of you the Holy Spirit still remains a seed within you which has yet to sprout and bring forth fruit. Your task is to cultivate the garden of your heart in which that seed has been planted so that you too can bear fruit for God. Everyone of us is given the Holy Spirit as a gift in Chrismation and so we all are capable of bringing forth spiritual fruit for the Lord.
The Holy Spirit works in you in myriad ways, sometimes subtly and you aren’t even aware of it. For example, you are gathered here today by the same Holy Spirit, who enables you to hear God’s word. When you pray you open yourself to the power of the Holy Spirit, and you are saying to God, please lord let that seed which you placed in me bring forth spiritual fruit to Your glory. When you seek out and listen to godly advice, it is the same Holy Spirit at work in you. Whenever you remember a Scripture verse or aptly apply it to some situation in your life, that too is the Holy Spirit prompting you toward God’s Kingdom. Whenever you do some act, however humble, however, small, which brings to others love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, beauty or truth, you are doing the work of the Holy Spirit. Whenever you decide to resist some temptation, that is the Holy Spirit at work in you.
Today we honor all the Holy Apostles as well as all of the saints of North America. Imitate these people – discover their lives and deeds so that you can allow the Holy Spirit to work in you the miracles of God.
So far, for the most part, the recognized Saints of North America have been “professional” Christians – clergy or monks. A gift Orthodoxy in America could give to the entire Orthodox Church would be to have saints recognized from the ranks of the laity – from you, from just normal people struggling to do God’s will in your homes, in your families, on your jobs. The true flowering and bearing of fruit in Orthodoxy in America will come when we realize the struggle to do God’s will is not the exclusive duty of professional clergy or monks, but is the call to each and every one of us whether we be fathers or mothers, sons or daughters, singles, working class… May the Holy Spirit give growth to that seed of God which is implanted in each of us and help us realize our high calling in Jesus Christ.
To give us something to think about, how we as just regular can struggle toward doing holy things, I want to mention a book I read many years ago, but the story gives a real idea as to how hard it is to follow Christ, and the unexpected twists life will bring to us if we follow the Gospel.
The novel is MR IVES CHRISTMAS. In the book, Mr Ives had a difficult life, raised in an orphanage, he had lifted himself up to the level of having a rather decent life. He overcame his past and became a successful American. Mr Ives’ 18 year old son was planning on becoming a priest. Then on on Christmas day his son is shot and killed by some Puerto Rican teenager. Of course the ethnic identity of the killer is significant for the reaction it is intended to convey to the reader. Thirty years go by, Mr Ives decides to look up the murderer of his son. The murderer has now been released from prison. Mr Ives has struggled over a lifetime with his Christian faith and with God about the death of his son and the man who murdered his son. No one in his family can understand his desire to meet the murderer face to face. They all refuse to go with him. They just want to move on in life and see no benefit in meeting the murderer. Mr Ives somewhat forces his best friend to go with him to the meeting with the released murderer. When Mr Ives sits down with the murderer, the murderer immediately begins to cry and repents before Mr Ives. He recognizes that he has destroyed many lives – not only his own and Mr Ives’ son, but also his family’s and the family of Mr Ives. In a very emotional scene Mr Ives forgives the murderer. As Mr Ives and his best friend are leaving the murderer’s home, the best friend says to Mr Ives, “It’s a good thing he was so repentant, because I was planning to shoot him on the spot.” With that his friend pulled out a revolver he had in his pocket to show Mr Ives he meant business.
When we try to live the Gospel in our lives, we find ourselves enmeshed with the values of the people all around us, with the society we live in. Every action we take has repercussions. We can think about the story, and think about who we are in that story. Am I like the Puerto Rican kid guilty of a sin that had destroyed lives of others? Guilty of a sin of which I need to ask forgiveness from others? Or perhaps, I am Mr Ives, who wrestles with how sin has impacted my life, struggling with how to live the Gospel, how to forgive people who have hurt me, how to find peace with my enemies. Or perhaps I am most like Mr Ives’ best friend, carrying a gun wanting to ensure justice even when others are willing to forgive. Following Christ challenges us to rethink life, that is the life of repentance, of changing our thinking in order to live according to the values of the Kingdom of God.
There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:9-10)