• Fr. Peter Kavanaugh

The Greatest Adventure

The sun has risen and the fishermen are pulling up to the shore with empty boats.

The Gospel of Luke brings us today to the Sea of Galilee. If you put yourself in the story you can hear the waves crashing against the shore and the docked boats. The fishermen are cleaning their soiled nets with torn hands and grim faces, for they’ve spent all night at work without anything to show for it.

In the bible, the sea is often associated with our labor in this world. It’s the unsafe place that we have to cross. It is a symbol of mission; a symbol of adventure.

You remember when the apostles got off the land and forsook the comforts of their homes to join Christ on a boat – the Lord had a mission and the apostles chose to join Him – and that mission took place on the sea. And you remember in the book of Genesis, at the dawn of the universe, the Holy Spirit soared over the ocean waves. The mission of humankind, the adventure of the cosmos, somehow all begin with the sea.

Alfred Tennyson once expressed this in a poem called the “Sailor Boy.”

He rose at dawn and fired with hope,

Shot o’er the seething harbor-bar,

And reach’d the ship and caught the rope,

And whistled to the morning star…

The sailor boy cries out:

… ‘death is sure to those that stay and those that roam,

But I will nevermore endure

To sit with empty hands at home.

My mother clings about my neck,

My sisters crying, “Stay for shame,”

My father raves of death and wreck,

They are all to blame, they are all to blame.

‘God help me! save I take my part

Of danger on the roaring sea,

A devil rises in my heart,

Far worse than any death to me.’

The greatest tragedy that ever occurs in Christianity is when we lose a sense of adventure. Adventure is at the heart of our faith, and in some way, all of us have to be like this sailor boy who is ready to give up everything, including life, to go out to sea. First and foremost, we are on a mission, and this is the focus of our gospel today.

The fishermen have been out at sea all night, casting their net again and again in the tossing waves, without ever catching a fish. When morning came they gathered on the shore to clean their nets, and trust me, that’s gruesome work, especially when it’s for nothing. I can’t help remembering the time when I was in Alaska, fishing for Salmon in the Bering Sea. After long nights of casting nets without catching a single fish, there was nothing so tedious as coming back to the shore and then cleaning up through those filthy nets and gear. We grumbled together, ‘What was it all for?’

This was the state of the fishermen when Jesus Christ found them. Our Lord came that morning to that seaside, while the men did their work, and He got on a boat to preach. He gave His message to the crowds and afterwards spoke to a rather wild looking fisherman named Simon Peter, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.”

We all know how he felt…probably a bit like I do at the end of a workday, when I just sit down to rest, and then a baby starts crying. “Oh, don’t you know, it’s a Friday evening and this is a time for relaxation. Can’t you wait till tomorrow…”

In his exasperation, Peter looks at Christ and tells Him about their night of meaningless labors…But then he speaks up again, “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

It’s at that moment that Peter’s life changes. That small decision, an itch that he chose to act on, was the beginning of His salvation.

So they put out to sea, Jesus Christ, Peter, and his crew. You can imagine how the fishermen on shore must have looked at them. “Those fools, what are they thinking?” “Why’s Peter listening to that carpenter whose clearly not a fisherman and can’t know what He’s doing?”

But Peter was determined.

You have to ask your self, ‘Why is it that he followed Jesus Christ after all?’ It went against reason. It clashed with all his worldly wisdom. But maybe there was something in Jesus’ voice, or the depth of his eyes, or the truth of his preaching…somehow, Peter knew that there really was only one good choice: follow Jesus Christ’s request and go out to sea.

We all know the end of the story. They launch out, cast their nets when the Lord tells them, and to their astonishment pull up more fish than anyone had ever seen, so many that the boat nearly sinks.

Peter, who has more sense then the fishermen reckoned, falls on his face to worship God. Usually, at the same time we encounter God we also realize how unworthy we are. He cries out, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” And the Son of God standing in the boat looks at Peter with love and says, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” “When they had brought their boats to shore,” the Gospel concludes, “they left everything and followed Him.”

This is a beautiful story, and we’ve all heard it many times. But what’s the lesson in it for us today? What does it mean to us here at St. Benedict parish, and for each and every one of us in this room?

We are on a mission.

The story of Peter and Jesus at the Sea of Galilee is a story about theosis. It unfolds in three stages: Life without God, that moment when God invites us to obey Him, and the adventure that follows.

First, the fishermen went out to sea in the darkness of night. They were laboring without God, and they came back worn out and empty. This is what life looks like whenever we step away from God. The world is constantly talking about development, progress, world peace and happiness for all – but they want these things without God, and so it’s all for nothing. But we Christians can also fall in this category. Each of us, beginning with myself, struggles to carry out all kinds of tasks, while forgetting to turn to God, and so we come back empty-handed.

I remember when I was in seminary, and discovered how easy it is to forget God, even while doing religious things. I called my priest and confessed how consumed I was by my work, and that I was losing sight of God. I spent all day going to church, writing papers about Saints and Church doctrines, doing all kinds of religious acts, and yet in the middle of it, my heart wasn’t on God. My priest laughed at the irony of the situation, and pointed out that the only way to succeed in life is to use our work, our jobs, and each moment of the day, as opportunities to be with God. Our work must become our prayer.

Crying babies have never distracted anyone from prayer. Each time a baby cries is an opportunity for deeper praying, for turning to God all the more. When our neighbor or spouse is upset with us or annoys us, they aren’t distracting us from God, they are the very chance for us to strain further for God. Grading papers, filing reports, doing finances, cleaning toilets, or working out miscommunications with our loved ones – these are the times in our lives when we have a chance to grow closer to our heavenly Father. That night on the Sea of Galilee, God allowed the fishermen to go empty-handed so that they’d have a chance to learn the difference between working without God, and working with God.

The second stage in our Gospel story is when Jesus comes to Peter and gives him a choice. “Go out to the sea again, but this time take me with you.” Peter makes the pivotal decision. He chose to do what God told him, however crazy it sounded, and as a result caught more fish then he ever hoped to see.

This stage in the Gospel shows us how God acts in our lives on a daily basis, and the fruit that comes from following Him. There must be over a thousand moments every day when Jesus Christ knocks at our door, and invites us to join him. When we get up in the morning, the conscience pricks us and tells us to pray. Then we spend the rest of the day interacting with different people. Some make us happy; some drive us crazy. But every interaction, every moment, is that opportunity for us to be co-workers with God. Jesus Christ whispers in our ears, “Will you go out fishing on your own, or will you take me with you?” In the end, everything depends on how we respond.

But the gospel doesn’t end here. The third and most exciting stage, the real adventure, came after the fish had been caught. Christ tells Peter that he has a mission, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching people,” and Peter abandons everything to follow the Lord.

You know, this biblical story alone shows the ridiculousness of the Prosperity Gospel. Yes, by obeying Jesus Christ, the fishermen caught all the fish they could want. They struck the jackpot; they had it all. But then they abandoned everything just so that they could be with Jesus. What do fish compare with God? What does the world compare with life in Christ?

Peter obeyed Jesus and he caught the fish, but that was only the start. Next, Christ invited him to undertake an adventure.

Sometimes, we Christians settle for the mere catch of fish. We turn to God and ask Him to help us. So God does help us, and then we say, ‘Very well, heavenly chap, thanks for the hand. I’ll go about my daily chores now as usual.” But this is cutting us short of the prize. When we start inviting God into our life, He calls us to more. He gives us a vocation. To be a Christian is to have a mission.

The traditional ending of our mass, which we’ll be singing today, is “Ite Missa Est.” This has sometimes been translated as “Go in peace,” but that doesn’t quite strike the power of the original phrase. The closest translation is “Go, Thus is the Mass,” or “Go, the mass has occurred.” The phrase is a pit like a punch, or a thunder-clap from heaven. The mass has happened. The Kingdom of God has penetrated into our world and changed you – now go and spread the peace and glory of God.

Christians have ended their worship with this phrase, “Ite Missa Est,” long before anyone coined the term ‘Mass.’ Eventually, people began to call their worship service a mass (‘Missa’ in Latin) simply because they heard the phrase so many times and it left such an impression on them. But the Latin word, ‘Missa,’ or ‘Mass,’ also means ‘Mission.’ This is what our Sunday worship is all about; we are on a ‘Missa,’ a mission, and it is that same mission Jesus Christ gave to Peter, the apostles, and each and every one of us who have been baptized into the Church.

So every time we hear the words, ‘Ite Missa Est,’ the Church invites us to remember the adventure that we’re on. “Go, Thus is the Mass.” The heavens have opened, let God’s grace pour down to the earth.

This is who we are, here in this little church in Wichita Falls. We are no different then St. Peter, or any of the apostles, or any of the Christians in those first days of the Church. We are on a mission: to make our culture to the Church’s culture, and so to allow the Kingdom of God to penetrate into our homes and lifestyle. Every time we pray together, eat together, spend time as a family growing in Christ and sharing His love to our friends and our family – we are on an adventure.

“Ite Missa Est.” “Go, Thus is the Mass.” The fire is lit. Don’t put it under a bushel, but let it burn so that the whole world can see it.

That day on the Sea of Galilee, after struggling in vain through the night, St. Peter chose to obey Jesus Christ. He abandoned everything to join God in the greatest adventure that anyone ever set foot on.

In his example, may each of us listen to the God’s voice daily, and give up our lives to join Him on this adventure.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saint Benedict Orthodox Church

3808 Seymour Road

Wichita Falls, TX, 76309