|42-FISHERS OF THE MIGHTY RIVER, June 21, 2020|
The video of this morning's sermon can be seen on the 'live-stream' recording uploaded onto our public Facebook page for June 21, 2020.
The LORD calling these four fishermen—Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John—to follow Him to make them into ‘fishers of men’ clearly fulfills, I believe, Ezekiel’s prophecy in his 47th chptr. Led by the Spirit of God, Ezekiel is brought to the entrance of the Temple on the LORD’s high and holy mountain in the Last Days. From his vantage point, he sees water flowing downward from the south to the altar in the Temple.
The Church tells us that the Temple of Ezekiel’s vision is the Virgin Theotokos. From this, we recognize immediately the water coming down from the south to the altar as the Holy Spirit descending from heaven into the womb of the Virgin as into the sanctuary of His Living Temple. This is Ezekiel’s prophecy of the Annunciation, when the LORD would become flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.
Ezekiel is then led around the Temple so that he is outside the gate of the Court that looks east. He sees the water coming out of that gate flowing eastward. Do you recognize this as a prophecy of the Virgin giving birth to the Son of God as the Son of Man? The fullness of divinity, that is, the Holy Spirit of God, dwelt in Christ bodily. The LORD Jesus Christ is true man who from the moment of His conception by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin’s womb lives by the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, that came down ‘from the south’, from heaven, onto the ‘altar’ in the Most Blessed Virgin’s womb. By the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Son of God is fashioned on the altar of the Virgin’s sacred womb as the Son of Man. In the most sacred womb of the Virgin full of Grace, full of the Holy Spirit, He begins as we all do: as a zygote, or, following Ezekiel’s imagery, as a droplet of water in the altar of the LORD’s Holy Temple on His high and holy mountain.
Can you catch the Gospel already shining forth from the Virgin’s womb onto the world sitting in the region and shadow of death, just as it shone forth from the Tomb on the Day of Preparation (Lk 23.54)? Even as a zygote, the uncreated Light shining from the Man-Child in the Most Beloved Virgin’s Womb is so intense that the darkness of the world cannot put it out. This is the Light in which you were immersed in the waters of your baptism; this is the Light that clothed you invisibly; this is the Light that you ingest as your food and drink in the Eucharistic mystery of the Church. The fullness of the uncreated God that dwells in Christ bodily now dwells in you bodily through your immersion into the waters of the sacramental mysteries of Christ’s Holy Church, His Body, the fullness of Him who is all in all.
When the water that Ezekiel saw finally comes forth from the Temple’s East Gate, it has already grown into a small trickle. Here is Ezekiel’s prophecy of Christmas, of the birth of Christ God from the Virgin. The Christ Child continues to grow and increase in stature, and in favor with God and man (Lk 2.52), until He becomes a mighty, torrential River so deep that no man could pass over it.
And let us not pass over it, that is, over the word for this torrent that is Ezekiel’s image of Christ. In the Greek, it is ‘cheimarron’: a river formed from the snow melt flowing down from the mountains. Should we take note, then, that on the night He was betrayed, the LORD ‘went out’ with His disciples—like this ‘water’ that came forth from the Temple’s East Gate—beyond the ‘cheimarron’ and into a Garden, the NT’s symbol of Eden. There is much theology that comes into view here when pondered in the light of Ezekiel; but, we want only to point out that the one time the Gospels speak of this ‘cheimarron’ is when the LORD is a full grown Man, a Mighty River, coming to the ‘hour’ of His Holy Pascha. (Jn 18.1)
This ‘cheimarron’ or Mighty River that Ezekiel sees coming out of the Temple’s East Gate goes forth into Galilee that lies ‘eastward’, that faces, shall we say, the resurrection? From there, it flows into the ‘Arabah’, a Hebrew word that means desert or wilderness (and so, as such, a symbol of death), but also, the heavens that are beyond, on the other side, of death. From there, the Mighty River goes out into the sea. Wherever it goes, this River heals the waters. Think baptismal rite, when we call upon the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit to descend into the Font. Every living soul those waters come to it heals. Ezekiel records how there will be very many fish where this River goes, and it shall heal them. Everything on which the River shall come will live. The word for ‘live’, here, is not from bios, which means biological life that dies. It is from zoe, which refers to life that does not pass away; so, everything the River touches receives ‘eternal life’.
Here is where we come to this morning’s Gospel. Ezekiel sees fishermen standing along the banks, spreading their nets; for the fish, he says, will be a great multitude like the fishes of the great sea. Every fruit tree will grow by the River. They will neither decay nor shall their fruit fail for their waters come forth from the ‘sanctuary’—from the mystery of the LORD’s Virgin Birth? From the heart of the body that is a Temple of the Holy Spirit? Can you see here a vision of Eden? So, when the LORD came out from the Upper Room to go beyond the ‘cheimarron’ of the Kidron Valley and entered a Garden with His disciples, I believe St John means to say that this is the ‘hour’ when the LORD, as our Joshua, led His disciples, those who love Him and would follow Him, back to Eden.
But, this morning, we see the LORD Jesus at the beginning of His ‘public ministry’. He is walking by the Sea of Galilee. Having come forth as a trickle of water, a Child, from the East Gate of the Living Temple, the most holy womb of the Virgin, we now see Him grown to become a ‘cheimarron’, a full-grown Man filled with Living Water, the power of the Holy Spirit. He has just come down from the wilderness, following His Baptism in the Jordan, where He was triumphant over the devil, and He has come into Galilee, and this morning to the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee, by the way, is connected to the Salt Sea (the Dead Sea), to the south by the Jordan River. Of course, coming to the Sea of Galilee, He is on His way to the Arabah and to the great sea beyond, which looks to me very much as a prophetic symbol for the Savior’s death and His Resurrection and Ascension into the heavens beyond, to the ‘south’, which is where He comes from in the first place..
Now, there is this puzzling piece of Ezekiel’s prophecy. He says that at the outlet of the water, and at the turning of it (literally, perhaps, where the water turns in on itself) and where it overflows its banks, there was no healing and the fishes are given over to salt. Might this be a symbol for those who reject and turn away from the LORD’s Living Water, His Holy Spirit; who, instead of denying themselves, deny the LORD, who turn away from His words that carry the Living Water of His Holy Spirit and take refuge in the wisdom of their own opinions, in ‘princes and sons of men in whom there is no salvation’, no healing and no liberation from the death and darkness that enslave them?
Galilee belonged to the Tribe of Nephtali, the northernmost tribe of the Kingdom of Israel that fell to the Assyrians two centuries before the southern Kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonians. Galilee, then, is where the LORD would find the ‘lost tribes’ of Israel. The LORD coming into Galilee, preaching and teaching and healing shows Him going out to bring the lost sheep of Israel back to Eden, His heavenly pasture. But all of us are like sheep that have gone astray. The LORD coming into the region of the old Northern Kingdom of Israel, then, is a theological symbol of the LORD coming to find each one of us who are lost and sitting in this world that ‘lives’ in the region and shadow of death.
Evil and death were introduced into the world not by God but by the envy of the devil and by men who made a covenant with it (Wisd. 1.16&2.24). The heart is corrupt and desperately wicked, says the prophet (Jer 17.9, in the Hebrew). How can the evil in the world be healed if the heart is not healed first? The LORD searches the heart, says the prophet. He tries the inner spirit to give to each one according to the fruit of his doings. (Jer 17.9)
Can we not see mighty forces at work in our world today striving to draw us out of the LORD’s Mighty River and into that ‘outlet’ where there is no healing and where the fishes are given over to salt? But, the world’s troubled waters are no match for the Mighty River of the LORD. Might this be a time of testing the genuineness of our faith? Perhaps we need to be more diligent about keeping our focus not on fear but on the nets of the LORD’s fishermen, on the preaching and teaching of His holy apostles; for these are the ‘incarnation’ of the Holy Spirit whom the LORD sent down upon His apostles; and these nets of the LORD’s fishermen draw us into the mighty current of the LORD’s Mighty River that will carry us into the sea beyond and up to the LORD’s Temple on His high and holy mountain in the heavens. Amen!