Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The True Vine.

In a busy week so far the teleport has been installed in my new hallway, enabling me to move between three Churches with remarkable ease, although what it will do to the Church Of England issue 'mixed fibres' carpet is uncertain. Or am I just looking forward to seeing the new Star Trek film too much? Anyway, Ken has been hard at work as well producing a new noticeboard in Church which was the focus of much interest on Sunday night at the May Devotions, I have also been printing off many copies of the order of service for our Parish Priest's 45th anniversary of ordination which is on the 24th of May at 6pm, beginning with a High Mass and descending into a buffet and drinks. All are, of course, very welcome.

I reproduce below my sermon delivered last Sunday morning at Saint Mary's, for your interest.

‘Get up and go to the South’ said the Angel of God to Philip, and he went. The Bible is full of movement, indeed the book tells the history of a people on the move, travelling towards the promised land through hard times and easy times, plague and harvest, until they reach the climax of existence in the upper room as the new covenant is made and the journey begins again, for each generation and all people, but with the knowledge of the heavenly Kingdom, which we must orient our lives towards reaching. ‘Get up and go to …’, wherever it may be for you, is the word of God.

How much more convincing is the direct call of God to us, which we find in our day to day lives as well as in times of change, as the Eunuch did in the first reading, when he was journeying from one place to another and was baptised, was welcomed into the company of the saved, in a muddy puddle by the side of the road, forsaking his finery and servants who travelled with him. The voice of God came and he got up and responded to that call. The angel came to Philip and said ‘go to the South’ and the eunuch travelled on his way and the two of them met, one confessed the name of the Lord and one was saved, bringing by his conversion the word of God with him wherever he went. How marvellous is the Lord’s care fro us, how he seeks out the lost! This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Messiah, Son of God, as it came to the Ethiopian Eunuch and as it came to Philip.

The Good News is further delivered in the second reading, in that we must love one another, for God is love, and he has shown His love for us in bringing our forebears out of slavery, by being our god and allowing us to be his people and by raising up a mighty saviour who would bring an end to the kingdom of death and open the gates to eternal life – who even now is risen from the dead – his mortal body is alive and sits in heaven, gazing with love upon those of us who are on earth, wrestling with our own free will, temptation and the devil, that we may be with Him. This is the beginning of the God News of Jesus Messiah, son of God, as it comes to us this joyful Eastertide that God is alive and has overcome death, through love for His people. God so loves each one of us that he sends us all out, individually, to tell of His love throughout the world and to live in such a way that we show His love with our every action.

But what is the love of God? It is the beginning of the good news! We may love bacon, or Mozart, or Bentleys, or Mills and Boon, but they are not essential to salvation, indeed they may get in the way of it if we covet or lust after them. God is love, indeed, He tells us this clearly, but he also tells us that he is the true vine, and that we are the branches, but that he will cut off and burn in the everlasting fire those branches which do not bear fruit – those branches which pollute the vine and do not allow themselves to live and therefore extend. A vine needs to grow, each branch to extend and extend again, bearing fruit, enveloping the entire plant and working together for the harvest. A branch which does not allow further growth has to be chopped off, for the good of the whole plant. His words and his love abide in us, but we cannot thrive and love ourselves without being part of the one root, the one vine. If we have been baptised by water and the Holy Ghost and are part of the body, the vine of God, of the Church, how can we allow that which is contrary to His teaching? We must orient our whole selves, our Sunday mornings, our business decisions, our ethical dilemmas, our peace and our anger and most of all the future of our families and neighbourhoods, towards the root of the Lord, who nourishes us and leads to eternal life through Baptism and his holy Church.

We cannot separate ourselves from the vine when it is convenient, nor can we decide that we can do without the vine on occasion. We are part of the plan of salvation and the Father does not want to throw you into eternal, burning hellfire; he wants to give you life. He wants to give you more than a weak, frail, just barely hanging on life. He does not want you in the shadows, living a half life. He wants to give you a healthy, vibrant, fruit-bearing life. It is to the Father's glory that you bear much fruit. Do you want this life? Then ask for it. Jesus said, "If you are in me and my words are in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you". Ask your Father for life, for life that bears fruit. Ask him to strengthen your faith. Ask him for more love to share with others. Jesus promises that every request in line with his word will be given to you. The Father will give you life through Jesus' words. He will give you life by strengthening your connection to the true vine. He will give your Church life as you flourish in this neighbourhood, showing the fruit of the love which comes from the Father to you – you will be Philip, bearing the love of God to the place you are sent to, which is this Parish, your workplace, the dark places of your soul and your holiday destinations as much as it is likely to be anywhere exotic.

It is time for me to go – I doubt whether I shall be in this pulpit again, life marches on and one part of my particular call to serve God is that I will, as far as I can see, move about quite a lot. But we share the same fruit – the wine of which Jesus said “This is my blood – drink it in my memory”. We do drink it week by week, not simply to remember Jesus but to be incorporated into his life, to have his blood course through our veins so that his spirit may empower us for his work in the world. We may return to our seats after receiving communion and feel that nothing has changed. We are as we were, unruffled by our encounter with the divine. And if so then what we have been given will remain opaque, closed and unfathomable. But one day – maybe today – maybe already it has happened – the penny will drop. We will know that we belong and we are loved; that we are members one of another within this community of faith. And – this is the most challenging bit – we have been commissioned and indeed trained and disciplined (pruned is how St John puts it), commissioned, trained and disciplined to bear fruit: to unite for action in a world and for a world, whose pain and passion cannot be left to politicians or freedom fighters or extremists. That this world, created by God, will confess His name is not certain. That this country, which has been Christian for centuries, will remain so is not certain. That the family will survive as the normative unit of humanity, bringing up children as Our Lord was brought up is not certain and is certainly not a decision to be left to the Politicians. “I am the vine, you are the branches” says Jesus, “Go and bear fruit: fruit that will last.”

For nine months you received life from your mother through the vital connection of your umbilical cord and belly button. Without our mothers not a single one of us would have lived. Without a connection to the true vine, Jesus, not a single one of us will live spiritually or eternally. Jesus connected us to himself by his baptism. He continues to strengthen that connection by his Word. The stronger the connection grows the more fruit we bear and the more life we have. And this is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Messiah the son of God and it has come to this place, in this time, to this Church. Live in God as He would live in you, fight for his Kingdom and together, bear fruit that will last.