Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
I enjoy spending time with the love of my life Terri. Sometimes, just being able to just sit on the sofa together, not saying anything to one another, we are able to know that our love abides in the moment. In that moment there is a gift of being together, breathing the same air, sharing the same space, enjoying the presence of each other’s company.
Abiding has nothing to do with doing. Abiding has nothing to do about place or even conversation. Abiding with Christ is about being present with him in the moment, wherever we are. Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”
The vine metaphor Jesus uses reminds us that we must be intimately connected to Jesus and it is through that connectedness, that we are able to bear fruit in our lives. Now as branches of the Jesus vine, our call as Christians requires more than mere connectedness. We are called to bear fruit. We are called to convert the nutrients of God’s love into blossoms of beauty others can see. Fruit bearing though often requires a little pruning.
We Episcopalians could us a little pruning. We find it hard to bear the fruit, which Jesus requires of us. The fruit Jesus is talking about is the fruit of our very lives, our witness to God’s love in our lives. We should be so moved by our abiding love in Christ, that we just have to share the Good News with others. For some of us though, talking to friends, family or co-workers about our faith can be a frightening experience, but sometimes it’s easier than we think, if we allow the Master Gardner to prune away our fears and reluctance.
Pruning for Growth
In my windowsill garden in our old house in Ellenton, I had a nice planter of lemon thyme. Those tiny leaves, the fruit of that plant were a delicious herbal addition to any dish I prepared. A few months ago, Terri and I had to be away from home for several days, and when we returned, only a small section of my Lemon Thyme still had beautiful green tasty leaves. The rest had died.
I watered it, added fertilizer, but the thing just wouldn’t spring back. Finally, I gave up hope of bringing it back and so, I cut out all of the dead branches, and left the only a few tiny leaves of green. Soon, in a few days I noticed something miraculous happening. New growth emerged and in a week or so, I had a growing plant of tasty, herbalicious lemon thyme once again.
At one point, I had so much Lemon Thyme that I had to share it with some friends. You know, the best part of having an abundance of anything is the joy of having so much of it that you just have to share it with other people.
Just think though, I would not have had that abundant herb if I had not pruned away the dry and ineffective parts, and sometimes God has to prune us a little like that. God has to clip away our fears and uncertainties that stand in the way of our growth, our mission, and our primary vocation as Christians; to share the Good News of God’s love with others with whom we abide.
Why Fruit is Important
Last Friday, I took a walk down the hall to check in with one of the preschool classrooms. As I came close to their door, I noticed that all the little ones were readying themselves to leave the room. The teacher stopped me and said, “Father Eric, the children were coming to see you, and they have something for St. Monica’s.” One little beautiful child came up to me and handed me one of our blue cups, filled to the brim with coins. The Teacher said, “she has emptied her piggy bank and put half of it in the blue cup for St. Monica’s.” The little girl with an incredible smile handed me the cup, and as I took it, I almost cried. She said, “I will bring the other half later.”
What an incredible example of how her connection to St. Monica’s has changed that precious little girl’s life. What an example of how we as a community through our sharing of Good News and abiding in love with others, brings others to know Christ’s love. Sometimes the fruit we bear emerges in ways we cannot imagine.
“But Eric, that sharing Good News thing is just not for me. I cannot do that,” you might say. What if I told you that your ability to share Good News really has nothing to do with being a professional evangelist? Our ability to share good news is simply being willing to take a chance to offer an invitation, and we leave the rest up to God. Here is an example.
Philip the Evangelist
We heard the story in the Acts of the Apostles how the Spirit called Phillip out of his comfort zone and sent him on an evangelistic mission, all for the spiritual transformation of one person; a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. Philip had no idea why he was sent to this guy, but he went. He had no thought about bringing the man to conversion, but it happened. He did not run up to the chariot and say, “Let me tell you about Jesus,” but eventually the Ethiopian did become a disciple. Sometimes, the simplest of interactions are the ones that bring someone to hear the Good news of God’s grace. Sharing Good News is our primary vocation as Christians.
I was asked the other day how we might invite the families of one of participants in our outreach ministries to worship with us. I said, “Simply ask them if they have a spiritual home or a home church. If they say no, then merely say, “You always have a spiritual home at St. Monica’s, and you will find a caring community to support and love you and your family.” Sharing God’s Good news my friends is as simple as that, and an invitation is all it takes. Want proof? Did you know that there are 32 million members of the Ethiopian Orthodox church alive and active today? I have to believe that maybe that the encounter between Philip and the court official had something to do with all that. Sometimes we bear fruit and the results are not apparent at that time.
Trust God’s Spirit
So what does Lemon Thyme have to do with vines, branches, bearing fruit and evangelism? You know, just a few snips of those delicious green succulent leaves of Lemon Thyme, really do add savory and herbal notes to the flavor of any dish. Well, sharing a little time and abiding love with someone else, and offering an invitation to be in community, could be the simple words that changes and flavors the lives of someone, in ways we cannot even fathom.
Would you please give this a try? The next time you are with friends, and if as you chat, the topic of conversation becomes about troubles, fears, doubts, worries, joy, peace, religion, church, or faith, offer your friends an invitation to accompany you to St. Monica’s. Ask, “would you like to check out this awesome group of people with me sometime, and then, I’ll treat you to lunch or dinner afterward.” Then, just see what happens. You may be surprised.
So, what do you think? Is evangelism really possible in the Episcopal Church? I think yes. Sharing a little of your time to share the Good News of God’s love is really pretty simple, but it may take us out of our comfort zone. Being an evangelist is not as hard as it seems, but it means we have to take a chance, share our story of transformation, and maybe, it means giving away just a little bit of something we have an abundance of – God’s grace, mercy, and love. All of us are called to be evangelists and it really is easy, but to do so, we have to give away, just a little abiding love and maybe, just a little time.
(1) Wilson, Stan. “On the Vine.” The Christian Century, vol. 123, no. 9, 02 May 2006, p. 19.