Wednesday, May 09, 2012
Easter 5B RCL
Written for St. John's Church, Getty Square, Yonkers
1 John 3:16-24
Mr. Smith and his crew built several of the houses in our neighborhood when I was just a child. I was fascinated to walk by and see a house rise from the ground. First there came the foundation, usually built of cinderblock and a poured concrete base. That happened before Mr. Smith and his crew arrived. But after the frame of the house would rise up toward the sky. There were four in the team and I would watch them work. They did not talk much. They worked in concert, measuring and sawing and hammering. They would build sections and then put them up and nail them together. Once the house was completely framed the roof was nexted because it protected the work from the elements. Then tar paper would go around the outside, then the siding, whatever that would be. The siding was to keep the vandals out.
What struck me was the smoothness of their work. They were a team. They were on the same page. They worked not like four individuals, but like a single force, raising up an edifice. If you pointed to a certain two by four, or a certain rafter, they would most likely be hard pressed to say who had done what. They did the work together, their reputation was flawless and they never lacked work.
Today's gospel teaches us about the love that should be between Christians, and the fruit that we should bear by being united into the body of Christ, made a new people. Mr. Smith's team of carpenters are a living symbol of that.
Christ said that we should love one another so that we are one, just as he and the Father are one, and we give glory to God when we bear good fruit. It is a connection and unity that is truly profound. The carpenters represent that unity for me, and their work grows out of that unity.
Yet the image used in the Gospel, that of a vine, is even more profound than that of a team of carpenters. Jesus compares the community to a vine. He is the vine, we are the branches. We are joined to him, and we derive our energy, our nutrients from him. As the water and nutrients flow from the soil and the leaves into the branch, so our spiritual nurture comes from Christ. When separated from the vine we wither, dry up, and die.
When we bear no fruit we lose our purpose in being, to produce grapes. The connection to Christ is pointless. To be truly part of the vine means both to receive nutrient and to produce fruit. If either does not happen we are somehow not our true selves..
I had a little fun trying to think of modern parables for this relationship. It is as though Christ is the power line and we are the bulbs. Not attached to him we give off no light. It is like Christ is the water main and we are the faucets. Unattached we provide no water.
For St. John, our patron, and the writer of today's gospel, what made Christ, Christ, was his being so intimately connected to the Father, and doing the works of the Father, thus enjoying fully the mutual love of the Father, and showing forth God's glory in the world. There was one energy in the two of them. The Son did the very works of the Father. The Father and the Son were one.
As we approach the feast of Pentecost, when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, we see that this teaching of the Vine is foreshadowing life in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is what makes the vine and the branches alive, it is the energy that binds the Son and the Father, and that life lived is so completely an expression of God that the Holy Spirit has come to be understood as one of the very Persons of our Trinity.
Our unity with God, our doing the good things that flow out of God, are the work of the Trinity. We tend to associate the various traditional actions of God to various persons of the Trinity. We tend to associate creation with the Father, our Salvation with the Son, and our ongoing life in God with the Holy Spirit. However, the three are so united that if we are to follow the theological heritage closely we will not assign certain tasks to only one person. The belief is that the Father and the Spirit are both doing the work of our Salvation with the Son. The Son and the Spirit are both doing the work of creation with the Father. And both the Father and the Son are working in us when we are energized by the Holy Spirit.
The trinity itself is in perfect harmony in the work the trinity does.
How do we allow ourselves to enter into the unity of the Holy Spirit? What can we do so that our life reflects the glory of God. What effort is required on our part?
The traditional, and I think wise answer, is that there is nothing we can do. No act of ours can cause this to happen. It is grace. It is gift.
On our side we must desire it, not as a personal possession, but desire to share it. We must allow God to free us from the prison of self, of radical individuality, of self focus, self absorption, in order to become part of the community of love. And there are those who even say this surrender to love, is it self a gift.
My desire for St. John's and for all churches is that we grow in this grace. That God give us this grace, so that we can work together like Mr. Smith and his carpenters. So that the outside world can see that we love one another. So that we are inspired to make a difference in our community reaching out to all those in any hurt or need. My desire is that when people think of St. John's Church, there is no doubt in their mind that we are disciples of Christ, that Christ is working in us. My desire is that the clusters of our generosity and love are big and fat like clusters of grapes hanging heavy on a vine.
And MY desire must be surrendered if God is to achieve that. When I surrender my desire for the gift of humility I allow God to work in me. We as a church must discern the direction we believe God desires for us, and be prepared to surrender what we might choose for ourselves. It is asked of all of us. Read Scripture. Study the Tradition. Pray without ceasing. Be generous. Be not afraid. Love one another. Somewhere as we seek and desire to be faithful to that proces, it will be God who causes us to bear the fruit God desires, and God's goodness will be known in Yonkers, New York, throughout the world.