Monday, July 12, 2021

Christmas in July

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
July 11, 2021

Christmas in July 

          When I was a little girl, one of the things I loved best about Christmas was that Christmas was predictable.  Mom cooked the same food.  The same relatives came to visit.  The ritual of Christmas was the same each year-up at 5am to see what Santa brought, then breakfast, then the tree, then a day of family and friends, and an enormous Christmas dinner.  Once I was old enough to go to church on Christmas Eve and pay attention, we sang our way through Jesus’ birth with the same hymns and the same story every year.  The predictability of Christmas was grounding and even though I did not have words for it as a child, no matter what happened in my life or the life of the world, I knew that Christmas would come on schedule and Christmas would be the same.

          On the other hand, Christmas in July is a bit jarring, no matter how excited I am for this day.  Hearing the story and singing the hymns out of season is uncomfortable.  Creating an experience of Christmas in the middle of the summer, out of nowhere, when nothing around us says Christmas, is just weird.  Why, then, other than to rejoice that we can finally be together and sing the Christmas hymns, are we celebrating Christmas in July?

          When the angel Gabriel came to Mary to tell her what her role would be in the salvation of humankind, God didn’t ask Mary to check her calendar and see if perhaps they could meet at the coffee shop later in the week.  Mary didn’t have time to prepare for the conversation or think about what God wanted.  Gabriel just showed up and said to Mary “And now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall name him Jesus.” 

          When the time came for Jesus to be born, Mary and Joseph were on their way to Bethlehem to be counted for the census.  Mary had no birth plan, no bag packed weeks ahead with all the things she might need to keep her comfortable during labor.  She had no four weeks of Advent to prepare, there were no casseroles in the freezer for later, and there does not seem to have been any baby shower.  This birth came at a highly inconvenient time.

          Once Jesus was born, there was no stack of freshly laundered onsies for Mary to clothe Jesus.  She had to make do with whatever was available. What was available was scraps of cloth for clothes and a feeding trough for a crib. 

          The Christmas story tells us that Jesus was born on God’s time, not ours, which is often not convenient.  Jesus was born in the midst of less than ideal circumstances, to parents who were hardly ready and had to make do with what they had.  And yet, Jesus was born, the angels sang, the star glowed, the shepherd traveled, and Mary treasured in her heart the story that had been birthed from her womb.

          Collectively, we have been though a year with challenges unlike anything we have ever experienced, and the pandemic is not yet over.  Individually, our lives have held challenges unrelated to the pandemic yet exacerbated by the virus.  God did not show up and say to us “Get ready.  Four weeks from now, the world will shut down.”  We found ourselves on a journey that most of us were totally unprepared for, in a wilderness for which we had no plan, and whether we were trying to educate our children, or worship, or tend to our daily needs, we had to make do with what we had.  Sometimes that felt like the equivalent of wrapping a newborn baby in scraps of cloth and placing him in a feeding trough because that was what was available.

          And yet, over and over again, the Christ Child was born in our midst.  Stars shined with the bright light of Christ, angels sang of God’s glory, and shepherds told the story of God’s love and presence with us to make sure we did not miss the birth.  Sometimes that light was an encouraging card or text from a friend that connected us with each other, the song was the sweet voices of our young choristers that took us beyond ourselves, and the story was one of the community coming together in the face of tragedy, all reminders of Emmanuel, God with Us. Other times we found ways to be the song of the angels in a world we could not enter, providing futons for Family Promise, or medical care through Open M in Akron, or hope for victims of domestic violence, or something so simple as laundry detergent for people in need in Hudson. 

The Good News of Christmas is not that the Christ Child is born only when we have had four weeks of Advent to prepare, the house is decorated, the gifts are wrapped under the tree, and Christmas dinner is in the oven as wonderful and predictable as all of those things are.  The Good News of Christmas is the promise that the Christ Child will be born in our midst at inconvenient times, when life seems totally out of our control, we are scared and frustrated, when we don’t have a plan and we don’t think we have the skills we need to survive.  The promise of Christmas is Emmanuel, God with us absolutely always.  That, my friends, is why we celebrate Christmas in July.

                                                                             Amen.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Extraordinary Hope

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
June 27, 2021

8 Proper B 

          Several years ago, a group of Christ Church leaders gathered in the Parish Hall one Sunday afternoon to talk about how Christ Church had survived some major challenges over the previous 10 years or so.  I had not lived through those challenges, so I wanted to hear the stories for myself.  I also thought, and still think, that perhaps the story of our church could give hope to other churches facing similar challenges.  That afternoon, we talked about motivation and hope; disappointment, grief, and financial challenges; the power of relationships, taking risks and being deliberate about a plan forward.  While perhaps at one dark point the hope was a desperate hope for survival, eventually an extraordinary hope in the future emerged, a future that would not look just like the past but would be a new future as God called the church forward into new life. 

          This morning, we hear two stories of great hope in our gospel reading.  Jairus is a leader of the synagogue, more like a vestry member than a rabbi.   We can hear the desperation in his voice as Jairus begs Jesus to come and heal his little daughter who is at the point of death.  Jesus is the only hope for the little girl’s healing.  Jesus agrees to leave the crowd behind and follows Jairus on this urgent mission.

          While Jairus and Jesus are rushing off to get to Jairus’s daughter before she dies, a woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for 12 years, reaches out in both desperation and hope and touches Jesus clothes.  Immediately she is healed.  Jesus and Jairus are in a hurry to get to Jairus’s daughter.  There is no need for them to stop.  The woman has been healed.  But when Jesus feels the healing power leave him, he stops to connect with the woman and hear her story.  The woman is terrified that her action will come at a cost and her healing will be reversed.  Jairus is terrified as the minutes tick away that this delay will cost his daughter her life.  And, in fact, Jairus receives word that his daughter has died and he should trouble Jesus no more. 

          Jesus has other plans, however. He takes Peter, James, and John, along with the child’s parents, goes into room where the child lies, and commands her to get up.  The little girl gets up and begins to walk around, and we are told that she is 12 years old.

          Two stories of a desperation and two stories of hope.  Two stories of risk, as the woman risked rejection as she was unclean due to the hemorrhage and Jairus risked losing his daughter.  Two stories of healing and the gift of new life.  Two stories that, if we are not careful, lead us to believe in Jesus as Santa Claus or as a magician, here to do whatever we demand, and two stories that can lead us to feel like failures when we do not get the results we want from Jesus.  We want to hear Jesus say “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.

          But I think these two stories are about more than getting whatever we want from Jesus, no matter how desperate we may be.  First, in each story, the two people do more than simply demand, and Jesus does more than simply heal.  The unnamed woman and Jairus both show up to engage Jesus.  Jesus establishes a relationship.  Jesus does not have to stop and talk with the woman who touched his clothes.  She has already been healed.  He could move on and get to Jairus’s daughter in a timely manner.  But Jesus does stop.  He acknowledges the woman as a human being.  He listens to her whole story despite the urgency to get to Jairus’s daughter.  He calls the unnamed woman “daughter” and commends her hope when he tells her that her faith has made her well.  And Jesus could have healed Jairus’s daughter from a distance.  He did not have to actually go to her house.  Jesus’ words alone have the power to calm water and turn small bits of bread into food for thousands.  But Jesus did go.  Jesus wanted a relationship with them, and Jesus wants a relationship with us.  These two stories are about a relationship.

          Secondly, both the unnamed woman and Jairus act on great hope that Jesus can heal.   In their cases, Jesus does heal exactly as they want.  And I wish all of our prayers were answered as quickly and completely as theirs were.  But sometimes we feel more like David this morning as he mourns Saul and Jonathan than we feel like either the unnamed woman or Jairus.  However, the hope Jairus and the unnamed woman have is not just the desperate hope that they will get what they need in the moment, but the extraordinary hope that the way things are now is not the way they will always be.  Their hope is the hope of the psalmist who sings “I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope.”  The gospel does not tell us what happened to the unnamed woman and to Jairus’s daughter and her family after their encounter with Jesus.  But we do know that both were made new and given new life, not returned to their old selves.  Both of these stories are about extraordinary hope in a new future. 

When the leadership of Christ Church gathered to talk about the ways they had met past challenges, never in a million years would I have guessed that we might be the congregation that would benefit from that story of extraordinary hope as we look to rebuild our life together after 16 months of a global pandemic.  Our question is not “How do we as a church survive a pandemic?”  Our question is “How is God helping us live and grow in new ways in 2021?”  As with Jairus and the unnamed woman, Jesus invites us to show up and be in relationship with him and with each other.  As with Jairus and the unnamed woman, Jesus offers us a hope that carries us not back into the past but into new life.  We are not people of a desperate hope for survival.  We are people of extraordinary hope for the future.

                                                Amen.

Lame

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
June 13, 2021

6 Proper B 

          Some years ago, Episcopal Retirement Homes bought a low income apartment building in the city where I was the rector of the Episcopal Church.  This seemed like a natural outreach for us, and we developed great relationships with the residents by having a quarterly birthday party for them and hosting other events together.  One Christmas, the outreach team decided to adopt the residents much the way that we had adopted schools for Christmas in the past.  The question was what to do for them.  We talked with the building manager, who knew the residents well, and finally came up with the idea to give each of the 88 residents a $25 gift card to Meijer or Wal-Mart.  This would be a stretch for the church, but that is a good thing.  The problem for me was that the idea of gift cards seemed rather lame.  Gift cards seemed impersonal at best and sort of uncaring at worst-like we had not put a lot of thought into the effort.  However, I kept my mouth shut and between Thanksgiving and mid-December we collected 88 plus gift cards.   The youth group put the cards in envelopes with each resident’s name and decorated the envelopes in the spirit of Christmas which, I admit, did make the gifts a little more personal and thoughtful.

          When the day of the Christmas party arrived, the room was festive and there was lots of great Christmas energy in the air.  The church provided a lovely Christmas dinner for the residents which we all sat and enjoyed together.  After dinner, much to the surprise of the residents, we began calling out names and distributing the envelopes.  As the residents opened the envelopes and found their gift cards, there were shrieks of delight and even some tears.  We heard comments like “Now I can bake Christmas cookies for my grandchildren,” “Now I can make Christmas dinner,” and “Now I can go Christmas shopping for my family.”  I, who had thought the project was impersonal and lame, was stunned at their joy.  Gifts that seemed so small, impersonal and thoughtless to me meant the world to those who received them and told the residents, both individually and collectively, that they were valued and loved.

          This morning, in our scripture readings, we hear about small things with a big impact.  First, we hear about the call of David, the smallest and youngest of Jesse’s sons.  God’s choice of David is a surprising choice.  First, God sends Samuel off to find Jesse the Bethlehemite because God has chosen a king from among Jesse’s sons. Jesse’s grandmother was Ruth, a Moabite so not a pure Israelite, making anyone from her family a surprising choice for a king of Israel. Secondly, Samuel is looking for the next King of Israel, so the oldest son would be the obvious choice and if not the oldest, then the strongest, or the smartest, or the most experienced.  But God says "Do not look on his appearance, or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord does not see as mortals see. They look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."  God has chosen David, the very youngest son.  David, the least likely son from an unlikely family, is anointed king in the presence of his brothers, and, we are told, "the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward."                                                                                                                               

         This morning, we also hear Jesus say "The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs." When Jesus began his ministry, his first words were "The Kingdom of God has arrived, repent and believe in the good news." This parable tells us that the Kingdom of God is growing in our midst, starting from something so small as to perhaps look useless and eventually becoming so large that all the birds of the air can make nests there.

          The parable of the mustard seed and the story of the call of David remind us that God will take what we have to offer, even when we believe our offering is too small or too lame to make a difference and use our offering to help bring about the Kingdom of God.  When we think that the time we have to offer is not enough to matter, or the money we can give won’t make a difference, or our one voice won’t make a difference in a problem so large as racism in our community, we are called to remember the mustard seed, or the little boy who became a great King, or the difference a seemingly small gift card made for the residents of a low income apartment complex.  If everyone thinks they will not make a difference, nothing will ever change.  But when we all believe that our lives, our voices, our dollars matter in bringing about the Kingdom of God, amazing things will happen.  We have seen this in our very own community in the past two weeks as person after person has spoken out against the events on Memorial Day that put Hudson on the global map.  Out of a very bad situation, many of us have learned a piece of history that we did not know, which is the role black people had on the development of Memorial Day.  What some tried to silence was shouted around the world.  The mustard seed that is the Kingdom of God may be tiny, but it cannot be silenced or stopped.  God calls us to use what we have, no matter the size, no matter how seemingly small, lame, or meaningless, to be part of the growing Kingdom of God, and then to be amazed at what can happen when we all work together.  For there is a great deal of work to be done.

                                                                             Amen.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Story

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
May 30, 2021

Trinity Sunday 

          Both Don’s parents and mine were born in the midst of the Great Depression and were children during World War 2.  They all had stories to tell about those years.  My mother’s father was a pharmacist and was often paid in chickens and tomatoes.  Mom remembered having an ice box, with ice delivered to the house.  My dad told stories about ration booklets for everything from sugar to car tires, and black out curtains that made New York City go completely dark at night.  Don’s mom told stories about growing up in Colorado without electricity or toilet paper.  And Don’s dad, the great storyteller, still tells stories about growing up in Arkansas during the depression and the war.  But for all of the stories about hardship, there were also stories about how neighbors came together to share what they had, about the creative use of the resources they did have, about a time when one thought nothing of hitchhiking as a reliable and safe means of transportation, and of the joy of finally having electricity or a refrigerator.

          As I wrote in my June Communicant article, I have been wondering about the stories we will tell years from now about life during a global pandemic.  There will obviously be stories of grief and loss, frustration and shortages.  There will be stories of holidays, whether birthdays or graduations, Christmas, Easter, or Memorial Day, that could not be celebrated in the usual ways.  But I think, I hope, we will also tell stories about how we found new ways to gather, how we learned to appreciate a slower life, about how we learned to find and experience God in new ways and places, what we learned about essential workers, and how we learned to take a lot less for granted.  Our stories, whether of good times, hard times, or a combination of both, help shape who we are and give us part of our identity. 

          Today is Trinity Sunday, the day we celebrate the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  If we had scripture readings this morning that explained the Trinity, that explained how one God can be in three persons without being three gods, that would be lovely.  But there are no such scripture readings to be had.  Yes, there are places in scripture that name all three persons of the Trinity, such as the ending of Matthew’s gospel where the disciples are sent by Jesus into the world to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  But nowhere in scripture are we told how, exactly, one God can be three persons.

What we do have in scripture are stories.  We have stories of the way God is experienced as Father, or Creator, such as the reading from Isaiah where the prophet experiences the magnificence of God and is sent by God to deliver difficult news to God’s people about the consequences of their sin.  The gospels tells stories of how people like Nicodemus experienced God the Son, as Jesus went about preaching, teaching, and healing, and as he was crucified, then resurrected.  The book of Acts is full of stories of people being led by the Spirit.  Paul talks about that very Spirit in the reading from Romans this morning-the Spirit that leads us and bears witness within us that we are children of God.  And scripture has stories of people who served God faithfully and stories of people who were less than faithful.  From all of these stories, Christian theologians developed the understanding that our one God is in three persons-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  One God.  Three persons.  Each fully God but each distinct.

          In the first chapter of Genesis, scripture tells us that we are made in the image of God.  The question I wrestle with every Trinity Sunday is not how God can be three persons yet one God, but what it means that we are made in the image of the Trinity.  What does it mean that humans are made in the image of one God who is simultaneously Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

          The honest answer to that question should be “I don’t know.”  But I do have some thoughts.  First, we are made in the image of God who has always been in relationship.  Not only has God always been in relationship, God’s very being is relationship.  So, we are made to be in relationship both with God and each other, relationships that are lifegiving the way the Trinity is life giving, relationships that complement each other and allow for differences, and yet remind us that we humans are one as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are one.  In John’s gospel, Jesus’ prayer for the disciples was not that they would always agree or always be right, but that they would be one as he and the Father are one.  That we are one is actually a fact, whether we live as one is the question.

          Secondly, the God in whose image we are made may be one God in three persons, but this is not a closed community.  In the gospel reading this morning, we heard that God gave God’s only son, gave him, that the world might be saved through him.  God sent Jesus, and then God sent the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, into the world.  We are made in the image of the One who is sent into the world, so we, too, are sent into the world, as Robin said last week in her sermon.  We are sent so that the world may know the love of God and experience God at work in the stories of their own lives.

          The Trinity is the story of God in a word.  We are made in the image of that story, and that story is our story.  We gather here to be nourished by the story of God, and to experience our connection with God and each other.  Then we are sent by the story out into the world, to bring the story to life and be the love of God for the whole human family.

                                                                             Amen.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Joyful Anticipation

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
May 16, 2021

7 Proper B 

          Last week, we entered yet another chapter in the ongoing waiting game aspect of Covid-19.  We have waited for the shut-down to end, for schools to reopen, for supplies of toilet paper and Clorox wipes to appear on the shelves.  We have waited to see our loved ones.  We have waited for a vaccine and for in-person worship.  We are still waiting to hug and to sing.  Now we enter yet another liminal waiting time as the CDC has lifted the mask mandate in most cases for people who have been vaccinated, and the governor has done likewise.  Because we are an Episcopal Church and under the authority of our bishop, we wait for his directives about how we will live and worship together as restrictions begin to be lifted.  But I think what most of us are really waiting for is for life to get back to normal.

          The disciples are also waiting this morning.  Last Thursday was the feast of the Ascension when the 11 remaining disciples watched as Jesus rose into heaven.  After ordering the disciples not to leave Jerusalem, one of the last things Jesus said to the disciples was “‘This is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”  A few verses later, immediately before his ascension, Jesus said “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  However much the disciples might have wanted their lives to get back to normal, this is a pretty big clue that “normal” is not going to happen.

          So, the disciples wait.  They do not know what they are waiting for, other than to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, but they don’t have a clue what that means or how their lives will be changed.  But the way they wait can teach us a lot about how to wait faithfully, even when we don’t know exactly what we are waiting for, or when whatever we are waiting for will happen, or what the new normal will look like. 

          First, the disciples watched to see where God was at work, even as they waited.  They looked for the way scripture was being fulfilled in their midst and how God was using even unfortunate circumstances, like the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, to do something new in their midst.  What is God doing in our midst as we wait for the days of Covid-19 to end?

          Secondly, the disciples did not wait passively.  There was no grass growing under their feet as they waited for whatever the ascended Jesus had in store for them.  They got to work choosing a disciple to replace Judas so the twelve could get about the work of witnessing to the resurrection.  The believers prayed and cast lots, choosing Matthias as the new disciple.  What work is God calling us to do while we wait?

          Thirdly, the disciples prayed.  In the case of this morning’s reading from Acts, they prayed about who to choose to replace Judas. They did not rely on their own judgement to make decisions while they waited.  They knew they could not see everything God had in store for them, what they would need going forward, or how they might be called to witness to the resurrection.  They prayed and sought God’s guidance.  For what do we need to pray during this time of waiting?

          The disciples are not the only ones who prayed in our readings this morning.  As Jesus approaches his crucifixion in the reading from John, Jesus prays for his disciples.  Jesus’ prayer is long and elegant, but what his words boil down to is this.  Jesus prays that the disciples will always know to whom they belong.  They belong to God.  They are sent into the world, as Jesus was sent, to show the world what belonging to God looks like.  The world will not always understand or appreciate their efforts.  But they belong to God. 

          The disciples came together to watch for what God was doing in their midst, to do the work God was calling them to do even while they waited, and they prayed.  They did all this together.  Jesus’ disciples were together when Jesus prayed for them.  They were not together waiting for life to get back to normal, however.  They were together waiting for the new life God had in store for them.  They could trust God with that unknown future because they knew they belonged to God, which meant they could wait, not anxiously, but with joyful anticipation. 

As we wait for whatever our new life will be like post-pandemic, what the new normal will be, God calls us to wait together, to watch together for what God is already doing in our midst, to witnesses together to the power of God’s love while we wait, and to pray as we discern what God is calling us to do and be as we move forward.  But most of all, God calls us to remember to whom we belong so that we wait with joyful anticipation for whatever the future holds.

                                                                             Amen.

 

 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Joy

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
May 9, 2021

6 Easter B 

          Markie was the mother of one of my dearest friends.  She would have been 100 years old this year and was an incredibly faithful, joyful, loving person to the very end of her life.  Markie always treated me like part of the family when we were together, and she had an abundance of love to share.

          The last time I saw Markie was at her daughter’s funeral in 2008.  Markie was such a radiant person that one could easily think that she had born no grief and carried no sorrow.  Yet nothing could be further from the truth.  In addition to losing her daughter, Markie had been widowed three times over the course of her 90 years.  So much loss, and yet Markie was never without a genuine smile.

          I asked Markie once how she could keep on loving as she did when she had experienced so much loss.  She answered with her characteristic smile. The joy and the love outweigh the pain of loss and once that has been proven true the first time, you know you can trust that love in the future.  I am also sure that the joy and the love sustained her through each loss as well.

          I think about Markie and her joy when I hear Jesus say to his disciples “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love….I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”  Abiding, love, and joy.  What could be easier?

          Jesus’ words this morning come from what is called the Farewell Discourse in John’s gospel.  Despite his impending betrayal, trial, and crucifixion, and all the challenges that are ahead for the disciples, Jesus tells his followers that they are to love one another as he has loved them so that his joy may be in them and their joy may be complete.  Clearly, given the circumstances, joy is not the absence of hardship or suffering, nor is Jesus talking about the kind of joy that wears off after a while, like chocolate joy, sunshine joy, covid-vaccine joy, or even holding a baby joy or finally spending time with loved ones joy.  If Jesus’ joy is to be in the disciples, that joy must have something to do with being connected to Jesus.  But what?

Jesus also says to the disciples “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”  What Jesus has commanded the disciples is that they love one another.  At that moment, Jesus’ command probably sounds pretty easy.  Why would they not love each other?  But what the disciples will soon learn is that obeying Jesus’ command means loving each other even on the worst day of their lives as Jesus is crucified, loving Judas despite his betrayal of Jesus, and loving each other as they figure out how to make a gospel difference in the world without Jesus’ physical presence in their lives. 

But what does Jesus mean when he says that the disciples are his friends?  Clearly the disciples are not Jesus’ peers, nor are they just some fun people that Jesus hangs out with.  Jesus is calling the disciples his friends in the deepest sense of the word.  The disciples are the people with whom Jesus can bare his soul and be vulnerable.  Jesus can speak to the disciples about abiding in his love, not as a master demands his servant do something, but as a friend implores someone to do what is best for them.  The disciples are now connected to Jesus in a new way, as trusted friends rather than as servants.

The joy Jesus wants for his disciples is the joy of being fully connected to Jesus.  That joy is not the absence of pain or suffering, but instead is a joy that makes us vulnerable to both God and the world and willing to risk pain, just as Jesus was willing to be vulnerable.  Jesus’ joy is a joy that takes risks for the gospel as Jesus did.  We see Peter, one of the disciples, taking a risk for the gospel this morning in the reading from Acts as he orders the baptism of all on whom the Spirit has fallen, whether they are Jew or Gentile.  While that action may seem fairly obvious to us, the baptism of Gentiles was a bold and risky move at the time, one that spread God’s love in new ways and expanded the horizons of Jesus’ friendship circle in ways that were not always comfortable. 

This morning, we will baptize Ashton and Stratton Parker.  The joy and power of baptism does not mean the absence of any pain or suffering.  The joy of baptism means being washed in the deep abiding love of Jesus so that these boys can abide in God’s love and experience the kind of love and joy that my friend Markie knew-the love and joy that is worth the risk of vulnerability and pain, and the love and joy that will see them through whatever life sends their way.  Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another as he loves them so that Jesus’ joy could be in them and their joy could be complete.  Our promise as the church, as those who say that we will support these children in their new life in Christ, is to obey that command and be that love, to abide in that love as a community, and to be deeply connected with Jesus.  Through our love for each other, and the way our loves spills out these doors and makes a gospel difference in the world, we will show Ashton and Stratton the power and joy of abiding in God’s love.

                                                                             Amen.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Fruit

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
May 2, 2021

5 Easter B 

          Last weekend, two fully vaccinated long-time friends and I got together for the first time in many months.  Lisa lives in Cincinnati and Cathy lives in Columbus so the three of us span 1-71 in Ohio.  We are not childhood friends, or even college friends, but we have been friends long enough to complete each other’s sentences and generally know what the other is thinking.  During the pandemic, we have texted, talked by phone, emailed, and zoomed.  But while all of those ways of communicating kept us connected on one level, aware of what was going on in each other’s lives and able to both see and hear each other, being physically present with each other nourished our souls well beyond what any zoom call could, as wonderful as those were when we could not be together in-person.  Being together last weekend was a reminder, as if we needed one, of how we are nourished and sustained by our deep connections with each other. 

          Jesus is talking about even deeper connection this morning when he describes the way he and God are connected as vine and vine grower, and the way Jesus and his disciples are connected as vine and branches.  Jesus states this as fact.  “I am the vine.  You are the branches.”  Jesus does not say “You are the branches once you have earned being a branch or once you prove that you can bear fruit.”  Being a branch of the Jesus vine is simply who we are as Jesus’ disciples.  The intensity of that relationship is described when Jesus says “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”  Nothing.  Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing.  But if we abide in Jesus, we will bear much fruit.

          So, how do we bear that fruit? 

          Jesus tells us that if we abide in him, as the branch abides on the vine, we will naturally bear much fruit, just as the branches do.  Yes, some fertilizer, pruning, and other gardening-type tasks help the branches bear more and better fruit, and we do that by nourishing our relationship with Jesus.  Prayer, Bible study, worship, and our additional spiritual disciplines, whether done together or individually, all nourish our relationship with the vine.  But the fruit comes naturally because bearing fruit is what the vine just does.

          What is the fruit that we are to bear as followers of Jesus? Our readings from 1 John this Easter season are pretty clear that the fruit we are to bear is love.  I John picks up on Jesus’ words this morning when the writer says “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  1 John comes down very hard on those who do not love their brothers and sisters, their fellow human beings: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”  Love is the fruit of the Jesus vine.

          Neither Jesus nor 1 John is talking about either sentimental love, or selective love.  If we want to know what the fruit of the Jesus vine looks like, what the love of someone who abides in God looks like, we need look no further than our reading from Acts this morning and the encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.  Philip, at the urging of an angel of God, travels a wilderness road he had not planned to take.  Philip sees the Ethiopian and, at the angel’s urging, does not walk but runs up to the chariot where Philip hears the Ethiopian reading the prophet Isaiah out loud.  Philip is in no hurry to be on his way and takes time to explain the scriptures, leading the Ethiopian to desire baptism, which Philip does.  Then Philip is snatched away by the Spirit, and the Ethiopian went on his way rejoicing. 

This odd little story teaches us much about the kind of radical love that is the fruit of those who abide in God.  First, that love will often be inconvenient.  Following the wilderness road from Jerusalem to Gaza was not on Philip’s agenda when he woke up that morning.  But Philip went, obedient to the urgings of the Spirit, and gave generously of his time to explain the scriptures to the Ethiopian.  Secondly, the love that comes from abiding in Jesus does not discriminate.  The Ethiopian, while a trusted member of the Queen’s court, was nonetheless an outsider in society because he was a eunuch.  Philip does not blink when he is told by the Spirit to go over to the Ethiopian’s chariot and get in, nor does he hesitate to baptize the Ethiopian.  And thirdly, Philip knows his scripture so well and is so nourished by the scriptures that he has no problem explaining the passage to the Ethiopian.

Jesus reminds his followers that our connections with God, each other, and the whole human family are a fact which is why, during this pandemic, we have missed being together in person so very much.  But Jesus also reminds us that as deep and wonderful as our connections with each other may be, those connections are not an end in themselves.  They are designed to bear fruit that will last.  That fruit is love-love that will sometimes be inconvenient, love that transcends any differences between or among human beings, and love that needs to be nourished to be healthy.  That kind of radical love is impossible for Jesus’ followers if we are not nourished by our attachment to the vine.  Jesus is the vine.  We are the branches.  When we abide in Jesus, and are nourished by the vine, we will bear love that will last even and especially as we see our way through our current challenges.

                                                                   Amen.