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A series of essays in the Episcopal Church


The Difference Between the Idea and Actually Seeing

The Difference Between the Idea and Actually Seeing

By The Rev. John Hamilton
Grace Church in Newark, NJ

May 1, 2005: Easter 6 Year A BCP 1979

 

May 1, 2005: Easter 6 Year A BCP 1979

 

Acts 17:22-31

I Peter 3:8-18

John 15:1-8

 

There is knowing something in one's head.  But sometimes really knowing something requires experience.   I was reminded of this by a recent experience.  When the cherry blossoms bloomed in Branch Brook Park I knew the flowers would be beautiful, yet when I actually went to see them they were glorious.

 

I found myself going there over and over again.  The blossoms were incredible.  And they become more brilliant, full, rich as time progressed.  They filled my heart with gladness. They put sparkle in my eyes. The play of light and shadow among the petals was joy filled..

 

Then one day, as the flowers were beginning to wane, and the ground was covered with fallen petals a little like snow on the ground, I noticed one type of tree that seemed to have a new bright color red.  It was different to the flowers.  It was deeper and richer.  It was not quite as abundant as the petals, yet it was somehow heavier.  Then I realized they were cherries, loads of cherries beyond my ability to count them.  Flower had turned to fruit.

 

Our gospel lesson today also uses similar imagery.  Jesus said I am the vine, you are the branches.  It is an enticing image

 

Grapevines were part of the every day existence  of the people who lived around the Mediterranean.  And vines are fascinating plants because a vine can be gigantic with almost countless branches, all connecting to the core, to the root.  Vines can produce enormous quantities of fruit, fruit meant for making wine and raisins, intoxicating drink and sweet treats.

Vines bring joy,  a joy not unlike the sight of millions of cherry blossoms stretching out through the lengths of Branch Brook Park.

 

I think it is no coincidence that the vine produces one of the two elements we use in our Eucharistic celebration.  Wine that is the fruit of the vine and the product of our work is brought to God and as grapes have been transformed into an intoxicant, the gifts we bear to God are transformed into the life of the Risen Christ given back to us freely.

 

When Jesus says he is the vine, we are the branches, he is saying that he is the source of our strength, the source of our inspiration.  We connect to him.  We draw our energy from him.  Our lives are an expression of his life.  We express his faithful loving struggle in the world.

We live into the joy of his resurrection.  Just as the life of Jesus bore much fruit in his lifetime, so to our lives are to bear fruit like his.

 

The Bible teaches us much about the fruit We will bear in our life of Christ...

 

There is the traditional list called “The fruits of the Spirit” compiled from the Epistles.  They include:  Love, Joy, Peace, Long-suffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Truth, Meekness, Patience, Modesty, Temperance, Chastity.

 

Or we could look at the seven corporeal works of mercy that are drawn from Matthew’s Gospel:

To feed the hungry,  Cloth the naked,  Shelter the stranger,  Assist the sick, Help strangers, Bury the dead, Aid the widow and orphan.

 

A good way to describe what it means to bear fruit would be to say: we bear fruit when in our actions and words others can see the work of Christ Jesus

 

Our lives bear fruit when the teaching of the gospel fermenting in our hearts and minds begins to take shape in our life.  The knowledge, the beauty, the joy and peace of such a life taking shape in the very flesh of our existence  is like the difference between the idea of something and seeing, touching, hearing it.  It is like the difference between the idea of cherry blossoms, and actually seeing them.

 

Jesus says just as the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me.

 

The temptation is to try and force the fruit.  I cannot imagine a cherry tree or a grapevine straining to burst out in flower and fruit.  It must wait for due season.  The flower, the fruit in us, comes in God’s time.  It comes because God is at work in us.

 

The reality is that the fruit that we see in the spring is the work of the prior summer.  The tree soaked up sun and rain during the summer, saved it in its roots and then just when the weather was right bursts into flower and fruit.

 

So too I believe that God is at work in our lives. when we bear fruit in our Christian life it is the result of much work that God has been doing in our lives through prayer, worship, relationships, study and sacraments, through our suffering and our joy.

 

When we bear fruit, it is God’s work with us.  It is that strange and wonderful mystery of the cooperation between God and us.  God does the work and we bear the fruit.  It is the mystery called “Grace”.  On our part, there is an effort, a struggle, maybe even just the struggle to let go and allow God to work in us.

 

It does strike me that there is one fruit that seems to me has been lacking, not just in our Episcopal Church, but in all those churches that are called Mainstream, and that fruit is Evangelism.

 

One of Jesus' ministries was that he preached good news to the poor.  The poor came in droves to him, not just for the healing of their illness, not just for food, but to hear the story of the abiding faithfulness of God and to hear the promise that God is still in the lives of his people.

 

Our Epistle today, says, “Always be ready to make an account of the hope that is in you.”

 

The work of Evangelism is not just to be welcoming and friendly though the importance of that cannot be stressed enough.  The work of Evangelism is also to tell a story that can connect with the lives of those who seek God.

 

It is the attempt to describe the grace that is at work secretly in us, fermenting in our lives, transforming us into manifestations of God’s love. We come to the Eucharist each week to hear our stories as the people of God in Scripture.  Our work is to see how that story is unfolding in our lives here and now.

 

Some of the fruit we are called to bear is the telling of our stories.  It is good for us to articulate why we come to this place.  Where do we see God in our lives?  What do we believe God has done for us? 

 

Many of us come to this place because we have gone to church all our lives.  It is so much a part of us that it is hard to separate out our spiritual conviction from our core identity.  However, in our time and place we must start to tell our story.  We are now living in a world where much of God’s story and of faith is strange, even foreign to our neighbors.  We are now living in a world, where the understanding of not just Christianity, But religion faith in general, Is a foggy idea.  Meanwhile too many people are wasting their time seeking meaning in possessions or some idea of success.

 

For us to learn to tell our faith story, to say what brings us to this place, is to bear the fruit of God that many people desperately crave. It Is of utmost importance, if we are going to be able to help those who are seeking to find God and meaning in their lives.

 

Learning to tell this story, is not easy, but it is also not hard. It is not about getting it right.  We do not need to make our story fit some idea of how it should look.  It is not about taking the right steps, or saying some magic formula, though that is many people’s idea of Faith.  In fact, I should imagine most of our stories are a mixture of graces received and questions unanswered.  This is good, because this is true.  This respects the mystery of God.

 

And I should imagine no two stories are alike.  It might be the story of the loving example of a family member, or loved one.  It might be the story of a passage through suffering.  It might be the story of delight in the beauty of the world, or in the beauty of liturgy.  It might be a story of curiosity, the story of a quest after purpose and meaning.

 

Perhaps it is a story that defies words, An intuition, a sense, an inkling of something that you sense in the scripture, in the sacrament, in the life Christ teaches us to live.

 

I invite you to take some time today or tomorrow to examine your story.  Write it down. Perhaps share it with a trusted friend or loved one. 

 

What draws you to God in Christ?  What has God done for you?  There is no need to be pious, or to seem holy.  Tell it like it is.  Be honest.  The truth sets us free. 

 

I do suggest that you have in mind someone you can talk to in case this process raises something hard in your life.  You may find yourself in need of support.  Telling our story can sometimes start the process of inviting God into a place never before visited where God’s healing is needed.

 

There are tools that help us in this process.  They are sometimes called spiritual autobiographies.

If you would like some of these you only need to ask.

 

As we tell these stories, even if only to ourselves, they cease to be just ideas, and they become something we can share.  It is the power of the word.  It is the mystery of the incarnation.  It is like the idea of cherry blossoms as it gives way to the presence of cherry blossoms.  When our stories cease to be something buried in ourselves, but take on words so that we can share them, we too begin to see God’s work in our lives more fully, we begin to see the flower on the tree,

And before we know it, we are bearing more fruit, than we ever imagined we could bear.

 

In the name of the Father...


You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to lcrew@newark.rutgers.edu Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.

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