I am the vine, you are the branches

I am the vine, you are the branches

by The Rt. Rev. Alden Hathaway
Retired Bishop of Pittsburgh

Convocation Address Diocese of The Rio Grande

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit - My father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and be my disciples. John 15: 5, 8

General George C. Marshall was once asked by a reporter what political party he favored. He replied, ``My father was a Republican, my mother was a democrat, I'm an Episcopalian'. George Marshall grew up in St. Peter Church, Uniontown, Pennsylvania. There is a picture of him in acolyte vestments displayed in the parish room.

I wonder.

What do we expect the effect to be upon a person who comes into contact with the ministry of the Episcopal Church?

Is it to become a branch to the vine which is Christ? Is it to bear in one's life the things that bring Glory to God? Is it to be a sold out follower of Jesus?

September 11, 2001 was a defining moment for America. Everyone has been talking about how we are different as a nation and as a people.

It was a defining moment for Christians. Many have been asking how we are different as people of faith.

It was a defining moment for the Church. We have all had something to say about it. Wondering what it means; how to react, how to respond. A few see a light from heaven, brighter than the sun.

The terrible events of that September Tuesday morning a year ago, how to interpret them? Three paradigms may apply, and here I am in debt to my friend Fr. David Roseberry of Plano, Texas:

First, PEARL HARBOR: America has been attacked. Without provocation, by stealth and surprise, a vicious foreign foe, taking so many innocent men and women, killed in a matter of hours, at the very crossroads of the nations daily business, the very heart of our common American life.

It touched a deep, but covered, well of national sentiment. An ardent patriotism, untapped for over fifty years. A passion for God and Country. The Flag flying everywhere; singing God Bless America on the Capitol Steps. There is a unity of support for our president and the War on Terror. A pride of national purpose and camaraderie as Americans. It crosses racial and ethnic, political and social barriers. How deep is it? How long lasting will it be? Time will tell.

Then there is TITANIC: That great and luxurious, unsinkable ship; the symbol of western culture at the peak of its golden age, invincible in its industrial might of coal and steel and Empire '' on a calm and star filled night, mortally pierced by a wayward iceberg sunk.

The Twin Towers, icons of the modern enlightened global economy of capital and finance, the wealth of nations that we hold to be our secure foundation and destiny as a society '' taken down in three hours by individuals impassioned by the stark primitive code of desert tribal retribution.

This recession! how long will it last, how low will it go? Up and down. A turn around soon, the pundits assure us, third quarter the worst in how many years? Christmas will be better, unless. Unless, it happens again.

And finally, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS: Do you remember Ed Friedman, that rabbi and family systems analyst. How he talked about late medieval Europe as a dysfunctional culture, run out of gas, bereft of any new ideas, stuck in the same old ruts, closed system, going nowhere. Until that Italian sea captain sailed west and brought back news of a brand new world, shocking the conventions of settled life, shaking the foundations of ordered security.

Yet which also gave a new perspective to everything, releasing energy and imagination which had been building for years but with no place to go now a renaissance of the human spirit touching every aspect of human life and enterprise. The birth of the Modern Era.

Have we not also been culturally stuck?

Since WWII, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism, the victory of Democracy and free market capitalism. That's what modern history has been all about. Now it's done. The ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination and idealism, wrote Francis Fukuyama has been replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In this post historical period there is neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual care taking of the museum of human history with its nostalgia for the glorious past when there was something worth dying for, something eminently worth living for.

Could it be that September 11, 2001 was the shock and the shaking that has exploded for us a brand new perspective with regard to the world, a magnificent challenge to the energy and imagination that has been building in America for years, but until now has had no place to go? The need is for vision; the issue is leadership.

Two years ago, Pope John Paul II sent a message to the National Prayer Breakfast challenging America's political elite. ``As one who is personally grateful for what America did for the world in the darkest days of the twentieth century, allow me to ask: ``Will America continue to inspire people to build a truly better world, a world in which freedom is ordered to truth and goodness?''

Will we indeed?

Many are beginning to see the need for a major new initiative similar in vision and comprehensive in scope as the reconstruction of Europe and Japan after WWII. As our military action concludes in Afghanistan, and whatever will be in Iraq North Korea, it is essential that we not abandon these troubled lands. Yet now such an initiative must embrace a much wider community of needy countries and involve all industrialized nations. A Global Marshall Plan.

Indeed, A Marshall Plan of the human spirit, that need not be confined to societies far removed or lands across the sea, but as close as our own home towns, our schools and universities, our courts of law and courts of public opinion, across the Holy Communion table, across the morning breakfast table.

Thirty five years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. foresaw a call for worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond our tribe, race class and nation (which) is in reality a call for an all embracing and unconditional love for all men. A Global Marshall Plan of the Human Spirit.

The convocation of the Church of Uganda Diocese of Bunyoro Kitara in 1996 was for me like no other church gathering I had ever attended. It was more a county fair; three days of singing and dancing, preaching and teaching, praying and praising, from dawn to dark. Late in the second day, I asked the bishop, ``Wilson, this is your diocesan convention isn't it? I have not seen a budget. I have heard no reports. We have had no resolutions. No votes. When are you going to do the church's business?'' He smiled at me broadly, ``Alden, this is our business!'' And my heart rejoiced to know that this was Church indeed.

The final day of the Convocation the visiting bishops gathered for lunch at Wilson's house before departing to their homes. We were in a circle on the lawn as one of the older retired bishops began to tell of the martyrdom of Archbishop Janani Luwum. the night of February 16, 1977.

President Idi Amin had summoned the Anglican bishops to the International Conference Center in Kampala. After some waiting, the Archbishop was singled out for questioning. ``We protested that we all should go with him'', the old bishop continued, ``but the guards restrained us. They took the Archbishop to another place where Amin himself tried to force a confession that he had conspired against the government. Though he was outspoken on behalf of the people who had been taken and tortured and killed, he had never acted in any subversion. He would not sign. The soldiers stripped him of his cassock and beat him with rifle butts. At one point he struggled to his knees and began to pray; for the people, for the country, for the President. It so infuriated Amin that he went out and returned with his revolver and point blank shot the Archbishop dead''.

As the old bishop related the account, known so well to the others, there was neither despair nor anger but a song in his voice and a light in his eye as the bishops chorused, ``Yes, yes!'' Then he turned to me and said, ``You see, the President thought he could destroy the Church by killing its leader. - The President didn't know the story!''

The African Church knows `the story', the story of Jesus, His life and death and resurrection from the dead. It believes `the story' to be the truth. It claims `the story' as its own story. It lives `the story' in the abiding trust in God and joyful willingness to follow where He leads.

I love the quip I first heard from John Stott: A preacher man was taking an air flight. He had his bible in one of those zip up leather covers under his arm. ``Wait a minute'', the security man said, ``What's in that package?'' To which the preacher man exclaimed, ``DYNAMITE!''

There is now world wide a contest going on for the soul of the 21st century. It is a battle in deadly earnest for the souls of our children and our grand children. It is not a matter of interfaith education or dialogue. For here is the real challenge before us. It is to pull up our spiritual socks and to determine that we will excel in truth, in charity and to surpass in sacrifice the dark witness of our spiritual opponents.

This, after all, is the true witness of who we are as a people: strong and principled, yet gentle, generous and accepting of all sorts and conditions, optimistic about the future, enthusiastic about life yet willing to lay it aside in the defense of freedom. And this is who we are as Americans at our best.

For the last four summers Solar Light for Africa has taken a youth mission to Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. The American kids are linked with Africans, same age and similar education. They live together, work together, play together and pray together. And become fast friends. Invariably upon their return to the States the American young people have a similar emotional reaction; a mix of shame and anger.

They come home to their closets full of clothes, their rooms full of gadgets and their lives full of stuff. They have just left their African friends who have nothing, but whose lives are radiant with a joy in them selves and in one another.

They return to their churches, which are content with a sweetly sentimental, `believe whatever you want', `I'm OK, You're OK', one hour a week Sunday school Christianity. They have been with young men and women whose faith was forged by hunger and disease, by war and death who take their bibles seriously and know what they believe and the Lord they believe in.

These American kids are ashamed of their materialism and they are angry at the culture that has taught them that to have all the goodies is to be happy. They are ashamed of their superficial faith and they are angry at their churches, which have failed to teach them what a great and powerful treasure this life in Christ actually is.

There is one other thing the Americans come back with; a new appreciation for their innate `can do' ability to see a problem and solve it. They see so many problems in Africa and they come back with an enthusiasm for the thought that their contribution is absolutely essential and that their lives can make a difference.

Our people, especially our youth are starving for such a bold vision for America. They are ready to be called and led into a noble cause. That their lives might indeed make a difference: a difference even to their own culture that so desperately needs a difference to be made.

Bishop Kelshaw, you are kind and generous to invite an old and over the hill bishop to address your annual convocation. Forgive me, for I am burdened by an insatiable passion for the vision. I pray it is the same as inspired St. John to write about what Jesus did, ``So many things if written down the world itself could not contain the books''.

It is about spiritual formation. I guess that is what we call it these days. And I wonder. What was it about that little Episcopal Church, Uniontown, Pennsylvania, that formed the spirit of that young George Marshall; a spirit which could conceive and inspire among his fellow country men and women such a magnificent vision?

Am I out of place in asking, Do your congregations today so effect such spiritual formation as this? Your program and policy, your conversation and debate? Or if this is not priority and purpose for you as Church, than what is?

The message is simple: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel. Whatever the business before you as Convocation of the Episcopal Diocese of The Rio Grande, this must be your mission.

Because this is our mandate, for we are a people possessed by an inextinguishable heavenly vision.

The National Cathedral Service of Prayer and Remembrance three days after September 11, Billy Graham, ``This event can give us a message of hope! Hope for the present because the stage is set for a new spirit in our nation. Hope for the future because of God promises''.

Let me close with a modern parable of the Church:

There was a bunch of good ole boys who had a fishing camp up on the lake. They went there to fish a little and drink a lot, and tell each other preposterous stories that weren't hardly true.

Each day they would notice an old man docking his beat up old aluminum boat full of fish. They wondered, ``How is he catchin' em'?'' One of the good ole boys, who was also the game warden said, ``I got my suspicion''. So without letting on who he was, he asked the old feller if he could go fishen with him. The next day, bright and early, they set out. The game warden was amazed to see that all the tackle the old man had was a an old metal box and a net. They motored up to the end of the lake and dropped anchor in a little cove. The old man opened the box, filled with sticks of dynamite. He lit the fuse on one and threw it into the water. BOOM! A whole bunch of stunned fish blurbed to the surface. The old man scooped them up with his net.

The game warden sat dumb-founded then gathered his wits together, reached into his pocket, pulled out his badge and thrust it under the old man's nose. The old man looked at the badge, looked at the game warden, lit a stick of dynamite, stuck it into the game warden's hand and said, ``All right. You gonna' sit there, or are you gonna' fish?''

I hear the fishing in New Mexico is very good. You got the gospel dynamite in our hands. Are you going to sit here or are you going to fish?

Finally, recalling those other immortal words from September 11, ever seared into our imagination as a people, summonsing us to resolution of will,




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