The possibility of peace between North and South Korea… the conviction of Bill Cosby… 10 people, mainly women, mowed down and killed by a driver… many more injured… a calm police officer… the death of a Edna DeMann’s brother… a fundraising dinner… a Conference Executive meeting… All of these played on my heart and mind as I wrote this reflection.
Connections… we are all connected to those things… Janice Lewis was on the other end of Yonge when the killing spree took place.
I learned a new term this week: incel, short for ‘involuntary celibate.’ According to the New York Times,
“Incels are misogynists who are deeply suspicious and disparaging of women, whom they blame for denying them their right to sexual intercourse. At their most extreme, incels have advocated rape and other forms of violence against women.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/24/world/canada/incel-reddit-meaning-rebellion.html
Bill Cosby’s conviction is another demonstration that powerful men can no longer expect to get away with behaviour towards women that we simply accepted for years.
Peace between North and South Korea can lessen our anxiety about nuclear war.
The death of Edna’s brother reminds us of the unpredictability of life and of course we join with her and Gordon in their sorrow.
Conference Executive… where we are being challenged to move forward in faith with few answers… and those changes will impact congregations…
And of course the Roast Beef Dinner in Nine Mile River in which food and friendship are evident… my husband met someone there that he hadn’t seen for over 40 years.
I want you to close your eyes for a moment and visualize all of the ways in which you are connected to God… all the ways in which you experience God’s presence… Now I want you to keep them closed and imagine all the ways you are connected to this place… Now I want you to hold in your heart, all the ways you are connected to one another through this place… And one more thing… imagine the community that God wants for us… When you are ready, you can open your eyes.
We are baptizing Allison Gallant this morning at Nine Mile River… her baptism reminds us that we are ALL connected to Christians everywhere! From those we baptize when they are home for a visit, to those we baptize who have moved away. We are connected to the world wide Christian family through our baptism. It has been said that after Jesus’ resurrection, the early Christians created the ‘Beloved Community.’ A place where all who wanted to learn more about following Jesus way were welcome. A community bound together by love.
Let’s listen to these words from 1 John 4:7-21
4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
4:9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
4:11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
4:12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
4:13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
4:14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.
4:15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.
4:16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
4:17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.
4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
4:19 We love because he first loved us.
4:20 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.
4:21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
We often think of love as a feeling… and of course it is… but it is not only a feeling… it is a way of life… grounded in scripture… that is not dependent on how we feel about someone.
We might not all like each other here… we may hold different views on some things, but those things needn’t prevent us from treating one another with respect… and when we stray from acceptable behavior, we can be held accountable for it. For those of us who have children, we know that loving them is not enough… we have to correct and hold to account. And sometimes it breaks our hearts… because we love them so much.
From that passage that was just read, we hear that God is love. Not “God is loving,” or “God can love” but “God IS love.”
I am going to pass a little plaque I received as a birthday present when I was 8 years old… it’s one of the few things I took with me when l left home… I am not even sure why I took it… but it has hung somewhere in every home I have had. A constant reminder for that indeed, “God is love.”
For us as Christians, the primary way God’s love is revealed to us is in the incarnation, in Jesus Christ, who came to live among us, as one of us. And Jesus was loving… and Jesus was challenging… Because he was not the ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild that so many have been brought up on. Yes, he welcomed all, yes, he respected women and children in a way that wasn’t common in those days. But he also had harsh words for those who burdened the poor with more taxes… and those put a price on God’s grace.
The gospel passage from John continues the series of ‘I am’ statements that John puts in Jesus’ mouth. Last week it was ‘I am the Good Shepherd.’ This week, it is ‘I am the vine and you are the branches.’ Let’s listen to the words as written in John 15:1-8:
15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.
15:2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.
15:3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.
15:4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it bides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
15:6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
15:7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
15:8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
This is the other side of ‘God is love.’ God that wants to prune away all that holds us back from being strong branches of love and bearing much fruit. Grapevines are intermingled and overlapping… it is difficult to see where one leaves off and another begins. Isn’t that much like the inter-connectedness of our faith community? Sometimes it can feel smothering and sometimes it can feel comforting. But either way, we all have an effect on one another. We cannot touch one part without the whole being affected. Grapevines are also very tenacious; they will grow in all directions and so vintners try to direct the vines in specific directions.
Much like God… Seeking to turn us to light, life and love.
The picture on the screen and on the front of the bulletin is one of my flower beds; it was taken on Monday or Tuesday… you can see the iris pushing its determined way through last year’s growth. What will happen to that iris if I don’t clear away the dead stalks from last year? The iris will probably still flower, because they are pretty tenacious, but probably not as much as if I get off my butt and get out there and clear away the dead stuff and allow room for the sun to warm the soil and nourish the new life.
We are much like that iris. We are tenacious! We are bearing fruit! But there are some things that hold us back. Both individually and as a community of faith.
Each of us has something or many things that prevent us from bearing fruit. It could be an old hurt from years ago that we are still hanging on to. It may be some resentment…
It may be sorrow… Whatever it is, perhaps it is time to look at pruning it…Perhaps it is time to ask God to take it away from you… Perhaps it is time to ask God to help you bear fruit.
Pruning is painful, but ultimately rewarding. It is the way in which we can be fruitful and multiply. Not in the biblical sense of children, but in the sense of bearing the fruit of love and justice, compassion and kindness. Pruning away all that holds us back from the life that God would wish for us and all creation. We are connected to God, we are all connected to Jesus, we are connected to one another and all creation. Together, we can bear much fruit… together we can be the Beloved Community.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of bearing fruit, amen.
1 John 4:7-21
John 15: 1-8
April 29, 2018 – ECM1 John 4:7-21