It’s Father’s Day in Canada and many other places around the world. It’s one of two relationships that we all have. Whether or not your father is living, whether or not you know who your father is, no matter what kind of relationship you have with your father, we ALL have a father. It’s one of our primary relationships and what kind of relationship that is or has been, has the power to shape how we interact with others.
The reading from John 15 talks about relationship… the relationship between Jesus and God… the relationship between Jesus and us… and the relationship among us as his disciples. Let’s listen, as the metaphor of the vine and branches invites us to explore our faith and our relationships:
“I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He breaks off every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and he prunes every branch that does bear fruit, so that it will be clean and bear more fruit. 4 Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine. In the same way you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, then you will ask for anything you wish, and you shall have it. 8 God’s glory is shown by your bearing much fruit; and in this way you become my disciples. 9 I love you just as God loves me; remain in my love. 12 My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you.
As followers of Jesus, our primary relationship in our faith life should be Jesus. But is it? Do we delve into his teachings and really try and live them out? Do I follow Jesus in a way that is recognizable or do I get caught in the tasks of ministry to the extent that I don’t spend enough time with Jesus? Do you attend worship out of habit, out of appreciation for the music, or the preaching or because you have kids of Sunday School age?
This passage from John is Jesus telling us that unless we remain connected to him, we will not bear fruit. Jesus tells us it’s about relationships… with him… our neighbours… and the natural world. We cannot bear fruit by ourselves… we must remain or GET connected to Jesus as the vine. Grapevines are intermingled and overlapping… it is difficult to see where one leaves off and another begins. Isn’t that much like the interconnectedness of all our relationships? 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. Sometimes we need pruning… 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 perhaps in the biblical sense of children, but in the sense of bearing the fruit in relationships of love and justice.
I participated in the Zoom recall of General Council Commissioners yesterday, one of the items of business was to propose some further anti-racism work. Once again, we heard some painful stories of racism. These United Church people, from coast to coast to coast are our brothers and sisters. We are in relationship with them. They are our sisters and brothers. We are all joined to the grapevine that is Jesus. We are all affected by the disease of racism. The United Church issued a statement on Thursday that ‘Black Lives Matter’ and it said in part: We confess that our United Church has not been such a sanctuary against racism. In particular, we regret that our church has been complicit in racial injustice, and that systemic anti-Black racism still exists within our structures. The church has not always lived up to its understanding of itself. We are sorry for our inability to hear and respond to the pain of our Black siblings. You can read the entire statement here.
Today is also the National Indigenous Day of Prayer. And the fifth anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC’s) release of its 94 Calls to Action.
Carolyn Wilson Wynne, a diaconal minister in the United church writes, “How many of our United Church people have read all 94 Calls, or even just those that are directed particularly at churches? What is the likelihood that there are good people in our pews who don’t remember there was a Truth and Reconciliation Commission? And that it wasn’t the altruism of federal government that birthed the TRC, but rather a condition of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement? Prior to the release of its report, from 2008–2014 the TRC crisscrossed this country listening to the survivors of Residential Schools speak their truth of abuses—physical, emotional, spiritual. Survivors shared the horrors that traumatized and continue to traumatize. Settler folk were shocked by the accounts of sexual and physical abuse, dietary restrictions, electric chairs, and sensory deprivation. Truth is, the survivors had been telling these stories for generations; we didn’t listen until they were broadcast into our living rooms.”
The report that concluded the work of the TRC is a document Canadians should have a look at, if not a complete read. And the Calls to Action should be required reading! The United Church of Canada is one of the parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and 14 of the 94 Calls relate to that relationship—numbers 29, 46, 48, 49, 58, 59, 60, 61, 73, 74, 75, 76, 81, 82. (Carolyn Wilson Wynne – Worship Service for NIDP).
Another relationship in which we as people of European descent, thought we were better and knew best for others. White privilege. Not relationships of respect and equality.
The Transition Team is reading and discussion a book entitled Holy Currencies. It is written by Eric Law, an Episcopal priest. We are accustomed to think of ‘currency’ as money.
He redefines it in this way: The word currency comes from the Medieval Latin word currentia which literally means “a flowing,” and from the Latin word currere which means “to run or flow.” It was John Locke in 1699 who first used the word currency to refer to circulation of money. Since then, the word currency in the English language has been used most often as referring to money. Merriam-Webster.com defines currency as “something that is in circulation as a medium of exchange.” P. 10/11
As he explored and researched sustainable ministries, he found over and over that there were other currencies in place.
He called these the Cycle of Blessings:
• The currency of gracious leadership
• The currency of relationship
• The currency of truth
• The currency of wellness
• The currency of money
• The currency of time and place
Today, I am focusing on the Currency of Relationship:
He defines it as: The internal and external networks of mutually respectful connections that leaders and members of a church and ministry have. Internal connections include constructive relationships among members and leaders, area churches or ministries of the same affiliation, area denominational organizations, and national and international denominational structures. External connections include constructive relationships with non-members. different racial, cultural and ethnic groups in the neighborhood, people with resources and people in need in the community, civic community leaders, ecumenical and interfaith partners, community and civic organizations, and local businesses. p. 11/12
We will be exploring the others in the weeks to come.
I don’t know if you remember an exercise I asked you to shortly after I started last September. I asked you to mark on a map where you lived… I was trying to get a sense of where you were located geographically, knowing that that has an impact on other things. There were some challenges with that map… it wasn’t large enough, there were quite a few of you who were ‘off the map.’
However, with the help of technology, I could import your addresses, or at least most of them, to a Google map and it looks like this: We have people from all around the Halifax Regional Municipality.
Zoom in a bit and you can see that most folks live in Dartmouth.
And when you zoom in a bit more, you can see a scattering of people live right around the church, most folks live across the great divide, the other side of Victoria Road.
So, what does this mean you ask? I could ask you the same question! No matter where we live, we have relationships with those outside our geographic area. We have work relationships… we have family relationships… we have church relationships… and we have geographic relationship… I think one of the things that Covid-19 had highlighted for us, especially when we were being encouraged to stay in our own neighbourhoods, is of the importance of place. Grant shared a story of the joy of painted rocks in his street.
One of the things that came out in the Listening Circles, which seems so long ago, was the desire to connect better with the community. The geographic community in which the church is located. One of the challenges is that there are many of you who don’t live in this community any longer. So it’s a bit more challenging to both feel connected to the neighbourhood around Stairs AND to connect with other people and organizations. We have to be more intentional about it. And we have to do more than drive in and drive out of the neighbourhood. We have to have feet on the ground. Participating in things that go on. Interacting with others and building relationship with others.
You’ve all heard of the six degrees of separation… where we are only 6 relationship from any other person in the world. Not so well known is the theory of three degrees of influence by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler. According to the theory, “Everything we do or say tends to ripple through our network having an impact on our friends (one degree), our friends’ friends (two degrees), and even our friends’ friends’ friends (three degrees). P.18
Have you ever noticed that when someone has a positive outlook on life, most of their friends do too… and even their friends… but if someone has a negative outlook, those ripples spread out as well.
Whether we know it or not, our network of relationships can spread goodness and blessing, or destructiveness and curses. P.18
So, if we are connected to our geographic community through people and organizations… if we enthusiastic about our relationship with Jesus and his mission… and how it is lived out through Stairs… if we are willing to share that with others… we will bear much fruit!
We have much to offer… faith… love… and community.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of following Jesus. Amen.
John 15 – Selected Verses – Good News Version
June 21, 2020 – SMUC
© Catherine MacDonald 2020