Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Work of Discipleship

 

Sunday 20 May 2012 – St Giles

First Reading Acts 1.15-17,21-26

Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus – he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.

“Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Gospel John 17

Alleluia, alleluia.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
All Alleluia.

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus looked towards heaven and prayed:

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.

Sermon

Perhaps nothing breathes more strongly the promise and presence of the Holy Spirit in John’s gospel than the words and promises of the ‘farewell discourse’ of Jesus in John 14-17, portions of which have occupied our attention during the last several Sundays of Easter.

Next Sunday is Pentecost. Pentecost – time of gift of HS – stands as fulfilment of Easter season and promise of the resurrection, leading on to Trinity Sunday a week later. But now, focus on disciples and Jesus’ prayer for them before he leaves them to continue his mission on earth.

The hour approaches and along with it the glory of both the Father and the Son as Jesus prays on behalf of those to whom the Father has authorized him to give eternal life.

Continuing work of disciples evident in Acts 1. One of first ‘acts of apostles’ is to choose successor to Judas the betrayer. As you heard, after prayer they select two candidates who have been with Jesus throughout, and cast lots between them. Wonder how many of you, faced with important life choices, might consider throwing a dice after praying for guidance as to which fork in road to take!

Jesus’ prayer is lengthy one, filling chapter 17. Sounds like disciples are present. Most prayer and reading anyway in those times was aloud. Jesus’ prays for his followers, and exhorts and encourages them in the words of his intercessions.

How else might they have been able to record and recall his very words unless they were also witnesses to what he actually said? These are the words of an already resurrected Lord who now encourages a company of his disciples, including us in light of the resurrection promise. As Easter people, we are encouraged not to dwell in feelings of abandonment or despair, but to hope in the assurance of Jesus' continuing presence, now that the work for which he was sent has been accomplished. “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do” (17:4).

In the prayer, you may have noticed how many times the work giving is repeated. God gave the disciples to Jesus. Jesus gave the disciples God’s Word. He protects and sanctifies them, before giving them back to God – only one is lost – that is Judas. The message: God is an extravagant giver and his relationship with the Son is cemented by mutual giving.

This means we belong in a special way. One thing we have been given is knowledge of God and his name, through the Son. God's ‘name’ stands for all that He is and has done, most importantly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

When Jesus says we have been given the Word it reminds us of the opening of John’s gospel. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. To know the Word is to know God, and to unlock new life in Him – entry into his kingdom. This knowledge implies adoption as children of the Father. Knowledge of the Word made flesh, leading to belief in the One sent from God. The whole objective of John the Evangelist in writing his gospel.

Nothing is held back by extravagant grace. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. True sharing in its entirety. Much to ponder in these words.

Although discipleship can be a dangerous place to be, yet we are not taken out of this world, but rather sent into it. The love of the Father is not a cotton-wool love. Just as the Father sent the Son, so we are sent into the world – a world that will most likely reject and abuse us. Just as it rejected Jesus himself.

Guarded and sustained in that Word we can know ourselves as a faith community, constituted in the power of Christ's death and resurrection and in the promise of his presence in the gift of the Holy Spirit. About which we will hear more in next Sunday's lesson when we join together as a newly formed missionary team at Wingrave Church for Pentecost Sunday. Amen

Sunday, 6 May 2012

True Vine

Cheddington Easter 5 May 6th 2012

Gospel John 15.1-8

Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the first and the last, says the Lord, and the living one;
I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore.
All Alleluia.

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus said: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.

Sermon

Last year Wine Soc. Ribera del Duero – banks of Duero river – flows through Spain to Portugal. Mysterious process winemaking. So many variables. Weather. Disease. Soil type. Viniculture. Barrels. Temperature. Etc.

Jesus uses I AM imagery throughout John. I AM does not refer to God. Examples:

· Bread of Life (John 6:35)

· Light of the World (John 8:12)

· Door of the Sheep (John 10:7)

· Resurrection and Life (John 11:25)

Now, later in chapter 15 I AM the True Vine. Why ‘true’ referring to vine? [Leave to ponder]. Chapters 14-16 come from Jesus’ familiar address to disciples prior to Passion.

Promise we/they are not abandoned or left alone – often used at funerals – many mansions – I go to prepare a place for you. Give great comfort when interpreted as personal promises from Jesus in our time of distress. Yet image of Vine as much about community of faith as it is about individuals linked to Jesus.

The promise is also in the here and now – as well as about our future in heaven. Fullness of life on earth. Here and now. Life in the Spirit.

Light has come into the world (John 3:19) – not will but has – we are bathed in light here and now. I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10). The presence of the risen Lord is here among us.

Image of Vine not a new one – used in OT – God’s people=his vineyard. Psalm 80: You transplanted a vine from Egypt. It took root and filled the land. Isaiah 5 Song of the Vineyard. Similar imagery – but the True Vine not about Vineyard or entire people but Jesus as the Vine, and us as the branches.

Command is to Abide in Me – this does not just mean remaining in contact with the rootstock or gaining nourishment from it.

Abiding = believing. Word believe never used as verb in John. Believing and abiding – sharing reality of life in Christ – being fully integrated part of it – not just appendage – cannot join then move off – cannot lose contact with vine and remain alive.

Promise of abundant life here and now. Jesus says I will come back and take you to myself – not just transporting us to live near him in ‘dwelling places’ but sharing intimate joined-up relationship – one plant sharing the same tree – same sap flowing through us as everyone else and Jesus himself.

Jesus cannot be kept at a distance. Branches have no separate existence of their own. If we so wish, our link to Christ is lasting and permanent.

What happens when we are joined?

· Bearing fruit – not a command by stern taskmaster – not even something we must do – happens naturally if we remain part of the true vine – all branches bear similar fruit – we cannot do better through our own skills or gifts

· If we are detached – we wither and die. Or if diseased we are cut away. Vine must be protected from corruption or all will die or fruit will be thin.

· We cannot just go our own way – branches must be pruned and cut back – painful – if they are disciplined and can flourish.

· Must be cleansed if diseased

· Branches must be trained – cannot trail around or are damaged or ripped away. Need to face right direction.

· Have no life of our own – but enjoy the abundance of life in Jesus.

Call to bear fruit – not made by disciplinarian but loving, tending, nurturing vine dresser. Not someone who hacks, but identifies what is best for us and gently trains us in the way that we should go to bear best fruit.

We are invited to pray to God as Our Father (not My Father). Such familiar address implies abiding relationship that will last. Vines in Ribera del Duero hundreds of years old. Deep roots many metres down.

Integrity of True Vine held together by One who was lifted up on cross for our redemption. Those who abide in Him abide in the Father. The test will be the fruit we bear. That faithful production of fruit for the world, not of our own volition, not of our own action, skills or works but because we are the True Vine ourselves – an integral part of the tree, in service to God and to the world. Amen