(Being the first Sunday, today we begin with a sermon particularly for the young and young at heart.)
Have you ever seen vines growing? There’s a trunk, a base for the vine, and from it the branches grow, with even more delicate tendrils curling near the leaves and–if we’re lucky–clusters of fruit. We know that plants can grow well enough on their own, but the best fruit grows from vines that have a faithful vinegrower–a gardener–to tend to the plants, prune them, and watch out for disease, bugs, and other dangers like early frosts or unseasonable droughts.
We know the health of the vine by examining its leaves, but we also know its health by the quality of its fruit. What do you notice in really good fruit? Think of a grape–what makes a really good grape?
Are grapes the only kind of fruit? Not at all! “Vine” is one way to think of a source. The source of our strength, of all the goodness we have, is God, Creator of all Creation. There are so many different kinds of fruit in the world! So all good fruit shows our cooperation with our Creator to be the best we can be, drawing from the source of everything. Just because we don’t like one kind of fruit or haven’t ever heard of something doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Our goodness is living in ways that show how we are close to the very source of Love itself, and we share that love with ourselves and with one another.
If we know anything of gardening, we’ve probably heard of folks talking to their plants, but I don’t know if anyone stops to ask the branches of a vine how hard it is to grow a perfect cluster of grapes or how the grapes themselves feel about vying for sunlight, how to swell and grow with just enough toughness to contain the juicy goodness, or how to hang on the vine while others never develop or get plucked by birds or infected by bugs. If the fruit did talk, I’m sure they would be the first to tell us that it’s not easy, that there’s pressure to be perfect, to fulfill expectations. But this is fruit, after all. It has a determined purpose (though it could become any number of things), and it has a specific source. The life of fruit isn’t really that complicated, is it?
Any gardener will tell you that it can be. Is the fruit GMO or organic? Hybrid or heirloom? Hothouse or hydroponic? Local or imported? There are lots of variations on a theme, and it’s easier for us to let the distinctions fall to the wayside and just enjoy the blueberries and apples because the fruit is good and good for us–we don’t really need to know all the details.
If we slow down and pay attention, however, we learn where the fruit comes from, what kind of care went into its production and protection, and just how ripe and delicious it is (or not). John Kabat Zinn is a long-time teacher and advocate for mindfulness, and I believe it was in one of his books that he writes about mindfully eating a raisin, noticing as much as one can. How often do we slow down long enough to appreciate how good what we consume is, let alone to appreciate the miracle of creation food is?
Loving intention helps nurture the best harvests, and there is no more loving intention than what God offered in bringing Jesus among us, to abide with us so that we might abide with God, have the very words of God in our hearts–the very seeds that would continue to manifest the fruit of the Spirit.
All the details that go into creating who we are affect how best we share our gifts with the world, what fruits of the Spirit we offer. Maybe they’re the virtues extolled by Paul in Galatians (5:22-23): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Or maybe they’re more carefully created gifts that the vinegrower has nurtured in you. The voice you share in your song or poetry may be mentored by the influences you’ve looked to in your life, but they’re fine-tuned by your experiences, your talent. Teachers and mentors and others may have nudged and guided us along our way, lovingly guiding us and training us to grow in accord with God’s will as we live most fully into who we are created to be.
Philip, who had the tremendous experience of walking with Jesus in his life and ministry, witnessing miracle upon miracle, suffered the trauma of his teacher’s crucifixion and the wonder of the resurrection. Philip lived and breathed the scriptures, having had his mind and heart open to the word of God by the Word Incarnate. Philip had been trained in proclamation and lived oriented toward the Son of God, ready in a moment’s notice to head the call of God, to go where he was supposed to go. Philip demonstrates what living into the love of God looks like in our lives, what it looks like to abide in God. We fuss about not knowing what to do in our lives, not hearing God’s call, but do we give our attention to the Source? Do we give God a chance to be heard, or are we too busy telling God what we want to hear and when we want to hear it? Why are we surprised when things don’t happen on our schedule? Were we there when the foundations of the earth were laid, or did we cause the dawn to know its place (Job 38:4a, 12b)? Ultimately, when we surrender into the love of God, we live for God’s glory and are more willing and receptive to be and do what God asks of us.
In our reading of Acts, Philip is summoned to the Ethiopian eunuch. The eunuch has been to worship in Jerusalem and is continuing his study of the Prophet Isaiah. He’s continuing in his searching, curiosity, and work. While he has been fulfilling his role in the social order, there is something to this reading from Isaiah about injustice that speaks to him, that stirs his heart, though he doesn’t yet have full understanding. So Philip, who has the gift of proclamation, who is filled with the power of the Spirit, is able to share with the eunuch a summary of the arc of salvation, the story of life, liberation, and love. At the end of the summary, our Ethiopian friend asks to be baptized.
What do we all need to grow? Water. What do we need to begin our Christian journey? Water–the water of baptism so that we, too, may die and be born anew in spirit. And nurtured by the Love of God, abiding in God, we might grow toward the Son and bear fruit in the likeness of our Creator. We need so many things to help lead and guide us, nurture and nourish us. Thankfully we have a community in which to grow and flourish, and when we start to lose our way, we have others to help us get back on track, to help prop us up or maybe a little more forcefully help us get tied back to the fence (loving others have a way of holding us accountable).
It’s up to us to realize our vulnerability, though. It’s up to us to recognize our dependence upon the one from whom comes the source of our being, of all our goodness. It’s up to us to be trained in the way we should grow, in the way we should go. It’s up to us to choose to follow the Way of Love and bear good fruit to the glory of God.