Sunday, May 6, 2012

5 Easter

May 6, 2012

John 15.1-8

+ I have had one of “those” weeks. You know what “those” weeks are. I know you know, because you tell me when you’re having one of those weeks. It’s one of those weeks in which I felt as though I sort tripped and just couldn’t regain my balance. I just sort of stumbled throughout the whole week. And it had nothing to do with cocktails or communion wine, I promise. I just felt “off.”

In the long run, these kinds of weeks actually are good for me. They tell me that I need to slow down and get centered again. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to do in my life right now.

We, as the Church, sometimes go through times like this past week was for me. The Church, at times, seems—shall we say?—a bit “off.” And I don’t mean just our congregation of St. Stephen’s. Yes, we do have those “off” times here at St. Stephen’s. But, I mean, that larger Church. The Church Universal—the Church Catholic and Apostolic.

And like “off” weeks, these “off” times in the Church are not always ultimately bad things. They are, in the long run, good things. Because it is a time for us, as the Church, to center ourselves again and to get back on track.

We, as the Church—as the Episcopal Church, yes, but as the larger Church, are going through one of those periods of getting ourselves back in track again. The Church has been having an “off” time in the recent past. If you haven’t noticed it, there have been some difficult times for the Church.

And when I tell people that we heading for a time of change, I find them bracing themselves for whatever I am going to say next. Well, this is one of those times when you might need to brace yourselves. Because, the fact is, the Church is changing. It is not the Church we knew thirty years ago or forty years ago. Or even twenty-five years ago.

Some people really think I’m “off” myself when I talk like this. But it’s true. We are changing. And we need to change as the Church.

And, if you really pay attention, if you really pause and just put your ear to the pulse of all that’s happening, you can feel it too. That change. The old ways of “doing Church” are passing away.

Our Vestry here at St. Stephen’s occasionally has to hear me go off on occasion about this. Those old ways of “doing Church” are not effective anymore. Now, before we rage about the fact, before we panic, just remember that our ways of “doing medicine” are not the same as they were twenty-five or fifty years ago. Our ways of “doing” education are not what they were twenty-five or fifty years ago. We have learned much in our recent past And we are learning new ways about the way we govern. The way we do ministry. The way we see ourselves and the world around us are all changing. And let me tell you, that’s a very good thing.

Yes, it’s hard to shift our way of thinking around these changes. Yes, it’s hard to realize sometimes that the church we once thought we knew is sometimes a bit unrecognizable to us. But, it’s the truth. And we need to change.

Because the old ways of governing the Church and leading the Church and of doing ministry just sometimes don’t work anymore—not in this society, not in this world in which we live. Now, this might be frightening to us. We might be sitting here on this Sunday morning feeling a bit of anxiety over these changes. e might be saying to ourselves, “But, I like the way things we before.”

Before we despair over the changes, we need to remember one very important thing: As long as we follow Jesus—and that is what we do as Christians—we know that whatever changes might happen, it’s all for the ultimate good.

In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus giving us a glimpse of what it means to follow him.

“I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus tells us.

The effective branch bears fruit. Our job as Christians is do just that. It is to bear fruit. Bearing fruit does not mean being frozen in the old way of doing things. We can’t bear fruit when we are worried about maintaining the museum of the Church. We at St. Stephen’s are getting rid of some of our old furniture that decorated our undercroft since the 1960s today and putting them on the burm. I like to think that’s kind of symbolic of our changes here at St. Stephen’s.

Bearing fruit means, growing and changing and flourishing. That is what it means to is to be effective as Christians. Being a Christian doesn’t mean just feeling warm and fuzzy all the time. Being a Christian isn’t only about following private devotions, and reading the Bible by ourselves. Being a Christian isn’t about our own private faith. It certainly has nothing to do with feeling safe and complacent.

Being a Christian means living out our faith. And living out our faith as followers of Jesus means that we must be pliable to some extent. And we must be fertile. We must go with change as it comes along. We must remain relevant.

Now that doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. We still do what we always do. We celebrate our Holy Eucharist. We celebrate and remember our baptisms. I will still be wearing vestments at Mass. We will still have the Book of Common Prayer We will still respect and honor our tradition, his history, our past.

But it also means that we sometimes have to take a good, hard new look at why we do these things and how we do these things. And what these things mean to us and to the world around us.

Being a Christian means following Jesus—not just believing in Jesus. And following Jesus means letting Jesus lead the way. It means allowing the vine to sustain us, to nourish us, to encourage growth within us, so we in turn can bear fruit.

As baptized followers of Jesus, as Christians and Episcopalians who are striving to live out the Baptismal Covenant in our lives, we know that to be relevant, to be vital, we must be fruitful. Following Jesus means that we will follow him through radical times of change. And by being fruitful and growing and flourishing, we are making a difference in the world. We are doing positive and effective things in the world. We are transforming the world, bit by bit, increment by increment, baby step by baby step. We are the conduits through which Christ works in our lives and in the lives of those around us. This is what it means to follow Jesus. This is what means to be a positive Christian example in the world. And when we do this, we realize that we are really doing is evangelizing.

We are sharing our faith, not only with what we say, but in what we do. That is what it means to be a Christian—to be a true follower of Jesus in this constantly changing world. That is what it means to bear good fruit.

So, let us do just that. Let us bear fruit. Let us flourish and grow and be vital fruit to those who need this fruit. Let us be nourished by that Vine—by the One we follow—so that we can nourish others. And let not be afraid of these “new ways” of “doing” Church.

Rather, let us be rejuvenated and excited by these changes. There is a bright and glorious future awaiting us. There is certainly a bright and glorious future awaiting us here at St. Stephen’s. And there is a bright and glorious future awaiting all of us who are following Jesus as his Church. We should rejoice in that.

And we should continue to live out that faith with meaning and purpose. Let us, in the words of our collect for today, always recognize Jesus “to be the way, the truth and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life…”

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