May 6 2012
John 15:1-8 & Acts 8:26-40
John W. McNeill
Today brings us a story in the book of Acts. A prominent government official is traveling on a journey. He is heading back to his country after a visit to
He’s not Jewish, but he is seeking God. On his journey back home he is reading
the Bible. Back in those days one read out loud. Silent reading was not
invented until the 4th Century. St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan. (That will be on
He was reading a portion of Isaiah. The apostle Philip happened to overhear him and asked him if he understood what he was reading.
The traveler replied, “How can I understand unless someone helps me?” and invited Philip to sit beside him. And this gave Philip the opportunity to proclaim the good news about Jesus.
After hearing the good news, the traveler they came upon some water. The traveler on the journey, noticing some water by the side of the road, asked if he might be baptized. Philip consented and baptized him on the spot.
But notice the passage that he is reading. Because the Isaiah passage under consideration should make us wonder: What are we signing up for?
[Acts 8:32] Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.
[Acts 8:33] In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth."
This is not an attractive prospect. To sign up with Jesus means to join yourself to this one. To understand ourselves not as those who are allied with the world’s standards and value system of power and retribution. Of the return of evil for evil.
To sign up with Jesus is to sign up not with the power of wealth, power, popularity, but to sign up with the one who preached and demonstrated self-giving love.
Self-giving love that the world does not understand.
And frankly I dare say that we have a hard time keeping our minds and hearts conformed to.
When the world says retaliation, Jesus says reconciliation.
When the world says, get more, Jesus says give more.
Now this is difficult, because there are plenty of things in this world that make us afraid we will be without and be taken advantage of. But Jesus turns this around.
Jesus invites us to trust in God and allow the loving and forgiving and embracing power of God to work through us.
Jesus invites us to be part of the holy healing Godly project of the salvation of the world.
Takes courage. Takes commitment. Takes allowing Christ to work in us.
Jesus knows that we cannot do that alone. But together we can.
First it requires that we talk together. We need instruction from each other. Philip was an apostle. He was in a particular position to instruct from his direct personal encounter with the Risen Christ. The rest of us, not so. We need to be teachers and students. We need to listen to each other, question each other, respond to one another and pray deeply together.
At General Conference these last few weeks, there was an attempt at Holy Conferencing. But there was also an apparent lack of ability on the part of many to really speak and listen with respect, honoring one another’s experience in the light of the Biblical witness. Conversation is not a matter of someone saying “The Bible says so and so and that settle it.” Like the Ethiopian eunuch, we will not understand the Bible and how it applies to our time and place unless we talk it over. Pray it over. Live it over.
We cannot assume that what the Bible has to say to us is in our time and place is exactly what it has to say others in their time and place. This was one of the mistakes that missionaries to other cultures made when they carried the Gospel there. They had difficulty separating what was cultural from what was truly part of Jesus Good News message.
So in the midst of disagreement and discord that surfaces among us such as what happened at General Conference and sometimes happens even here at Fairport UMC, what do we do? What does it mean? How can we continue to be in ministry together?
We need to take seriously Jesus’ teaching that those who follow together on this journey are branches of a vine. To stay connected to Christ is at the same time to stay connected to one another.
But it’s not just about being connected: The branch of a vine is to produce fruit. More important is that we actually become the people God has created us to be and do the things that God is calling us to do.
Fruit is how we are and what we do.
How we are: what qualities of spirit and character do we grow among ourselves. Are we taking on the qualities that St. Paul tells us are the fruits of the spirit?
They are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
These fruits of the Spirit lead to what we do: pray, learn, serve others, promote justice and fairness, strengthen the weak, encourage the disheartened, reach out to the lonely.
And in our differences, we remain connected to each other because we are connected to Christ. As long as we are connected to Christ we are connected to Christ for Christ is the vine and we are the branches.
If we stay connected we will produce fruit. If we don’t, we are useless for the purposes of God’s vineyard, God’s kingdom, God’s way of life that is taking shape in the world.
Worship and prayer. Learning. Intentional Living and service. Connected to God. Connected to each other, and connected to the world as extensions of the vine of Christ’s love. The branches of vines have an amazing way of getting places one would never expect.
Around the Lord’s Table we act out in a different image our connection to Christ and to one another. We are joined in the fellowship of this holy meal – linked to Christ and one another, remembering and acting out Christ’s love for the world.