Christianity is a progressive faith. It is never stagnant nor regressive. It’s very essence is to move into life not into death. Each action, comment and teaching of Jesus is about transformation and resurrection.
That is the essence of our parish strategic plan – “to thrive as a welcoming Christian church community”. Without a vision of what we are to be there can be no movement or growth. Staying as we were is not an option, being focussed on bearing fruit is. What that fruit will look like is will reveal itself and we will be changed.
We do not, cannot, must not, stand still.
For many years my father worked in a vineyard. He worked in the cellar nurturing wine for the winemaker. His product was a growth industry. The grapes grew on vines that had been well pruned and cultured. Then the grapes found their way to crushers separating the skins from the juice and then the juice sat in large vats sitting on top of the skins for colour and taste. This was a journey and process of transformation that began with the secateurs of the vineyard staff.
Jesus uses the very same image here and it is a positive image. This is not about punishment and reward. If you fail to bear fruit you will be pruned and left to fall barren to the ground. Pruning is an image of encouraging and enhancing transformation. What is dead is let go, what is alive is encouraged to be more alive, more fruitful. The pruner looks for the signs of life and ensures that it is given all it needs to produce.
In Jesus the vineyard worker is interested in the here and now. What is going to bear fruit in this place and time. It is earthy realism. Life lived in the present world. That is the Christian faith. It is about bringing justice and peace, God’s dream for the world, into being right where we are.
Over the years Christianity has, like other religions, been focussed on the other world, heaven in what ever words used to describe it. Early Christians saw it as their duty to be martyred so as to go and be with the Jesus in heaven. For many this was the goal up until relatively recently in historical terms. For some for some, this is still the goal. To go and be with Jesus as soon as practicable.
For Christians, faith is an embodied experience lived in the here and now. Incarnation is key to a disciples understanding of the world. Faith is not an escape but an invitation to live here & now, in & of the people and creation for that is what God did in and through the life of Jesus. The incarnation of Christ values our humanity. Jesus become like us so that we could become like God.
The idea of working out our salvation here on earth is that we become more and more God-like and less and less ego-like. It is not that our works save us, but that our works validates and authenticates our status as children of God. Our works give evidence to our faith. We are on the journey to becoming one with God, what Julian of Norwich calls –‘one-ing’. Our lives are combination of little deaths, transformations and resurrections every day.
We grow and change, live and die to experiences, make mistakes and endure failures to learn and grow. Thomas Merton suggests that the only person who is inconsistent is the person who is all was consistent, whose views never change, whose perspective on the world always stays the same. He suggests we should not trust such a person because they have never experienced life or have experienced life and failed to reflect, contemplate and process what they have experienced.
This is the process of the vineyard John has Jesus use here. Life, in all its joys and sadness, success and failures, slowly cuts away the dead wood in our lives to allow us to leave behind the false self of the ego and to discover the true self of God within us. Marcus Borg suggests that the word repentance refers to going beyond our mind, the mind we have at this moment. This idea suggests that sin is in some attached to how we see the world through our ego, that it is all about ourself.
What was seen as the norm in the past no longer is because we have gone beyond the mind, the thinking that we had then. The world is round, not flat, the world orbits the sun, not the other way around, slavery is wrong, women are to be treated the same as men and more show us that we have repented and continue to do so.
A life lived in Christ:
Values past experience – builds on the past, is grateful for what has been done by and the example of Jesus
Focuses on the now – values self, others & the experience of love in the present moment
Welcomes the future, but lives fully not dies gradually, for it.
Each Sunday, in the Great Thanksgiving we remind ourselves of the mystery of our faith, which is not exactly a mystery. The so called mystery of faith reminds us that we are a people of the past, of the present and of the future, not as separate categories but as a whole. God’s time or kairos breaks in on us, not in a linear or horizontal way, but vertically, cutting through all categories of experience at once. We know Christ has died to deal with the fear of death in all its forms, that Christ is risen and present giving life and resurrection now, and that he will come again to herald in God’s dream for the world, the just realm of God.
In a conversation this week with Borondarra Council we are working in partnership to develop regular arts activities for local residents who are housebound or residents of the local nursing home network. While there are a number of people visiting nursing homes there is little being done in the arts area to get people out of their private homes. This is an example of branches bearing fruit.
In that same conversation we have agreed to work together to run school holiday arts programs here as part of their school holiday program. This will bring children aged 5 – 12 and their parents here for a couple of hours at a time. The parents stay here for that time so it means we have the opportunity to engage with them as well. This is an example of branches bearing fruit.
Let us embody our role as branches and step into the world prepared to do and be what we need to be to bring forth fruit of justice, compassion and respect. It is our mission.