Harrowing Of Hell
May 6, 2012

Bearing Fruit

Preacher: The Reverend Kate Wesch

In the name of God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The parable from John’s gospel is about gardening in the kingdom of heaven. In it, God is the vine grower while Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches. If some of the branches are just lying about, disconnected from the vine, they are gathered, cast aside, and burned. But, the branches, which remain connected to the vine, the branches that dwell and remain deeply rooted to their source, those branches bear fruit, are pruned, and continuously bear more and more fruit.

So, how do we stay connected to the vine and why should we care about staying connected at all? And what does it mean in our modern context to “bear fruit”?

Philip, the deacon in the reading from Acts is a good example. This Philip the Evangelist is different than Philip the Apostle. The early Christian community in Jerusalem raised up Philip the Evangelist and six others as the first deacons. Their duties emerged as the disciples found them selves increasingly burdened by a multitude of duties and responsibilities and it became necessary to delegate.

The seven deacons were tasked with serving at the table, and caring for the poor and widowed. They were formed and nurtured in community and then, sent out into the world. Philip was sent to Samaria where he encountered a very influential man by the name of Simon – who was a magician. You see, Philip was smart, he not only preached to the people of Samaria, but he also converted Simon. Once Simon became a Christian, many others followed. Philip filled his days with preaching, healing, caring for the poor and sick, and sharing the message of Jesus, the true vine.

His hard work in Samaria paid off when Peter and John paid him a visit. They traveled from Jerusalem to see it with their own eyes and baptized the converts. In this, you can clearly see how Philip was able to bear much fruit among the Samaritans.

Just as Philip was beginning to adjust and feel comfortable in his role of evangelist to the Samaritans, God did some pruning. God sent an angel of the Lord to tell Philip, “Get up and go into the wilderness.”

In the middle of the wilderness, Philip happened upon a gorgeous Ethiopian eunuch, riding along in a chariot, reading from the prophet Isaiah. In the Bible, God is always behind the really insane ideas and this is obviously one of them.

The scene is the desert at noon in the middle of nowhere. The Ethiopian eunuch was a rich and powerful court official,as well as being extremely good looking because everyone knows in those days Ethiopians were considered the most beautiful people in the world. The Ethiopian was rich, powerful, beautiful, returning from worshiping in Jerusalem while reading from scripture, and yet……. He was untouchable. He was a eunuch, ritually impure according to the Jews and likewise the early Christians. He was NOT the kind of guy you wanted to be seen talking to, let alone engaging in any significant way.

Philip approaches the chariot and in a rude and condescending tone, says, “Do you even know what you’re reading?”

Without missing a beat, the Ethiopian eunuch responds, “How can I without someone to guide me?” In other words, when people like you won’t talk to me or let me into your church, how can I? If you are afraid of me, how will I ever learn? Why don’t you help me?

Philip climbs into the chariot and obviously preaches with conviction because the eunuch not only believes, but also sees water! In the desert! And wants to be baptized! God prunes and Philip bears more fruit!

You see, the eunuch really did understand what he was reading. He understood so well that he believed the impossible: that God loved him, an Ethiopian eunuch, sitting in a chariot in the desert reading Isaiah with a really scared guy called Philip. God loved him, exactly as he was, and all he had to do, now, was show up at the font to be baptized. Because that’s what baptism is: the mark that God loves us,not because of anything we do, but because of who we are.

God loves us unconditionally because God is love. The epistle reading tells us if we love one another, God lives in us. We abide in God and likewise, God dwells in us. Love is perfected in us through God in order that we might be bold. And, perfect loves casts out fear.

We dwell in God when we stay connected to the vine and it is here, that God, the kingdom’s gardener, nurtures us.

So let us return to these questions: How do we stay connected to the vine and why should we care about staying connected at all? And what does it mean to “bear fruit”?

We stay connected to the vine through our spiritual disciplines, through daily prayer, common worship, fasting, and tithing.We stay connected to the vine when we care for our bodies with healthy food and regular exercise. We ground ourselves when we enter into relationship in community and remain open to the indwelling of Christ in those around us.

Why does this matter? It matters when things begin to fall apart or when we realize the world is more than we can bear alone. It matters when someone needs you to be there, an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on.

C.S. Lewis said, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” We are souls on a common spiritual journey seeking to be fed and watered and nurtured as we navigate our individual paths.

When we do all these things, when we allow God to prune us, when we listen for the call and open ourselves to being sent forth into the world, we are empowered by the Spirit to be bold.

Being bold doesn’t mean dressing in black and smashing windows in downtown Seattle to make a statement, however confused it may be.

Being bold in our actions means walking into the wilderness like Philip if that’s what God asks us to do. Being bold means taking a risk, stepping up to a challenge, making a change, and committing to a life of spiritual disciplines.

Being bold might be saying Morning Prayer before checking Facebook or your e-mail each day. It might be signing up for your first 5K run or addressing the conflict in a relationship.

Whatever it may be for you, be bold! That is what it means to bear fruit in the kingdom of God.