STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH FEBRUARY 14, 2020
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
WORSHIPPING TOGETHER AT HOME
Call to Worship: Revelation 14: 14 & 18.
I looked up; I caught my breath!
—a white cloud and one like the Son of Man sitting on it.
He wore a gold crown and held a sharp sickle.
He thundered to the Angel who held the sharp sickle,
“Swing your sharp sickle.
Harvest earth’s vineyard.
The grapes are bursting with ripeness.”
Lighting of the Christ Candle
Hymn of Praise
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Holy God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Three in One and One in Three,
You are a perfect unity, distinct yet one, different yet equal.
Yours is a bond of love.
You show us what it is to be in community and call us to be united with you through Jesus Christ. You also call us to be in community with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Our world is divided into factions, parties, tribes, identity, and individuals. This chasm appears to be growing farther apart. We have turned away from the values we shared through our common Christian faith. We are left in a wilderness of estrangement where we see enemies around every corner.
As your people we also experience disconnectedness. Our fellowship has been greatly disrupted due to CoVid. Sometimes within the Church we wound and disappoint one another. We take differences of opinion as personal slights. Instead of being open to new ways of doing things, we quarrel over preferences. We can be impatient, unkind, disagreeable, and rigid.
We are divided within ourselves. We can be of two minds, tossed around like waves on the sea. Along with faith, we have doubts. What we want to do, we don’t and the things we don’t want to do, we do.
Worst of all, our divisions reflect our alienation from you. We are not in a bond of perfect unity with Christ as he is with his Father. Without that harmony, we cannot hope to be in a bond with others or whole within ourselves.
Forgive us. Heal us. Draw us back into your “shalom”.
As we focus our minds for worship, we remember our congregation of St. Stephen’s as we worship together and yet apart. May our worship bring you glory, Triune God, one forever. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: Hosea 14 (selected from vs 1 – 8)
“Come back! Return to your God!
I will heal your waywardness.
I will love you lavishly.
You shall again live in my protective presence;
You shall flourish as a garden;
You shall blossom like the vine.
Everything you need is to be found in me.”
Prayer for Illumination: Divine Gardener, plant the seeds of your Word in our spirits, so that we may be one with you and bear fruit to your glory. Amen.
Galatians 5: 16 – 24
John15: 1 – 8
Message: I am the Vine.
Not many people are enjoying the isolation imposed by the Corona Virus. After a year, we’re starting to go dotty. Yesterday I struck up a conversation with a spider; he works as a web designer. I’ve found a new restaurant called The Kitchen, which I visit too often. I put my jeans on once a week to be sure I still can. Taking out the garbage is now the highlight of my life; it takes me two hours to decide what to wear. I miss travelling – so far this year, I’ve been to Puerto Backyarda and Los Livingroom. For those who are homeschooling, it’s even harder. My friend’s kid told her, “I hope I don’t have the same teacher next year.” She decided to take them out of the academic stream and put them into trade school. One of them is doing house cleaning, the other is in culinary school and the third one is becoming a bar tender. Many parents are discovering the problem was not the teacher. But there is an upside – I now understand why my dog is so excited to look out the window or to go for a walk or a car ride. Soon, I’ll be barking at squirrels. And maybe if we all stay inside, we’ll starve the mosquito population into extinction.
It’s good to laugh, but for many people, particularly those who live by themselves, staying at home in isolation is extremely lonely. It’s interesting that, in Genesis, when God created the world, he declared everything he made to be good. Do you know the first thing God said was not good? “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2: 18). Isolation, a lack of social interaction, being without human contact and touch is not good for us. It has a negative impact on our emotional state and our mental health. People need each other. We need to be connected. We need the warmth and love of family. We need the banter and laughter of friends. We need the smile of a server as our order is taken and the hello of a neighbour when we walk around the block. We even need the hubbub of a busy shopping mall. Even though some people can drive us nuts, we need their annoyances; if nothing else, they remind us we’re all human and challenge us to be more compassionate.
There’s another thing that is “not good”. It is not good for us to be spiritually isolated. Not only do we need to be with other people, we need to be connected to God. To be cut off from God has a negative impact on our spiritual health. Separation from God has an eternally detrimental affect on our spirits. But to be connected to our heavenly Father, we need to be connected to Jesus. Jesus is the link in the chain that joins us to God. Just as Jesus was one with his Father, he is united to us as and we to him, just as one generation is connected to the next.
Another metaphor would be a plant. My daughter has taken to growing avocados in her apartment. She has a small forest. She takes the pit, sticks it with toothpicks and places the tip in water. After a while the pit splits open and a stalk begins to grow. As the stock matures, it sends out branches and at the end of the branches are leaves, which also grow and send out smaller branches with more leaves. If the avocado plant was in the ground in a warm country, flowers would eventually appear and turn into fruit. When a plant is healthy it does three things: it grows; it blossoms; and it bears fruit. But the plant can only be healthy when the branches are drawing nourishment through the trunk. When a plant is unhealthy, it is stunted, withers and it stops producing. Without intervention it will die. The other day, I noticed one of my plants was being eaten by mites. Tiny little webs were covering it. It had stopped growing. I cut the plant back to its stalk and threw away the branches with the mites. All that was left was a stubby little stalk. I sprayed it, gave it water, put it near the window and waited. It took time but it is once again growing shiny, healthy leaves.
Any gardener can appreciate Jesus’ metaphor of the vine and the branches. Jesus is the vine. He is the stem or trunk that grows from the roots in the ground. The vine produces sap which is the life blood of the plant. His followers are the branches. We are connected to him and his sap runs through us giving us life. When we’re healthy, we grow, blossom and bear fruit. When we aren’t doing these things, we are spiritually unwell.
Jesus’ Father is the ‘viticulturist’ (impressive eh? That’s the fancy name from a farmer who grows grapes). The farmer knows that the dying branches won’t yield a crop and they could spread disease, parasites or fungus to the healthy branches, so he takes his shears and prunes the branch in the hope that it will re-grow and become fruitful. The diseased, unproductive branches are destined to die. Cut off from the vine, they can’t draw the nourishment they need. The farmer gathers them and makes a bon fire. We often hear this reference to fire as a warning that we’d better bear fruit or we’ll be harshly judged and rejected; sent to burn in the fires of hell. I don’t think Jesus was threatening his disciples. We heat with wood at home and we often throw things in the fire. This isn’t because we’re judging old sermon notes or punishing a bank statement. They simply aren’t useful anymore. So rather than threatening damnation, Jesus is saying that pruning is a gift God gives to us and to the whole plant. Cutting away the old parts of us, that are dry and dead, rids us of what is no longer helpful – our warped sense of self, our misguided ideas, our ill will towards another, our lack of confidence. All of the conditions that spring from our sinful state and make us spiritually unhealthy. When God gets rid of these things, he really gets rid of them. As far as the east is from the west. Burnt to ashes. Gone. Further, no matter how much you threaten a branch, it cannot will itself or force itself to bear fruit. The only way a branch grows is through it’s connection with the vine. The pruned part of the branch can’t grow, but the stubby end of the branch, which is still connected to the vine, can flourish, sending out new growth, healthy branches, flowers and fruit.
As branches of the vine, disciples of Jesus, our task is pretty simple . All we need to do is stay connected to Christ, and we will be fruitful. Jesus told us to “abide in me” (John 15: 4). Our well-being is so connected with Jesus that “apart from [him], we can do nothing” (vs. 5). We are to be so united with Christ, that we are inseparable. When we’re united with Christ…
- we depend on him for life. We call this faith.
- we draw our nourishment from him. Just as the disciples were already pruned and healthy because of “the message I [Jesus] have spoken” (vs. 3), so we are fed by reading and absorbing the Scripture. Just as we nourish our bodies every day, so we nourish our spirits daily by regularly studying scripture. And just as we love to get together with others to eat, so getting together for Bible Study is a feast enjoyed with others.
- we make our home with him. Abiding with someone can look any number of ways. When we abide with a room mate, we do our own thing, coming and going as we please. When people in strained relationships, living under the same roof is stressful. We ride a roller coaster of anger
and need. But when we make our home with someone, there is connection, discussion, and co-operation. We look out for one another and do things to make life better for the other. We have the assurance we will be cared for. We support each other through difficulties and celebrate life’s joys together. We’re secure knowing what’s mine is yours. We are happy and at peace being with one another. This is what it is to make our home with Christ, to be joined to the branch.
How do we know if we’re abiding in Christ? Like a plant, we will grow, blossom and bear fruit.
- As Christians we grow in faith and as disciples. This means that we learn more about our faith, but it also means we live it out more fully. We examine ourselves and repent (ask to be pruned) so that we will be healthy. We grow as people, learning more about our self, but also about the world around us. We examine all of life in light of Christ. It also means our faith becomes stronger. We trust Christ more; regardless of what happens in life we believe he is with us and for us. We grow in our love for Christ too. We carry him in our heart.
- We blossom. Too much of the Christian faith has discouraged Christians from blossoming. We have acted from fear, more than faith. Worried about egos running rampant we’ve robbed people of joy and abundant life. When we blossom, we are fully alive. Our very existence becomes a sweet smell, an incense pleasing to God. We spread beauty – the beauty of a peaceful heart, a quick mind, a joyful spirit, and compassionate heart. We also discover and affirm our gifts, using them to glorify God, just as a flower brings glory to the stem.
- We bear fruit. In Galatians, Paul is thorough in telling Christians that the fruit we are to bear comes from the Holy Spirit within us. The Spirit is the fluid or sap that rises out of the tree to bring life and health to the branches. The fruit we bear comes from the holy use of freedom. Freedom is like the sap of a maple tree – if you taste it in its original form, it is bitter; but in it’s transformed state it is sweet. Christ has set us free not to exercise our sinful self-interest, but to love. Love leads to service. Before anything else the fruit of the Spirit is evident in the condition of our self. Qualities such as love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control are the essence of the fruit we bear. Fruit is also seen in our actions. This can be different for everyone. Some bear fruit by sharing the good news of salvation, others by working for justice, still others by meeting the practical needs of people. Wherever fruit goes, it leaves behind the seeds of grace, and that leads to new life and more fruit.
Finally, after fruit appears on a branch, it ripens. It becomes sweeter, softer and juicier. When the time is right, the farmer harvests it. In a winery, he takes each grape and puts them all together, transforming them into something more potent. As we mature as disciples of Christ, and as we come together as his body, the Church, God creates a body that is more potent than it’s individual parts. In fact, together we are much greater than the sum of our parts. . When we remain united with Christ, we become one with God’s will and a part of God’s work. Through us the world comes to experience his love and saving grace. Through the fruit we bear, others come to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
Silent prayer and reflection
Offering Generous God, just as vines need sunlight and water, you have lavished on us all of life’s good things. In Christ, we have life, and our fruitfulness can be a blessing to others. We pray that you will use us and the gifts we offer, so that others may be grafted into you. Amen.
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
God of life, God of love:
You created us to live in unity with you. When we moved away from you, you sent your Son to bring us back. The divide between us was great and it could only be overcome by Jesus death and resurrection. We praise you that you desired us that much.
You have set us in relationship with each other. You have called us to be your church and we thank you for that honour. We pray for our congregations and for your branches everywhere. Keep us united to your and to one another.
You have also set us in families and neighbourhoods, communities and countries, cultures and nations.
We give you thanks for all the supportive relationships which bring meaning and encouragement to our lives and have meant so much in times of isolation. Help us contribute what we can to sustain the wellbeing of our community for all who call it home.
God of our faith & our future,
there are so many pressures on homes and families today. Draw near to those who are struggling financially, and those burdened by the challenges to health and happiness this winter. Work with parents and children, married partners, and next-door neighbours who face conflict in their relationships to create solutions that express mutual respect and resolve tension. Be with those who live in isolation and experience the loneliness and helplessness of being at home. Help our congregation support families and individuals, whatever their size or situation, so they may know your love.
God of mercy and forgiveness,
You call us to live together in peace and unity.
We pray for our neighbourhoods and our nation.
In this month, when we both mourn and celebrate “Black History”, help us all to open our hearts to one another, to treat all people with dignity and to bridge the gaps of injustice. Bring healing and wholeness into situations of hatred and oppression.
Where people are divided and bitterness turns into resentment, show us how to work for reconciliation.
As the pandemic stretches on, we pray for all those whose skill and dedication is needed to support our common life. Wherever we can, may we offer words of encouragement and appreciation, so others know much they matter to you and to us all.
Today we give thanks for our church family and for the years of worship and witness offered here.
So much has changed for us over these past few months and we pray you will bless our leaders who have to think carefully, and creatively so congregational life continues. Bless those who hunger and thirst for you during these dry times and fill them to overflowing with your Spirit. We thank you for all who worship at home together, may they be pleasing to you. We thank you for those who are attending Bible Study; may these opportunities for learning produce growth, blossoms and fruit.
We remember those of our number in need of your special attention today…
(Hold a silence)
Guide us all with your wisdom and insight so we find ways to reach out to each other in support and friendship. Open our eyes to opportunities to reach out beyond our own fellowship as agents of your healing and hope for we offer ourselves to you in Jesus’ name in the words he taught us to pray:
The Lord’s Prayer
Invitation to Mission
Attached to the vine, we live to bear fruit for God’s kingdom.
May the Triune God bless you and keep you. Amen.