Sermons from Rev Julie Wagstaff


Sunday 3rd May

Did anything in particular strike you about the reading from the epistle of St John that we have just listened to?

Did you, perhaps, notice how many times it spoke of ‘love’.  Well the word love or some form of it occurs 27 times.  No need to ask then what the subject matter is about.  It’s the heart of what John is explaining in this letter ...... everything that has gone before leads up to it and everything that follows rounds it off.

It is what Christianity is all about.  The Christian faith grows out of, and must directly express, that in Jesus the Messiah the one true God has revealed himself to be love incarnate.

In the words of our friend Tom ...... as Christians we must reveal this fact before the watching world.  Love incarnate must be the badge that the Christian community wears, the sign not only of who they are but of who their God is.

A lot easier to say than to do!  Is the God we reveal love incarnate or do we reveal a God made in our own image?  Do we reveal God as love incarnate to one another in our own church family ..... let alone to those outside?  Nevertheless the rule of love is not an optional extra, it is the very essence of what we are about.

In our readings today we are not only given this commandment, we are told how we can fulfil it and we are also given an example of what it looks like in action.

In his epistle John talks about love as the fundamental nature and sign of God.  Where you see love, you know the presence of God.  Out of love, God the Son comes to die, so that we can be drawn back into the love of Father, Son and Holy God being and doing are not separate – he is love and acts lovingly.  For us that is not always the case because, unlike God we are still in the making, not yet complete.

Some people argue that in accordance with Jesus’ message ...... of good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed ..... we are being most faithful to God when we are actively doing things to improve life for society.  Others see that all Jesus’ activity arose out of his time of silence and prayer.

In today’s Gospel and epistle, like most of the New Testament, we are told in no uncertain terms that it is not either/or it is always both.  Both Gospel and Epistle are talking about the nature of God, the epistle that He is love, the Gospel that he is life .... God is the only source of life.  If you pick flowers, they die.  If you take people away from God, they die.  Only branches grafted into the true vine can live and bear fruit.

The Gospel, therefore, tells us how we are to live in accordance with the message in the Epistle.

The vine was a symbol of Israel, pruned and kept pure.   Jesus is the new true vine .... and the empty cross and the empty tomb speak of a different sort of purity, a dealing with sin and death once and for all, a free welcome of overflowing love for all who hear and receive.  New branch, new life, new responsibilities, new power. 

So what does it mean to live as the branches of Christ, the vine?  What does it mean for us as individuals and what does it mean for us as the church?

If you look at how a vine grows, the branches are almost indistinguishable from one another; it is impossible to see where one branch stops and another branch starts, they all grow out of the central vine.

That seems to suggest that Christians are not intended to live as lots of individuals doing their own thing within a hierarchy - which is the way of the world – but as a community - still as individuals, but with a common purpose which is rooted in the vine.  This reflects the relationship within the Trinity – a relationship we were always intended to be part of and which the sacrifice of Jesus, the true vine, has restored.

So, as individuals, we bear fruit as one of Jesus’ disciples by being shaped by his love and so revealing it in our lives.  That means that the fruit we bear is love – love from God and for God and for one another.  As a church we would be known for our acts of love, – seeking the good of the whole body - not for our individual accomplishments, choices or rights.

It is not our task to prune ..... any pruning that needs to be done can be left to the gardener –  to God.

We must, however, be prepared to be ‘pruned’.  God knows who he intended us to be and, like the vine, we need to be pruned so that we produce the best fruit.

There is apparently a difference between being in Jesus – that is simply believing in Jesus, which allows for the possibility of not bearing fruit;  and remaining and abiding in Jesus and he in us, which results in bearing much fruit.

Many of us would quite like to rely on the life giving love of God for ourselves without having to change too much - but faith is always changing.  Even when our faith is firmly rooted in Jesus Christ, even though we are connected to the true vine - from year to year our faith needs pruning by God. 

Though the root of our faith never changes, maybe some old habits or thoughts or attitudes or behaviours need to die, so that, through the power of Jesus, even more fruit will be produced in our lives.

In the New Testament ‘love’ regularly describes not so much how people feel as what they do.  So what might that look like?  Step forward Philip.

Philip, in today’s story from Acts wouldn’t understand the question ‘should I spend time in prayer or should I go out and do good works?’  He has allowed himself to be very directly grafted into the life of God so that everyone he meets presents an opportunity to be shown the love of God.

An Ethiopian eunuch, miles from home, reading the Bible?  How often do we ignore a prompting of the Spirit, thinking ‘no, that can’t be right’.  Or, if we do respond and go, would we not question if we were confronted with something or someone totally unexpected.

Bruce Collins, an evangelist who led a Vision day on the fruits of the spirit recently, shared a story of when he was on a plane journey and was being fairly aggressively questioned by a Muslim sitting next to him who had spotted his Bible ......... when he felt prompted to tell this man how much God loved him ...... and his first reaction was ‘but Lord that’s not going to go well, he’s a Muslim’ – he took the resounding silence from the Holy Spirit to mean that God was saying ‘so what’.  So he did what he was being asked to do with quite amazing results.

Are our lives so firmly grafted into the true vine that we would respond as Philip did – or Bruce for that matter – so confident in God that we wouldn’t be afraid, or if we were, it would be overwhelmed by the need to share God’s love.

We don’t know the full extent of the knock on effect of Bruce’s witness to the Muslim but we do know that if the Ethiopian Church is to be believed, the eunuch went home and bore fruit that lasts to this day.

....... Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us, break us, melt us, mould us, fill each of us so that, as your church we can bear much fruit and like Philip spread your love and light into a world so desperately in need.