The St. John’s Pulpit
St. John’s Baptist Church 300 Hawthorne Lane Charlotte, NC 28204
COMMUNITY OF FAITH:
ABIDING CREATES A FRUITFUL CULTURE
Gospel of John 15:1-5
Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost, October 6, 2019
by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
A WORD ABOUT WORSHIP TODAY:
This autumn, we are renewing our commitments in the St. John’s Church Covenant.
This is our fourth Sunday focused on the theme:
STRENGTHENING OUR CONNECTION WITH GOD’S HEART – A SEASON OF COVENANT RENEWAL:
God’s Mission Is Our Mission
“As my Father sent me, so send I you.”
(Jesus, in John 20:21)
We have focused on our commitments to be God’s Covenant People, to be a Worshipping Church and to be Vocational Disciples. Today, we renew our commitment to live as a Community of Faith:
“We will love and encourage each other in the family of the Church and admonish each other as occasion may require. Our differences will not separate us but rather increase our understanding and strengthen the bonds of Christian love.”
Today, I call your attention to the stained glass windows of this sanctuary. In these windows, there is a repeated pattern showing the image of a vine and branches. This image reminds us how our lives are nurtured and energized by abiding in the vine (Jesus Christ) who found his power in his relationship with The Living God. The image of the vine and branches also depicts how our lives are interwoven as branches and how we bear fruit. In Christ, all believers of the Church are united and we bear fruit because the Spirit of God flows into us through Jesus.
On this Lord’s Day, a few hundred scientists and researchers are gathered as worshippers in Chapel of the Snows at The South Pole; Citizens of 22 nations will worship in the sanctuary of Rabat Protestant Church, in Morocco; in Nairobi, Kenya, women and children who have fled for their lives from nine African nations will gather under a shade tree at Amani Ya Juu to worship The Living God; and today, in this sanctuary, we gather as Christ’s Church from Sierra Leone, Liberia, South Sudan, the Carolinas and various other places. Today, around the world, as Christ’s Church, we eat the bread and drink the cup on this World Communion Sunday.
As the family of the Church, please greet one another as a covenant community!
MANUSCRIPT OF THE MESSAGE:
Imagine there being a way for all lonely people to experience love the way God loves?
Imagine healing circles of relational hope for persons who have sinned, failed and fallen.
Imagine welcoming groups of grace where people burdened by guilt can find freedom.
Imagine spiritual communities of acceptance for persons rejected and judged by churches.
Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Imagine people committed to a strong connection with God for the good of others.
Imagine open hearts and open arms inviting people to be known and understood.
Imagine churches where keeping rules are less important than helping people.
Imagine people having the common purpose to live into God’s love and mission together.
Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Can you imagine relationships based on trust, vision, grateful living and promise keeping?
In 2006, after our plane landed in Zambia, at Lusaka International Airport, from Nairobi, Kenya, our small group walked into the terminal, offered our passports to the smiling man and claimed our baggage. During our week in Zambia, we visited villages in the bush and a conference center where Nelson Mandella and Desmond Tutu had trained leaders. We visited a village with a new school and saw their brand new hand-pumped well, paid for by monies from a CROP Walk. They no longer needed to walk eight miles to fetch water.
One evening, after dinner, a village chief told us a tribal story about a boy who had heard about a hippopotamus down by the river. But, he wasn’t sure what one looked like. So, he went to the river hoping to see the hippopotamus. He stepped up onto what he thought was a large gray rock for a better view. He never saw the hippopotamus, so he returned home disappointed. If he had only known the large gray rock was the hippo, his trip would have been very different. The chief was telling us to see what was right in front of us.
On this World Communion Sunday, I encourage you to see what is right in front of you.
In this bread and this cup, you are reminded that THIS is the real world.
In Christ, you are connected with God and one another to bear the fruit of the Spirit.
In Christ, you bear the fruit of the Spirit; for ‘apart from Jesus Christ, you cannot bear fruit.’
Jesus said, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”
Because you abide in Christ, you take love into an unkind world;
You take joy into a sad world and peace into a violent world;
You take patience into a world filled with fear and kindness into a cynical world;
You take generosity into a selfish world and active faith into a suspicious world;
You take gentleness into a callous world and self-control into an unstable world.
Beloved, the people who live in the nearby world beyond these walls need you to bring
this real world to them out there.
They need the fruit of the Spirit that grows in your life together as you abide in the vine. People who live in the nearby world need you to bring to them the message of this real
world which God gives to you. Can you see what is right in front of you?
By abiding in Christ, you take to those living in the nearby world
God’s hope in the midst of their despair; God’s light in their darkest days; and
God’s resurrection life in the midst of their guilt and shame.
The stained glass windows of this sanctuary tell us that being a community of faith is more than a human experience. Each branch is alive because of our connection to the vine. Jesus’ image of fruit on the branches abiding in the vine reveals the communal and relational nature of faith. In Christ, we are a living and growing spiritual organism.
Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.”
Some church members are more like out of control kudzu than well-tended branches.
Vine growers tell us that the best fruit grows closest to the central vine.
Jesus’ received his spiritual energy and power by abiding in his relationship with God.
As we abide in Christ, God creates a spiritual community by pruning and nurturing us.
Our St. John’s Church Covenant states, ‘united in the faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God,’ we commit ourselves ‘to love and encourage each other…and admonish each other as occasion may require (like when we see someone refusing to pursue God’s best for them or when we see arrogance, or disruption or a lack of consideration). Our differences will not separate us, but rather increase our understanding and strengthen the bonds of Christian love.’ Beloved, we can only fulfill this commitment by abiding in Jesus Christ!
To sisters and brothers who worship as our partner faith communities in the South Sudanese congregation and Together In Christ International Ministries, I say ‘thank you.’ Thank you for living on the vine of Christ with us; loving and encouraging us.
Thank you for allowing us to love and encourage you.
And, thank you for helping us increase our understanding of Christ’s Church as we
strengthen the bonds of Christian love.
You help us understand that Christ’s Church is not an ideal for which we strive;
Christ’s Church is God’s gift of the real world to us; a reality in which we can participate.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, “It is the voice of the Church that is heard singing together. It is not you that sings; it is the Church that is singing, and you, as a member of the Church, may share in the song.” (Life Together, p 61)
In the Chinyanya area of Zambia, the school has 1,100 students. They attend school in three shifts during daylight hours being taught by four teachers. Twelve thousand people live in that area share six wells. Fred is the chief of that area. He and his wife, Emily, have five children and are committed to follow Jesus Christ as Vocational Disciples through Ministry in Daily Life. Chief Fred keeps the cell phone for those 12,000 people. Walking from one of the wells back to his small house, I asked Fred, “With all the needs among your people, how do you stay positive?” Fred reached out and took my hand as we walked, saying, “Every morning, God gives us another sunrise. That is light enough for each day.”
Beloved, God gives us light for each new day and provides us with bread and a cup.
Living Connected with God in Christ, bearing the fruit of God’s Spirit, takes time.
We cannot correct all the mistakes of yesterday; it is futile to try to go back.
We cannot anticipate all the challenges of tomorrow; so we dare not rush into the future.
So, let us begin in this moment – WHERE WE ARE – RIGHT NOW – to see what is before us.
Let us renew our commitment to bear the fruit of God’s Spirit in Christian Community.
Let us love & encourage each other, admonishing each other when we become like kudzu.