Sunday May 1st, 2005
Imprudent Pruners Anonymous:

Hi my name is Ken and I am an imprudent pruner.

Lord Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to
change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

For those of you who may be new, this is our imprudent pruner recovery program.
Let us explain who we are.  We are a group of imprudent pruners who consider it our
sworn duty and God given right to prune others at will. We are often uncomfortable
dealing with our own imperfections so much so that we take it upon ourselves to
prune others of theirs.  So it is that we in turn can subsequently feel better about
ourselves.  

In short we play God.  Using the analogy of this morning’s gospel we assume Jesus is
calling us to be the vine grower. When in actuality all he is asking us to do is abide in
Him and we will bear fruit. We will be productive. We do not need to judge others we
need only to build our relationship with Jesus and the rest will follow.

.

Imprudent pruners come off as a bit arrogant making the inaccurate assumption that
God has somehow left us with the shears.

Neither is the instruction of Jesus in the gospel for his disciples to be about unifying
the world for the sake of getting along. He did not ask for them to represent a blind
ascent to a life of conformity. In other words unity itself is not an end or goal. Rather,
he clarifies, that it is our intimacy with Christ that is our goal and as a result we find
this unity.  We need to let go of our need to be perfect on our own volition or to
expect others to be perfect on theirs. We are encouraged to find ourselves abiding in
Christ who is the one to whom we live and move and have our very being.

Peter’s letter describes truthfully that life indeed will present us with challenges. We
will encounter evil. Not everybody is going to love us or even like us. We are not
going to endear some people and others will resent us for trying. We need not
burden ourselves down with fear. We need not return hatred for hatred but rather
trusting in the power of God in Christ we have the capacity to love in the midst of hate.




He makes it rather clear that the work of pruning is God’s work. He does not say to
his disciples go out and prune and throw your brothers and sisters into the fires of
hell. That job is left for God.  Our job is to be obedient and faithful servants
ourselves. By our example and our faithful compassion we give witness of Christ to
others.





The greatest challenge is to love even those we believe to be dead branches
dragging the rest of us down. We are called to draw strength from Christ who is the
source of our life. By abiding or living with Christ we begin to know what it is Christ is
calling us to.

The issues confronting our church today would be easier to deal with if we recalled
this instruction of Jesus.  

There are many in our church today who insist on bringing division with the heartfelt
certitude that they are right or orthodox and it becomes their right and duty to tell the
rest of the church and world that they are wrong or unorthodox.  Now indeed they
may be right…but the job of pruning is not theirs but God’s.


I understand the fear that we face as a church today of becoming so overly tolerant
that we might fall into relativism or the idea that there are no distinctions between
what is good and what is evil. This fear drives us to make generalizations and
judgements. We hold onto rigid positions and in doing so close our ears and hearts
to our brothers and sisters. So we become the judge, the jury…We decide for God
who is worthy and who is not. Fear leads us down a slippery slope of division and
isolation.

I equally understand the fear that we face as a church today of becoming overly
occupied with the sin of our neighbor and caught up with apologetics preparing to
fight a jihad or holy war over the hot button issues of our day.
In fear we tend to become overly compromising and lose with the very tenants of our
faith. We embrace everything out there that appears to offer salvation but often lose
sight of our foundation in Christ.

In my opinion neither of these options work. Neither of these approaches are what is
called for in the gospel.

Rather the gospel calls us to love; nothing more and nothing less. The gospel is
simple yet profoundly challenging. We do not need to have all the solutions but we do
need to be obedient and pray for one another.

So you who also might be in need of Imprudent Pruners Anonymous we welcome you.
What we cannot accomplish alone with Christ  and one another we can together.
Amen

Happy Easter!

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson go on a camping trip.
After a good dinner and a bottle of wine, they retire for the night, and go to sleep.
Some hour’s later; Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend. "Watson, look
up and tell me what you see."

"I see millions and millions of stars, Holmes" replies Watson.

"And what do you deduce from that?"

Watson ponders for a minute.

"Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially
billions of planets.
Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo.
Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three in the
morning.
Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.
Theologically, I can see that God is all-powerful, and that we are a small and
insignificant part of the universe.
What does it tell you, Holmes?"

Holmes is silent for a moment. "Watson, you idiot!" he says. "Someone has stolen
our tent!"

We are invited to look at life differently not through the lenses of skepticism but
rather of faith. A faith that is often so practical its truth is right in front of our noses.
We stand together today willing to defy those who would place the resurrection of
Jesus Christ to the realm of myth and dare to believe in this greatest of miracles
that transformed our human story.


Ahhh. Easter morning. You can feel the energy in our hearts. The beauty of this
chapel and all of the excitement in the air. A child to be baptized, friends and family
visiting and probably a big ole ham sitting in the oven. Children running around with
great joy finding chocolate Easter eggs. Everyone sighing a relief that Lent is over
and now begins the season of joy.

For the next fifty days as a church community we will wallow in this climate of
miraculous expectation as we hear of the appearances of the Resurrected Christ.
This morning we first encounter the Risen Christ at the tomb.


The scene in John’s gospel is delightful. The first line tells us what really happened.
The following seems to represent a change of focus about who was first to enter
the tomb. We have the foot race between Peter and the disciple Jesus loved as to
who would arrive at he tomb first and who would get to go in. We are left wondering
about whose agenda is this anyway and what doe s this have to do with the story of
Jesus’ resurrection.

For sure it helps to identify some of the conflicts the early church was having with
authority and leadership. So many a vestries would find solace in this fact that even
back at the tomb of the resurrection the church was struggling with keeping Jesus
at the center.

Now the gospel writer moves back to focus on Mary of Magdala who remained at
the tomb weeping supposing that someone had taken the body of her Lord.
The loss was so very real. A sense of loss that we all know in the face the death of
a loved one or feelings of abandonment at the time of divorce or the ending of a
friendship.
These were powerful emotions and Mary was overcome by them.

What was she going to do? All that appeared to be in front of her was heartache
and loneliness and the terrible fear that encompassed her life. Something terrible
had dashed her hopes and her longings. In the midst of this broken world, In the
midst of this loss. In the midst of this fear; In the midst of her tears.  The miracle of
Great Expectation occurred.
She encountered Christ. the Risen Lord.

Now if the story ended here that would be fine. You might even have been able to
pull out a romantic novel out of this encounter.  Or our hearts would be focused on
the special relationship that Mary of Magdala had with Jesus. But important were
the words that Jesus uses with her Go and tell my brothers and tell them I am
ascending to the Father.
Mary goes with glee in her heart, “ I have seen the Lord.”


How wonderful it would be if we allowed the Risen Lord to move us beyond our
fears, our losses, our self oriented focus and engage us to move out there in the
world and proclaim his presence. In a sense it means recognizing that Sherlock
Holmes had it right that someone has stolen the tent from us preventing us from
viewing the beauty of God’s creation. Someone stole the tent that prevented us
from embracing the miracle of light and love. Someone stole the tent that blinded us
to the dream of our God.

What an incredible news.  No longer focused on her loss or her self. No longer
bound by the conclusion that someone must have stolen the body. Her eyes were
now opened and she needed to share the message with everyone.

Are we not being asked to do the very same thing? Can we not take the faith that
we have so nestled in our hearts and declare with as much exuberance as Mary on
that first Easter morn.  I have seen the Lord!
Amen.
Setting A Fire!
November 14th 2004


As the liturgical year nears its close our readings
become well rather intense. We hear of the
apocalyptic or end times.  When warnings and
messages of gloom and doom prevail.

Context becomes very important in
understanding where we are at and what we are
reading today.

For the early Christians hearing of these
calamities and invitations to remain steadfast
were rather relevant to their experience.  Being
a Christian in the first few centuries meant
subjecting yourself to persecutions, risking life
and limb to meet for prayer, Eucharist and to
profess a faith that was not understood and
often interpreted as a political threat to the
governmental powers.

This context however may be difficult for us in
our country where freedom of religion reigns and
even the thought of someone suffering
persecution for one’s faith beliefs appear to be
rather foreign to our experience. We see this
sort of thing happen in other parts of the world
where Christianity remains under attack. But not
here.  So how then do we relate to the scripture
today?

Does the persecuted church have something to
say to us?

Many of us have a hard time rolling out of bed in
the morning to make it to church. Some of us
only come when it is convenient or when it fits
our otherwise busy schedule. We consider
tithing a hardship and don’t ask us to do
outreach or teach Sunday school…anything that
moves us out of our comfort zone leaves us
irritable, ill at ease and overall unhappy.

We are like the Thessalonians who lived in
idleness. Paul was talking to who were
complacent in waiting for the end time.  In their
minds it was going to happen in their lifetime.
They had become comfortable, asleep, even
giving up working for the kingdom.

Complacency is like throwing a wet blanket over
optimism, new ideas, hope and community.  This
reminds me of an occurrence yesterday as  I
accompanied  the wardens to the burn pile. It
was very much analagous to what it feels like
getting programs started here at St. Stephens.
I know that when they set out they were probably
singing the hymn. “It only takes a spark to get a
fire going.. but the only one getting burnt out
was us.


No matter how much Don and Glenn poured
diesel fuel over the wood
The fire ultimately would go out as quick as it
started. Glenn scratched his head and Don of
course found the more scientific explanation that
had to do something with the combination of the
dense humidity, the previous day of rain and the
temperature. With frustration and
chilled spirits we gave up until a better day when
the temperature and the
humidity would cooperate.

I wonder what it would be like if this morning
when we came we were told that it would cost us
our very lives for us to remain in prayer this
morning.
Would any of us stay?

Ironically in countries where there is religious
persecution and dire poverty are also countries
where the churches are full. What has freedom
done to the faithful? Has our opulent lifestyle in
having so many choices rendered us numb as to
the priorities of our faith?. Do I go to church or
the soccer game? Do I hit the mall early or stay
for Christian education?  Do I stay in bed and
paint my toe nails blue and orange or offer my
services as lay reader?


Maybe the persecuted church can teach us
about why we cannot become complacent and
sleep in our comfort. Maybe they can teach us
not to take for granted the many gifts God gives
us as a community of faith. Maybe the church in
her suffering will call us out of our sleep. Maybe
allowing the church to have voice where the
cross is not something that is gold and shiny but
rather that is of wood and has been bloodied by
those who willingly dared to pray, to break bread
and to fellowship despite the consequences.

Amen.