John 15:1-8, I John 4:7-21

May 3, 2015 by Ken Dale

Perhaps it could be described as a mental short circuit ? perhaps a short circuit of faith? The devastation from the earthquake in Nepal with the death toll in the thousands and the position climbers on Mt. Everest were in when the snow and ice came crashing down into their camp ? nowhere to really go. That coupled with the violence in Baltimore as riots were once again in the news. Then I read the scriptures for this Sunday, one whose image I love from John 15 about being part of that vine and the other just one of my favorites that speaks of God?s love being perfected ? ?perfected!!? when we love one another. Such news contrasted with such hope and call from scripture. I thought how important to be part of that vine and how critical to respond in whatever way we can to such need ? a mission offering for Nepal and prayers for the people of Baltimore ? prayers for the mother who ?disciplined? her son for being part of the mayhem, prayers for her son, prayers for police and government officials, prayers for property owners who suffered loss, prayers for those whose non-violent voice cries out for justice, and as the week came to a close, prayers for six police officers ? black and white ? who have been charged with the murder of Freddie Gray ? they are all God?s children ? and always, prayers that someday we will learn that all lives matter.

Then on Wednesday the Buechner quote for the day came. It was titled ?Those Who Hear? and it began with these words: And finally the Gospel itself as comedy ? the coming together of Mutt and Jeff, the Captain and the kids, the Wizard of Oz and the Scarecrow: the coming together of God in his unending greatness and glory and man in his unending littleness, prepared for the worst but rarely for the best, prepared for the possible but rarely for the impossible. The good news breaks into a world where the news has been so bad for so long that when it is good nobody hears it much except for a few. Buechner continues speaking of who does hear the good news and names those who, in terms of the world?s wisdom, are ?children, madmen and fools.? Again, his words: Rich or poor, successes or failures as the world counts it, they are the ones who are willing to believe in miracles because they know it will take a miracle to fill the empty place inside them where grace and peace belong with grace and peace.

Buechner?s words struck me when he wrote ?the good news breaks into a world where the news has been so bad for so long that when it does nobody hears it much except for a few.? Did anyone see the picture from Baltimore Tuesday morning, following a night of riots and violence, of a young black kid handing bottled water to white police officers in riot gear and with shields? Did anyone sense and even tap into the ecstatic joy of search and rescue workers when they pulled a 15 year old and then later another person out of the rubble in Nepal ? both had been buried alive for 120 hours under buildings that had collapsed in the earthquake?

If we are the branches of God?s love come into this world in Jesus Christ the fruit we bear may not seem a great thing ? but then how does one measure greatness? If we are the branches of God?s love come into this world in Jesus Christ we are to be part of that good news coming into a world where the bad news has been so bad for so long only a few hear it. If we are the branches the fruit we bear is God?s love and it is for the good of the world. We are connected to Christ for the purpose of bearing fruit in our lives ? in our relationships and in our witness to the world.

When I first received e-mail from the UCC concerning our response to the situation in Nepal it felt good to read early on that our initial response would be coming from One Great Hour of Sharing ? an offering we participated in in March. I felt good about something I and we had already done to reach out to those in need. Support of such offerings is one of many ways we bear the fruit of God?s love. As with this past week sometimes the need seems overwhelming ? but still, we can do what we will, we can do what we can, and we can do it together.

In light of all of this I couldn?t help but think of the upcoming month of May and the now additional opportunities to bear fruit. Special offerings have always been an interesting experience in the life of the churches I?ve served. It?s that whole thing about being asked to give and giving. I know at one point in more than one of the churches some were even keeping count of those ?asks? or are they ?opportunities? to reflect and perfect God?s love? So to cut to the chase this is the month of May. Today we have the monthly deacons? fund and this afternoon there is the Habitat Walk and for the next two weeks we will be seeking support for the relief efforts in Nepal and on the 24th is the annual UCC Strengthen the Church offering and the last Sunday in May ? the 31st there is a CROP Walk. They each and all can be looked upon as ?asks? or as ?opportunities.?

Like many of you I?m sure, I support a number of such opportunities during the year. Weekly I support this church and always feel good about what I am doing and giving. Once a year I support the American Cancer Society. They give me the opportunity to do so at least once a month ? but I don?t. I feel good about my contribution to them and I don?t feel bad and try not to get too upset when tossing all those requests that come in between my annual contribution. I do what I can and what I will and I feel good about it. I don?t feel bad or have a problem with what I don?t do. It is the joy of giving!

This month we have a number of opportunities to bear fruit ? to reach out in some way and bear fruit ? and we have choices and we have decisions ? we choose and decide as best we can with the reasons we have – and it is my hope and prayer that we also will do what we can and what we will and feel good about it. If we don?t feel good about it maybe we need to look again at what we?re doing. In fact, if we are really bearing fruit we are doing it to God?s glory ? does that influence our individual choices and decisions as we act together? Is our bearing of such fruit done understanding ourselves as being branches of that vine, seeing the fruit as an expression of the love of God? The alternative to this line of thinking is to simply just have a problem because of so many ?asks.? I prefer and highly recommend the joy of giving! Christ?s desire is our complete joy!

Again ? let us return to that first reading – I really do love it! ?No one has ever seen God ? but when we love one another God lives in us, and God?s love is perfected in us.? ?Something of God is made perfect when we share it with others ? pretty simple, and yet so profound when you think about it ? and later another important word to hear ? There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. WE LOVE BECAUSE GOD FIRST LOVED US.

So may we live ? and give ? and forgive ? all to the glory of God who loved us first.