April 29, 2018
Fifth Sunday of Easter
What do you notice about the first reading each Sunday during the Easter Season that is substantially different from the rest of the year?
Right. It comes from the Acts of the Apostles, not the Old Testament. This is the season when we are introduced to the earliest Christian communities from the only book of the Bible that tells us how the early church was formed.
If there is a season of the year for exploring what it means to be church in the world today, this is the season.
And what’s also interesting is that much of the story told in Acts reflects the travels of Paul throughout the region as he visited the fledging Christian communities. Afterward, he would then write to them, reinforcing his message and answering their questions. Thus, we have letters to the Christians in Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Colossae, and Rome. In fact, our passage from Acts today in referenced in Paul’s letter to Galatians (1:17-24). Look it up later and you’ll see that while both Paul and the author of Acts refer to the same events, they are not exactly on the same page about what went down, to the point where Paul must insist that he is not lying. Hmmm.
At any rate, it is during this Easter Season, when we learn how to be church from the early church, as well as from the Gospel stories of the season. Today’s Gospel passage is a prime example. We hear that:
God is the vine grower.
Jesus is the vine.
We are the branches.
Together, with the Holy Spirit, we bear much fruit.
We, as church or as individuals, cannot bear fruit unless we remain connected to the vine. I think this is how we are engaged in the work of Spirit.
And so, what about pruning? I think that occurs when we are put into situation after situation where we feel totally fruitless, where it feels we don’t have anything to give. Maybe it’s God’s way of keeping us ever closer to the reality that we are powerless without God.
We are not the source of life for the things we do. We are not the source of energy for the real spiritual work we are called to do. Rather, it all comes through us. Our challenge is to stay connected to the vine, the source of light and life.
This is just what’s implied in our passage from the Acts of the Apostles. It concludes with this lovely description of the early church:
The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord,
and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.
This is a beautiful image of what it means to create Christian community — a place of peace, a place where the Spirit is felt and known, a place where the Spirit consoles.
Bring it close to home, and it might sound like this:
The church throughout Cully, Columbia, and Beaumont was at peace. It was known throughout the region as a source of support, advocacy, contemplation, and reason. And through the power of the Holy Spirit, it was growing in numbers.
Let that settle in for a moment . . .
Last Sunday, we heard from Archbishop Sample, right here, that it’s the same Holy Spirit conferred on ten of our youth that inspired many early disciples to give up their lives rather than denounce their belief in the resurrection of Jesus.
It’s the same Holy Spirit who inspires your everyday acts of love and charity for those with whom you live and love, that empowered the great acts of charity by the likes of Dorothy Day and St. John Baptist de LaSalle.
It’s the same Holy Spirit who inspires your simple words of encouragement, commiseration, or gratitude to a child, or parent, or sibling in a family moment of meaning, that inspired the profound and prophetic words in the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.
Later today, we will hear a portion of Dr. King’s last speech given the night before he was killed reflecting on the story of the Good Samaritan. His insight to the story is profoundly simple and certainly Holy Spirit inspired. It’s worth coming to GIFT Sunday just for that! But it’s the same Holy Spirit who will inspire Robin and Truls Neal to share a bit of their story with us as well.
So, I can only conclude that, in the eyes of the Holy Spirit, in the eyes of God, there is no real difference in magnitude between each inspired act taken, or word proclaimed. In the mind of God, your simple gesture of love and concern for a friend who has been ill is just as magnanimous as Mother Theresa caring for a dying peasant on a crowded, dirty street in Calcutta.
Both are inspired by the Holy Spirit. All are fruit of the branch firmly connected to the vine.
The Holy Spirit is no less active in the world today than at any other time in history, including the days of the early church and Peter, and Paul and Barnabas, including the days of the European enlightenment and Renaissance, including the days of the 1960s Civil Rights movement and Vatican II awakening. During those periods, and so many others throughout history, there have been key people who sought to anchor themselves firmly to vine, and align their efforts with the movement of the Spirit. This is just what we all must seek to do today, as individuals and as a church community.