Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Vine

The Vine
Reflections on the sermon given at Stopsley Baptist Church on Sunday 6 September 2009

Building a church based on New Testament principles.
What does the word church really mean to us and how can we engage with a new vision of the meaning of church in our lives? If the we take the definition of church to become one that is a body of people, and the physical building that we all call church becomes a community centre, how will that change the way Christians relate to others within their own body and with those in the wider community at large? How will it effect their relationship with Christ?

Some people may immediately wonder how much more is it possible to do because, surely, SBC is already a very missional and many members are active in the local community. Others may be so tied down to work and family responsibilities that forming a more outward perspective may be hard. Others may be terrified at the thought that it may involve loosing security and comfort.

I suppose alot of it depends on your relationship with God and your spirituality. If going to church on a Sunday fulfills your needs and this is your "God time" then that is Ok. I've no idea how many, but I expect a large proportion of the church do take their Christianity seriously enough to give it a certain amount of attention over the rest of the week. Some, at the extreme end - and I am one of those - may find Sunday church to be the time when they can feel distant from God because little there relates to their own experiencial perspective of God.

I liked the illustration of church being a interlinking network of elements rather than being and isolated box in the darkness. A very ecological perspective! All of nature is an interconnected set of systems and processes where nothing exists in isolation. These connections enable life to exist and perpetuate. I'd even say that inanimate objects have their place and form part of the ecosphere. An analogy was used regarding the potential of an acorn that contains all that is needed to produce an oak tree. When an acorn begins its journey of transformation it won't even start to grow unless it has various combinations of light or darkness, heat or cold, water, oxygen, time.... A gardener may love his acorn that he holds carefully in his hand, but unless he does something with it it will not release the potential locked up inside. God, the ultimate gardener and carer for his vine, Jesus, would have expected even him to bear fruit. I wonder how Jesus felt and how he was pruned? To me, faith cannot just be a "Jesus loves me, I'm alright" affair. I can't just be an acorn thinking that all is alright and that I'll grow into a magnificent tree. I need earth, light, energy and a habitat in which I will thrive.

Church should very much be the framework of people and community networks in which we relate to the world around us. It should be everything from formal meetings and home groups to social networks and work structures. I would call the times I spend with friends drumming around a log fire 'church'. It is there that we meet, share, talk, pray, realise intentions, seek guidance and value fellowship in a safe and unthreatening environment. We can be who we want to be, we can sit beside differing beliefs and share a welcoming smile. It isn't a 'Christian' group, but for me that doesn't matter. I can take it on my own level and be enriched in ways that are meaningful to me.

The Vine (John 15:1-7)
There was a quote along the lines of "Fruit bearing is not a human possibility; it is Christ's work through us". This seems to imply that you may not really be able to bear fruit unless you are a Christian. It also contains the idea of original sin which I struggle with - I am more of an "original blessing" sort of person (see Matthew Fox's work on the subject). Many people bear fruit and having a diversity of "vines" keeps a well balanced system in order as happens in nature. Rely too much on one thing and the whole ecosystem can collapse. Nature always promotes and thrives on variety, whereas monoculture needs an unhealthy input of unnatural elements to make it work. If we remove ourselves from the ecosystem that supports us, we will not last very long. We need to belong. Jesus' anaology here with how systems are found in nature is something I hadn't really seen before. "Remain in me" (John 15:4) belongs in quite an ecocentric passage, for it warns about the dangers of ignoring that which sustains us, supports us and gives us life. From a Cosmic Christ point of view, we ignore Christ, the animating Spirit of the Earth, at our peril.

Being and Doing
How should we go about "Being and Doing Church"? I am sure there is much that could be drawn out of that phrase...

I face a huge battle personally with the concepts of being and doing in my life. Half of me is always wanting to be "doing" something: gardening, walking, cycling, working, exploring personal development ideas, being dissatisfied with where I am at and getting depressed at not being like others whom I perceive as more successful. Then there is the quiet "being" half which is the mystical, quiet, listening, observing, meditating, solitary, nature aware spiritual side. The two always seem to be antagonistic with each other. Getting the 'being' balance right is hard because taken to its extreme you could 'be' so much and exist in such a state of relaxed ease and contentment with the present that you would never get out of bed in the morning. How you go about being active for your faith, missional, a learner and a disciple in a state of being rather than doing would probably provoke an interesting discussion at a workshop or talk on the issue. I think that it is a core principle of much Celtic spirituality and personal development work and is an interesting area which I find fascinating and could go on for hours about.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Hey Matthew,

This is very interesting as a response and development to Sunday. Thanks for taking the time to post.

I agree that fruit is born outside of Christian believers- God is not limited to the church in his actions in the world, but embraces all things and sustains them. There are touches of glory left everywhere like wool on country hedgerows if you like.

I love the Hopkins poem 'God's Grandeur'; do you know it?

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; 5
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; 10
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

That about covers it!! See you soon.