5th Sunday of Easter
Gospel of St. John 15:1-8
As some of you know my wife is an English teacher and often times I will ask her to proof read my homilies in order to check my grammar, verb tense, and punctuation. I am truly grateful for this evaluative experience as it; 1) ensures that my homilies are written properly, and 2) has taught me that I have repetitive tendency to misplace my modifiers.
In addition to this feedback my wife also provides me with insight regarding my presentation style. She has frequently made the comment, “Jason, must you always tell stories about yourself?” To which, I reply, “I like telling stories about myself, and, besides, who better to tell stories about… other than myself.” She then, typically, pauses, sighs, and with a very subtle eye roll, says, “But, you’re just not that interesting.”
So, with that being said, I want to tell you about something that happened to me this week.
My employer provides me with an opportunity to learn and develop new skills each year through a 3-day experience called annual training. I must confess that I am not always eager to participate in this 3-day training, but not for any other reason than I just don’t like trainings. This distaste for trainings is most likely a symptom of a flawed personality, but, nonetheless, when I go I do my best to endure the time, gleam as much useful information as possible, and avoid disruptive outburst. This year, however, was an especially unique challenge.
On the last day of training I, along with my co-workers, were treated to a 45-minute motivational speech. The speaker started the speech with the proposal that there are only two ways in which one can choose to live life; happy, or, unhappy. This premise, that life is defined by your own personal sense of happiness caused me to pause and consider the validity of this claim and gave me something to think about for the next 45 minutes.
The question of one being either happy or unhappy, I believe, is an attempt to oversimplify the complexity of the human being. Also, I believe it is an attempt to reduce the value of human suffering and trial and eliminate the need for God’s grace and mercy. However, I digress. The question of living life as either happy or unhappy is not my purpose today. I do, however, want to share with you is the evidence found in today’s Gospel (John 15:1-8) that life is in fact quite binary; meaning that we have the ability live life in one way or another.
The theme presented in today’s Gospel is very much an either/or scenario. Remain in Christ and he will remain in you, and you will bear fruit; or, do not remain in Christ and be removed from the vine, wither, and eventually thrown into the fire. There is very little room for alternative options in this very direct and plainly spoken discourse Jesus had with his disciples.
As followers of Christ it can be very easy to forget this reality; our responsibility to “remain” in Christ. Especially, in light of today’s ever present and often repeated message that “everyone is entitled to live their own truth as they see fit” relativism. This message that the one true God, the gardener, and the one true vine, Christ Jesus, whom his disciples, the branches, must within remain, in order to produce fruit, is often rejected by a world that esteems personal happiness as the sole purpose for existence.
My counter argument to this worldly teaching is that we, as followers of Christ, are called to be fruitful. We are called to be individuals who produce observable, measurable, and definable behaviors of; charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, modesty, self-control, and chastity, or, more directly, the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. We are not called to live life in a bi-dimensional, self-aggrandized, over-generalized, self-defined existence of happiness. Rather, as followers of Christ, we are called to live life to its fullest and in all its complexities. We are called to bearers of fruit.
Our choice to remain in Christ, the true vine, allows us to produce fruit that positively impacts the lives of those around us. Our choice to remain in Christ allows us to assist each other, our families, our neighbors, our friends, our enemies, and those whom we yet do not know, to live life as God himself ordained when he looked over his creation and declared it to be good.
Our responsibility is to remain in Jesus Christ, and we do this through partaking in his sacraments, through the reading of his Word, through the fellowship with and the serving of the body of believers, and through the conscious decision to carry our cross and follow him. We remain in Christ by choice, made possible by the grace and mercy of God through the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We remain in Christ, the vine, when we allow ourselves to be pruned and cared for by God, the master gardener, so that we can produce fruit more abundantly.
Now, with that being said, let me ask you, are you fruitful? Is your life charitable, joyful, peaceful? During the course of your day are you responding to people and circumstances with patience, kindness, and goodness? Are you faithful to your promises? When confronted with a challenge are your responding with gentleness or are your words harsh and abrasive? Do you live your life within reason and within your means? And, are you living the vows you have taken? As we remain in the vine we cannot but help but be fruitful.
The challenge presented to us, this day, is to take a moment, examine our life, and identify the fruit we are producing. If we are truly remaining in Christ, the vine, then we must be producing fruit. Our goal this day, as we prepare ourselves to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, should be with the intention that as we receive Jesus, he will receive us, and we will then effect the world in which we live, with the fruit of the Holy Spirit.