Had it not been for the snow we would have welcomed the CF Youth 18+ event this week. A fun time together they were going to explore the invitation at the heart of the Christian faith to service. They would have been sharing stories together and hearing from people from church as well.
John Lewis is one of those who would have shared his story now. Our honorary deacon, John has shared in a lifetime of service, not least through teaching, Samaritans, work for Dowty House, a residential care home in Cheltenham, and here at Highbury. For him as for all of us, Service is at the heart of what it takes to be a Christian.
But that kind of service can be difficult to sustain.
Is there anything in our Christian faith that can help us to sustain a life-time of service to one another and for that matter for God.
We share with many of other faiths and of no faith a commitment to service. There is nothing distinctive about that. Our call to service comes from the imperative to love that is at the heart of our Christian faith.
“This is my commandment,” says Jesus in those words we read from John 15 earlier, “that you love one another.”
“A new commandment I give to you that you love one another as I have loved you. By this shall everyone know that you are my disciples if you have love one for another.”
At every turn ‘love’ is the order of the day for the Christian.
Couple that with the commitment to the poor, the quest for justice that is implicit within that command to love and the imperative could not be clearer. And anyone who takes it seriously will find it an obligation impossible to fulfil.
We often think of religion as laying demands on us. We should do this. We should do that. We should not do the other. And this is the greatest command of them all – to love.
Some even speak of religion as ‘an obligation’. There are, so they would have us believe, religious obligations that we need to meet.
Ought, ought, ought.
Such demands lead to burnout and have the potential to give rise to depression. You can never do enough.
Something is needed to sustain that kind of service and love.
Those words from John 15 are interesting.
They come not at the beginning but at the end of a famous passage.
Let’s hear the passage in full and notice the sequence of thought.
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes* to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed* by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become* my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
It is the sequence of thought that is significant.
The key to sustaining service lies in those words Jesus says to his disciples.
“I am the vine you are the branches.”
We are all linked together – our life of service is sustained by being part of a group of people supporting each other – prayer, pastoral visiting network. It is of the essence of Christian commitment and the call to love that we do not seek to go it alone. We are in this together. And together we support each other.
A church family is a support network.
Chris with Diana’s help is working on the next issue of Highbury News. Diana has been putting together the Church’s annual report. It is good to see the supportive network there is in the church. And to see the activities there are in the church.
Maybe we need to ask ourselves as a church. Do they simply grow, or is there a key to their growth in the insights Jesus offers here. He begins by speaking of the need to prune …
“I am the true vine and my Father is the vinegrower…. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”
I do hope people can come to our annual meeting on the 1st March. It really is an important day in our church calendar. It is interesting to reflect on the life of the church to ask the question about pruning. Are there things in our church life that need pruning?
Food for thought … and for prayer.
There is something more that sustains us in our service.
I am the vine you are the branches,” says Jesus. “Abide in me as I abide in you.”
Our meeting of the Cotswold Magical Society was just getting under way in the Hucclecote Community Centre to the sounds of the build up to the big match being shown on the big screen the other side of the partition wall in the club room. It was of course Liverpool versus Everton. Was it the first time they had met in the cup since Hillsborough. I don’t know. I did prick my ears up a little while before kick off when I heard them singing the FA Cup anthem, Abide with me.
I recalled sitting in the Kop at Anfield to support Leicester City against Liverpool. When a Leicester player scored I jumped out of my seat. Fortunately, everyone else did as well as Leicester born Emile Heskey by that time was playing for Liverpool. It was moving to see the eternal flame at the Hillsborough memorial and to see the way so many fans were moved as they paid tribute there.
To keep us going in the face of tragedy, to sustain us in our service we need a strength from beyond ourselves, we need a spiritual rootedness in the love of God in Jesus Christ.
That is the strength implicit in those opening words of that FA anthem. Abide with me.
Abide in me as I abide in you.
But what applies to our activities together, applies also to us. Is there anything in our own lives that needs pruning?
Sometimes the pruning is taken out of our hands.
Circumstances mean we have to ‘cut back’.
How tragic, how awful.
Or is there another way of looking at it?
Can we see it as pruning that’s been taken out of our hands? May God have something else in store? After all,
“Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”
This for me is the key to Christian service. It is not simply that Jesus gives us a command to follow. He offers us a strength within, a presence, he comes inside us as it were and that is what sustains us.
It is at that point that we come to one of the most exciting concepts when it comes to sustaining service as a Christian.
I am the vine you are the branches.
Abide in me as I abide in you.
Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.
“My Father is glorified by this,” says Jesus in verse 8 “that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
Love in our Christian faith is not an obligation placed upon us.
It is the fruit that is borne of our togetherness in Christ, it is the fruit that is borne of the love of God in Christ taking root in our hearts, working its way through us and issuing in the fruit of love and justice and peace in a life of Christian service.
This is what sustains us in our Christian service. God forbid our faith be reduced to a set of religious obligations, a repeated ought, ought, ought.
See service as the fruit of the love of God at work within you and it becomes a joy.
“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”