Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, Sunday 2nd May
Readings: Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8
Have you ever met a long-lost relative? Or had a family member move far away?
My brother Joe moved to the United States sixteen years ago – he had met a young lady from Pennyslvania. She was volunteering at a church in France that my church at the time had a link to. We went to this church for a weekend in 2001. Rachel was leading the children’s work and my younger sister Nardia, who would have been seven at the time, introduced her as “my friend Rachel.” They hit it off, got on well, exchanged email addresses, and kept in touch – and three years later, they married.
Over the years Joe has made himself very much at home in America. His voice has changed and he’s picked up a bit of the accent. He’s started talking about strange things like sidewalks, tom-ay-toes, and aluminum. And a couple of years ago he finally got full American citizenship.
Joe and I don’t get to see each other very often because of the distance between us and the cost of flights: but we are still brothers. When we do see each other in person every few years, we both have to adjust a bit, to the other’s way of thinking, mannerisms, get used to the changes that time has wrought on us. But we still have a great time together.
The first time St. Paul came to Jerusalem after his conversion, he must have felt a bit like my brother. He must have struggled to fit in. And it’s not surprising. The last time the Christians in Jersualem saw St. Paul would probably have been the time that he held the coats for the men who stoned St. Stephen to death. To see him now, as one of them, well it must have been difficult to believe him, to trust him – and even when they did trust that he was genuine, it must have been difficult to get used to this persecutor being their brother in Christ. But we hear that they did, and over the years St. Paul becomes an integral part of the young Church.
In our Gospel Jesus talks a lot about belonging. He tells us to make our home in him, to be part of him, as branches are part of a single vine.
This metaphor Jesus uses is so striking, because it tells us everything we need to know about being a Christian. To be a Christian, to be a branch on this vine, we must be rooted in Christ. We must be part of him, and allow him to guide and direct our growth. Otherwise, we’ll be like a stick you find on the ground – cut off from its tree, and unable to grow or even survive – good only for firewood.
But if we remain in him, then we grow, we produce fruit, we become healthier, stronger, and even more fruitful with pruning.
One of the wonderful things about the Church, I think, is its diversity. It spans Christians of every age, every race, every skin colour, every socio-economic background. Like Joe and myself, we inhabit different cultures, speak different languages, but we are all sons and daughters of the same Father. We are all branches on the same vine.
That was the bond that united St. Paul with the disciples in Jerusalem. That is the one bond that matters above every other bond: political affiliation, National Trust membership, whatever – no other bond can bind as closely as the bond between Christians.
They say blood is thicker than water, but the water of the font is thicker even than the blood of the family. Families can fall apart, parents can separate – but as long as we remain united to Christ, as long as our home remains in him, then nothing can ever separate us.
I am divine, says the Lord; you are dibranches.