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May 14, 2006 (Easter V)—“I Met Christ Today”
Interim Pastor Steve Jensen
Some years ago I was tasked with arranging for a well-known televangelist to speak at a remembrance ceremony for several thousand people. It took a lot of effort to get through his keepers and convince him we were worthy of his time and effort. But he eventually agreed and required that a small jet pick him up close to his home and that I escort him to the event. After we landed, I was getting nervous because he was late and we were going to have to scramble to arrive at the ceremony in time. Once he arrived, he ignored my concern for the time and felt the need to show me his limo, his one-of-a-kind gold watch, and once airborne, his estate from the air. After he finished telling me about his other major accumulations of wealth, he further raised my blood pressure by asking what the theme for the day was. Clearly he hadn’t prepared and decided he would retool one of his familiar themes for the message. He essentially said to the throng, “You’ve got all you need within you to succeed and be happy.” I never heard the divine mentioned, but I must admit I was so busy tuning out the narcissism, I couldn’t hear the message nor could I find God in or through the man.
In preparation for beginning the Interim Ministry at LCH, I recently completed my medical check-up at the Marine base. Sitting beside me in the common waiting area was a young Marine I soon learned was getting his medical clearance to deploy. After a while a fellow squad member arrived with his Corpsman for the same tests. His eyes told me that he was nervous about something and the Corpsman obviously noted that as well. He squatted down in front of the young man, looked in his eyes, smiled confidently, and said, “Our prayer group last night prayed for you and all of us soon leaving for combat. Jesus has promised he’ll be with us no matter where we are. I’m not worried about being there again because I won’t be there alone, and I don’t want you to be frightened either. Jesus will allow me to praise him even there through the way I live my life. Why don’t we three do that together and encourage the others to do the same?” The tension seemed to leave the young man, and both Marines smiled back in thanks at the man committed to risking his life for theirs, but apparently also committed to living a Christian life in honor of the One who gave his life for all.
These are just two of today’s disciples. Who has the clearer message of God’s love? Which one is so connected to Jesus you can almost see his face, feel his love, encounter his strength and hear his words of life? Which one touches the very soul with life-changing Good News instead of making one feel good temporarily?
As Jesus was preparing to ascend to heaven after the Resurrection, he saw the need to encourage the motley crew of disciples he’d be leaving behind. They were not yet given the Great commission or the gift of the Spirit, but he knew they had questions about his expectations of them now that he’d returned from the dead.
MAYBE they would agree to remain his disciples if he stayed and continued his ministry—although they were still afraid that they, too, might be captured by the Romans and put to death. What does Jesus’ resurrection mean for them? It’s certainly wonderful to have him back from the dead, but do they have to die too and be raised? Can they simply keep this wonderful experience to themselves and return to their families and back to their former lives?
Once he has ascended, will they stay on message? Will they continue and extend the ministry he began, looking to him for guidance and giving God the glory?
Using a metaphor with which they would be familiar, he declares himself to be the vine in the Father’s vineyard from which they will get life, strength, nourishment, and anchoring. “Apart from me,” he tells them, “you can do nothing.”
For these original disciples and generations of disciples to come, Jesus declares there will be three results from this union with Christ:
The pattern of Jesus’ relationship with the Father is to be pattern for the reciprocal relationship between the disciples and Christ. Love and observance of the commandments is key, he says. He inspires in them during this period of gloom peace and radiant joy. The Vine, he asserts, can make you green and living things, heavy with fruitfulness, laden with usefulness toward God and his people.
We are grafted onto Christ at baptism. We need to be cultivated, watered, pruned, redirected and disciplined. Involved is letting Him be the center of our lives, dethroning the ego, and allowing Jesus to take control of our lives. The result will be marvelous fruits, often well beyond anything we anticipated. And for each there will different works the Spirit chooses to perform through us. But always the first fruit will be love for one another.
I have a friend who struggled with alcohol for years. At a very low point in his life he told me, “I’m a worthless drunk. I don’t know why God brought me into this world or why He keeps me alive.” He was so disconnected from God, his despair broke my heart. Yet I was pleased he was still able to acknowledge God as his creator. And so I confirmed that God did indeed create him—in His image. He doesn’t make junk, as the kids say. Once he created you, I assured him, he didn’t give up on you. Those God-given talents and abilities of yours are unique to you and meant for service to others and for the glory of your creator. It’s not enough to get it intellectually—we need to let that penetrate to our heart of hearts, our very soul, the place where we tell ourselves the truth. What a disciple he became when that message became real for him! Not only don’t I have to go it alone, he said; I can’t—and God doesn’t expect me to. Oh what we can accomplish together!
The signs of being cut off from Christ, on the other hand, are abusive acts toward our own bodies and spirits and toward other people. How well do we really do when we consider ourselves to be in control, our own highest power?
Paul in Galatians 5:22 tells us that, when we stay connected to Christ the Vine, the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Being in Christ, he tells us, produces the very attitudes which are essential to living with other people.
T.S. Eliot agrees and asserts: “There is no life that is not in community, and no community not lived in praise of God.”
Herbert Butterfield in his Christianity and History states: “We can do worse than remember a principal which both gives us a firm Rock and leaves us the maximum elasticity for our minds: hold to Christ, and for the rest be totally committed.”
What can both nourish and motivate us, set us free and give us security? Apart from Christ, how many of our causes will end up as little more than exercises in futility?
When the apostles connected to the Vine heart and soul, they were dramatically transformed from timid, feckless, frightened individuals to fearless, dynamic, unabashed messengers and change agents for Christ. There was no doubt to any hearer or observer who gave them that power and strength—or who enabled them to love with such life-altering love.
“You didn’t choose me,” Jesus tells us. “I chose you that you might bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” Carl Jung responds to that assurance by writing, “We are intended so to live that others, meeting us, will look at us, and look again, and then to Jesus Christ, seeking the explanation of us there.”
Back when Ronald Reagan, not the “Governator,” was chief executive of California, I was performing my Clinical Pastoral Education at Camarillo state hospital. I was young, inexperienced, and frankly frightened at first on the locked wards. By the end of the 12 weeks I had learned a great deal—sometimes more from the patients than the staff or my supervisor. I was reminded that God was present even there and that these, too, were his children. They taught me to look for the soul of each person and treat each as a brother or sister in Christ. I’m sure that the mental health providers among you and I could swap stories for hours about such experiences. But there is one experience in particular from that place that sticks with me some 36 years later.
A woman I met early on had never spoken a word the entire time. Yet as our intern group was taking our leave of them, she handed me a note and said, “This is a poem about your friend. Please let him know he’s not only kept me alive but given me hope.” My Episcopal intern friend had struggled as had I, but I often noted him forgetting about his own concerns and simply trusting that God would provide what he needed in order to be of service to the patients. In her poem she said:
“I met Christ today in a man who gave of himself—
tirelessly, patiently, kindly—
to save another soul.
I watched him work,
bringing joy where there was pain.
And I prayed, ‘O God, protect him
as he walks with the lost,
living Christ’s love.’”
Will there be anyone this week who meets Christ because of your life, your connection to the Vine as individuals and as a congregation? I pray that you will chose to bear fruits of love.
Copyright © 2006 Steven Jensen
Comments welcome at email@example.com