2nd May, 2021
Parish Church of St James, Louth
Acts 8.26-40; 1 John 4.7-21; John 15.1-8
May I speak in the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I love journeys – the getting there, and not just the destination. Especially train journeys, but buses and even cars, if I am a passenger, will do. All sorts of things can happen in that magic bubble of time and space to which you submit yourself when you climb on board, not always knowing your co-travellers, not in charge of when the journey will start and stop, with perhaps just one book or newspaper in hand which you know you will engage with with a special intensity as the road or rails unfurl beneath you.
Just such a privileged space of miraculous possibility opens up when Philip the Deacon (not the apostle we commemorated yesterday) hitches a lift with the man sometimes named Simeon, an official of the royal court of the matrilinear Kingdom of Kush, Between one chariot stop and another, a life is transformed.
In the providence of Philip’s presence at that point, of the exact text of Isaiah’s Christic prophecy Simeon is reading there is a story of what our Collect for this week describes as ‘God’s grace going before us’.
At the same time, Philip must be listening to catch the voice of the Spirit. Simeon must be open and expectant to desire guidance, to ask the pressing questions he does. He must find the courage and conviction to ask for baptism then and there, by the side of the road. In all these things there it is also a story of our ‘bringing to good effect’ as it also says in the collect. God’s gate is ever open to us, his help always running before us, but we have to have the openness, the capacity to seize on the wind of that spirit, to run through that gate.
There is another helpful image in our Gospel. When Jesus says in our Gospel that he is the vine, we are the branches, and God the vine-grower, we should derive huge comfort from this picture. Our true being is grounded in Christ’s. We aren’t the flailing separate agents we sometimes think of ourselves as. ‘We are from the truth’ as it says in our Epistle reading. There is something utterly natural, completing, and to our own flourishing about being nurtured by God through Christ. I get the image in my mind of our bodies and spirits as like strong, green branches, all interconnected, through which the sap of God’s lifegiving spirit is constantly surging and renewing. God’s love flows through us, if we open up our spiritual pores and cells to receive it. To ‘abide’ in him as he ‘abides’ in us is to remain, not depart, from this already given gift of who we are. We love because he first loved us.
So how is it we can feel far from God? How is it that it is possible to make ourselves so unhappy, angry or sorrowful day by day? How is it that we – and even we, we might be thinking, this week especially, with so much global suffering to contemplate – can be miserable? Can be lost? I think where we begin to flag and fail, where our leaves to crinkle or our branches to wilt, is in forgetting where the source of our resources comes from. It is in attempting to be self-watering beings, who can generate our own contentment—and so are to blame, or unhappy, when that contentment and satisfaction is absent. Who cannot receive the hand of the gardener, the ‘vinegrower’, the ‘georgos’—farmer and husbander in every sense. Who cannot believe that, when pruning comes, it is bringing new life, that cuts may be made to heal.
God’s grace is always going before us. The sap of truth and life is always there to rise in us. The gates are always open for us. But whether we rise to be the fruitful people of love, and truth, and action who ‘abide in him as he abides in us’ is in our – ever beloved, ever fed – hands. So let us come to the altar to receive that food, physical proof of the ever-rising sap, the never-exhausted love, as we join together in the sacrament of God’s body and God’s blood.