John 15:1-17 | Ephesians 3:14-20
Just over seven years ago, I got up into this pulpit for the first time, and preached the first of the three hundred or so sermons (give or take a few repeats) that I’ve prepared and delivered over my years here.
It was transfiguration Sunday, and I spoke from a text in 2 Corinthians: “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another”, about the way that we are transformed by the things that we look at, the things we pay attention to, the things that we allow to occupy our minds, our time, our hearts.
It was a time when we, as a community, were experiencing a change – the departure of Arthur, the arrival of a new family in the manse, complete with two small children.
And now, seven years on, those children are rather bigger than they were; and we’ve all seen other changes as well. We’re all older, and some of us have rather less hair; some of our dearly beloved friends have died, others have moved away; and new friends have joined us.
These are the obvious changes, the physical, observable, measurable signs of time passing.
But much more important than those are the changes that God has worked in each of us, and in us together as a community: as we have looked, week by week, into the things of God; as we have worshipped and prayed and shared together in communion; as we have read the scriptures and pondered their meaning; as we have shared in meals and art and knitting and walking and countless cups of coffee (black) and glasses of wine (red); as we have been the people of God together, seeing the glory of the Lord in each other and in our community of faith and in the world around us; we have been transformed, from one degree of glory to another.
And as we have been transformed, so too we have born fruit. For through those who are in the vine that is Jesus Christ, fruit grows. It’s not always obvious, the fruit that is being produced; until you stop and reflect, and look back.
Over these past years, how many homeless or otherwise needy people have found, at the Dish, a hot meal, and far more importantly, friends to share it with?
How many children have heard the stories of the gospel in our Kids Church – and how many more in scripture classes, or Christmas kMotion?
How many members of our community, in their time of need, have received a welcome visit, an appreciated phone call, a casserole left on the front step?
How many have found an outlet for their creativity and a chance to talk in the art group?
How many mornings have been brightened up by gathering for coffee and chat?
How many people have deepened their love of God’s creation walking and sharing the experience with one another?
How many families have joined together to explore their faith in Messy Church, or the Growing Place?
How many have found support in the early years of parenting through Playjays?
How many tins of food and packets of pasta have found their way through us to Exodus, and been used in support of the great work that they do?
How much have the children of Vanuatu, and before that, East Timor, benefited from education that we have supported?
How many of us have been carried through tough times; times of sickness, bereavement, of struggle, by others in this place?
“Those who abide in me,” Jesus said, “bear much fruit”. And all those different fruits have the same root, the same vine: that we abide in Jesus’ love, and in doing so, love one another.
For that is the origin of all these varied missions and services and gifts that we give to one another and the world; the love of God in which we live and move; the love of Jesus in which we abide; the community of love that we have for one another.
Over the past years – as over the years since people first gathered to worship God in this place – generations have learned what it means to be God’s people, to abide in and share the love of God, and in doing so, much fruit has been born.
And now once again we come to a time of change. For us, the Goringe family, a move to Roseville and a new Church community; for St. John’s a time of discernment, leading to the call of a new minister to walk the next stage of the journey. An opportunity for each of us to bear more fruit; perhaps more of the same, perhaps something new, most likely a bit of both. But most certainly bearing fruit; for as Jesus said, he chose us, and he has appointed us to that end – to go and bear fruit as we abide in his love and as we love one another.
And so as I come to the end of my time as minister and preacher here at St. John’s, I wanted to finish with my favourite prayer from the Bible; the words that Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus – one of his favourite Churches.
For all the things that he might ask for them, what he prays for is that they may be grounded in love; and that they may come to grasp just how big God’s love is, and in so grasping may be filled with the fullness of God – for to truly know God’s love is to be possessed by it. To know God’s love is to love.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.