Today I had the joy of preaching at Epiphany Episcopal in Sedan, Kansas. The following is my sermon on today’s Gospel lesson from John 15:1-8 and reflections on my own personal journey:
Gracious God – bless the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts. Breath your Spirit into us and grant that we may hear and in hearing be led in the way you want us to go. Amen
For those of you who do not know, my name is Nic Mather, and I am the outgoing Intern at the K-State Canterbury House.
Over the past two years I have experienced a great deal of personal growth, exploration, and discernment. Fr. Marcus has asked me to share with you my story, and how my time at Canterbury has played a big part in shaping the person that I am becoming.
Today I’m going to share with you how we at Canterbury try to be the vines that bear fruit, and how my personal journey has led to my own fruit bearing.
I also want you to reflect with me and think about where in your life you are bearing the fruit and where you may have some branches that need to be trimmed.
In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus likening his ministry to that of a vine and God’s role as the vinegrower.
This message of “vines that bear fruit” speaks to how I’ve come to accept God’s call in my life and my acceptance of the challenge to live into a Christ-like existence. And in turn how that call has influenced my ministry at the Canterbury house.
Jesus says, “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”
It is important to remember this lesson as it speaks to the often too common human trait of trying to tackle everything by ourselves. I have seen the truth in this lesson in my ministry at the Canterbury house.
Each week, our student leaders must balance the stresses of schoolwork, part-time jobs, and maintaining social lives, with leading our weekly programs. It’d be great if every one of our students were able to prioritize Canterbury first in all things they do, but that is both unrealistic and irresponsible. The goal is to insure that our leaders have the necessary tools, and confidence, to lead the students that come to us hungry for answers. Jesus’ message today points to how we can accomplish this goal. By giving ourselves to Jesus to be used as his instruments, we can have faith that we will be successful. It is the times when we try to accomplish everything on our own that we run into problems.
Part of recognizing those times when we are too self-reliant, is to recognize that the help and support we need may not always come from a direct Jesus-to-student response, but rather is the result of His providing us with the necessary resources to pull off our tasks. This is why one of the most important aspects of our ministry that I stress is the concept of a team.
As a team, we are each responsible for the members of our team, and in turn we are individually responsible to reach out to that team when we are in need of assistance. By working together as one unit, with a common goal, we become those branches that sprout from Jesus’ vine, and ultimately we are able to bear fruit, as seen through the interactions and responses of those students that come to grow with us.
We see this fruit ripen through all of our different ministry programs. The program we emphasize the most among students is our Monday Night Dinner and Conversations. Each week we invite students to come and join us for a free home-cooked meal. In breaking bread together, we are sharing a very intimate act that opens up ourselves to each other, and prepares us to share the deep, probing questions that we may otherwise be too afraid to ask. It is in our conversation/activity time that we are able to ask those questions, wrestle with the answers and ask what those answers may mean for our personal faith journeys. We always end these evenings with a form of group prayer, uniting and reaffirming ourselves as seekers of Jesus’ love.
An alternative program we run on Wednesday nights, takes this same fervent desire to ask questions and seek answers, out to where the people are, as we meet in a local bar in “Aggieville” (the home of the K-State bar scene). Again, our goal is to bear the fruit of our faith and relationship with Jesus, and now we are doing it in a public arena for anyone to see (and hopefully join in). On these Wednesday nights we start with a topic that has been raised by our more regular attendees, and then the conversation is allowed to grow organically from there. There is always an interesting and challenging conversation; one that I find helps me develop my own beliefs into spoken words rather than the emotional feelings I experience around the topic.
I have experienced this lesson in abiding in Jesus in my own personal journey.
Today, I stand before you as a postulant seeking ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church, entering seminary at Virginia Theological Seminary this fall.
Two years ago (before moving to Kansas) I was in a very different place.
I was employed as a paralegal, in the field that I thought I was interested in, working in a position that could have offered fairly strong job security, but something was amiss.
I began to realize that over the past couple years, I had ventured away from the church and from listening to or even listening for God. This isn’t to say that I was having a crisis of faith, but that I simply had struck out on my own, assuming that I knew what was best for me. Luckily, I had a clarifying moment one day while riding the bus home from work that I was stuck in a rut that was never going to change unless I got back to what had made me happy in the past. Upon some self-reflection, I realized that the big piece missing from my life was an active relationship with God. Upon this realization I began to let God show me where to trim the branches that were to be gathered and thrown into the fire, because I was done with withering away in isolation.
This decision is what ultimately prompted me to come to K-State, and in turn has influenced the acceptance of my call to ordained ministry.
Ordained ministry has been something that has quietly sat in the back of mind as something that I should probably explore. For the longest time, I ignored both that little voice, and the more vocal voices of those who I worked with as a youth and young adult in the Church. Once I reached the stage where I was finally ready to listen, my life has proceeded in a much healthier, positive, and fulfilling path than I could have imagined.
I began my formal discernment process last year, utilizing the ability to meet with a discernment committee here in Kansas that was acting on behalf of my home diocese of Spokane in Washington State.
Our task was to work together to discern what fruit that I may bear for the greater benefit of the Church, and what that might look like in a long-term ministry setting.
One of the questions that we wrestled with in particular was the notion of lay vs. ordained ministry. It would definitely be possible for me to continue campus ministry, youth and young adult ministry involvement as a lay leader. So, the question then is why seek ordination.
To me, becoming an ordained minister is to become the leader and teacher for a community of believers and non-believers alike. I will be asked to help them see how the Good News is manifest in their lives. It will also better me as a person, not only in simple terms of education and better understanding of myself, but it will empower me to help more people because I will have experienced the fulfillment of following God’s call in my life.
This relationship I have built with God’s love, Jesus’ call to love, and my exploration of ministry, has led me to accept that I feel called to ordained ministry, specifically ordination to the priesthood.
By bearing these fruits of ministry in every aspect of my life, I hope to make an impact on as many as possible. Sharing with them my own personal journey, while growing with them as they explore their own faith and beliefs.
A constant pruning of dead or dying branches is a prudent action that will only help to make me, and those I tend to, healthier and fuller in the spirit and love of Jesus.
Now we must look together at what Jesus might be calling us to do with this message.
I want you to reflect for a moment on the various branches that exist in your life.
From work to family, friends to neighbors.
From church to community organizations to your city, and your place in each of these.
Ask yourself how are you tending to these various branches.
Are you ignoring, forgetting, and withering?
Or are you constantly pruning, evaluating, and bearing fruit?
Do you know how to bear fruit in today’s world?
Look to Jesus. Listen to His words. Know that it is through Him that you will be able to bear the fruits:
“Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
Know that in bearing fruit for Jesus, you are fulfilling your role in this life. Jesus tells us that, “My father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” Nothing makes Him happier, and in turn nothing can bring you that ultimate satisfaction and happiness that exists when in relationship with Jesus, and the constant sharing of that relationship with your neighbor.
Today you have heard from me about my own personal journey and discernment, how I came to understand the fruits that I might bear, and how that has manifested itself in my ministry at the Canterbury house.
I challenge you to continue discerning how it is that you can bear fruit, and what that might mean for your relationship with both God and your neighbor.
In order to send us off, prepared to rise and meet that challenge together, I want to close in prayer:
Heavenly Father, through your Son, Jesus Christ, you have taught us what is necessary for salvation, and you have illustrated to us what is necessary to live into the life of a true disciple.
We ask that you provide us with the guidance, support, and strength to understand what branches in our lives are bearing the fruit for your glory, and which branches need to be pruned, thrown into the fire, and burned. Even when we are hesitant, reaffirm our resolve through the support of your presence, and let us recognize that presence when it is amongst us.
We put our trust in you, and thank you for the blessings of this life. Amen.