A Work in Progress

Citizens of heaven.jpgThe Pas                       St Matthias – Easter 5

Year A

14 May 2017

 

Acts 1:15-26

Psalm 15 pg 719

Philippians 3:13-21

John 15:1, 6-16

 

Risen Christ,

give us grace to love one another,

to search for truth

and to walk in the ways of justice and peace,

so that we may abide in the Father’s love always. Amen.

__________________________________

 

Have you ever attended seminars that focus on self-improvement, on moving forward, on letting go of the negative and embracing the positive?

 

These seminars are great for encouraging us to focus on positive goals, on the future, on what it is we want out of life. The problem is they don’t take into account anything of who we are, or what we’ve experienced, except to look at what prevents us, what underlying conditions or experiences, or even people who prevent us from fulfilling what it is we feel we want to accomplish in life to be considered successful.

 

It comes under the category of self-help because the last person it calls upon to aid us in focusing upon the positive, in becoming who we envision ourselves to be is God.

 

And as much as we strive to keep God at the centre of all things, we’re all prone to looking at self-improvement like the renovation of our bathrooms. Something that would be nice, and perhaps we can do it all on our own, until we get the room torn apart and discover the real state of the walls, floors, and the toilet seal.

 

Then, surrounded by a room that cannot fulfill its designated purpose, we wonder what to do next and often call a contractor.

 

I remember one ideology that described our journey of life like being in a rowboat. And the things in our life that hold us back, whatever that may be, as anchors off the back of that row boat. The thought pattern was that if we keep moving forward, those anchors will either become smaller as they’re dragged through the water, or the ropes would fray and they’d fall behind.

 

You should know that nowhere, in this train of an idea did we find God being called upon to guide us in this self-improvement, in this change we hoped to impose upon our lives

 

Today, we see Paul tell the Philippians something similar, in regards to his own journey of faith, his own journey in Christ. He describes his life as a work in progress, a continuing act of self-improvement, but not at his own hands. Like the work of a master artist, we are the art, and the artist helps us to become more complete, more improved, more, each day.

 

He says “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phl 3:13b-14)

 

So, then, using his life as an example, Paul urges us to look forward, to focus on the future that God has planned for each one of us, a future that is grounded in Christ Jesus.

 

Now, this doesn’t mean that we are able to flip a switch and, all of a sudden, be the heavenly minded earthly vessels we imagine that we have the ability, the potential to be, if only our past, our errors, our omissions have the decency to wander away. In fact, looking at my life, this isn’t even possible. Like Paul, I’m a work in progress, at all times.

 

But, having said that, as we deal with those images of anchors in our life, those parts of our past that we wish to transform, as we strive to become what God envisions us to be, we do not work though these issues alone.

 

Our gospel paints the picture of God as a gardener, thus making us the vines being trained and trimmed and worked on by the gardener.

 

The image given to us, today, is of fruit vines and their ability to produce fruit; the good, burden free vines, centred in Christ, produce fruit of the gospel.

 

At the same time, when we focus on our burdens, on what gets between us and God, our ability to produce fruit of the gospel is greatly diminished.

 

Like when Peter is called, by Jesus, to get out of the boat, in the storm, and to walk on the water to Jesus. When he focus’ his attention on Jesus, he is able to walk on the water, but when his attention wavers, when he focus’ on the wind and the waves, on the storm all around him, he begins to sink into the water, and he cries out to Christ to save him. (Mt 14:28-31)

 

{pause for count of 2}

 

We are all aware that we have baggage in our lives, skeletons in our closets. We are all able to be distracted from our focus on Christ and what Christ hopes we will become by those preexisting conditions of humanity.

 

We all have issues from our past, even from earlier today, or five minutes ago.

 

We all have history that colours our pasts, our lives, still today, and if we let it, it has the ability to get between us and our ability to wholeheartedly live in the gospel.

 

Paul reminds us that his life is still a work in progress. He reminds us that as much as we’d like to just cut those anchor ropes and leave behind the negatives in our lives that have the ability to hold us back, to slow us down, to remind us that we had an existence before the light of Christ wholeheartedly shone in our lives and in our hearts.

 

Paul reminds us that “All of us, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” (Phl 3:15-16)

 

Our growth in Christ, our realization of how God works in our lives, isn’t all of a sudden, like a flash of lightening.

Even when Christ encountered Saul on the road to Damascus, and he turned his life from persecuting Christians to promoting Christianity among the Gentiles, it was so much more than just the experience of light in which he heard the voice of the risen Christ, in which he was knocked off his donkey, and in which he lost his sight for three days (Acts 9:1-9)

 

In Paul’s situation Christ sent Ananias to him to open his eyes, to teach him the ways of Christ, to show him that he is a part of the vine, as we all are, still, today.

 

Ananias says “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:13b) And yet, God still sent him to Paul, to open his eyes, to teach him of the love that God has for him, for you for me, for all of those who are in creation.

 

So, Saul, who left behind a past that was so dark, so filled with hurting those who professed faith in Christ, was able to find new life in the branch he was actively striving to prune from the vine.

 

How, in the name of faith, even Saul, who is now Paul was given new life and a new purpose amongst the Gentiles, spreading the love of God across the known world, sharing the depth of the sacrifice of Christ far beyond the Jewish homeland that we experience, still, today.

 

We are able to see how God continues to work to bring light and redemption together in our lives.

 

How in the light of Christ, in the radiance of God the errors of our pasts are able to gradually, slowly, and irrevocably, and forever be changed into lessons. How they become examples of how God works miracles through the application of God’s love, through the loving guidance of the gardener who tends the vines, not a flash event but the loving guidance of the one who chose each one of us.

 

God tells us “You did not chose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you will ask in my name the Father will give you.” (Jn 15:16)

 

We, all of us, are chosen. We are included. We are loved, pruned, guided, and encouraged. We, each one of us, have history that can, in our minds, in our lives, hold us back from accepting the full love that God, so generously, lavishes upon each one of us, every day.

 

And this is the crux, this is the cross on which our faith hangs. This is what encourages us to get out of bed every morning, and strive to become what God envisions of us and our lives.

 

Society makes the error of focusing solely on the idea of ‘self-help’, on the idea that we are able to make monumental changes in our own lives. Those who don’t have or acknowledge a life in Christ believe that they are able to focus upon the loosing of those anchors in our lives that are the errors and mistakes of our past.

 

Although it’s an attractive image, to be remade, reformed in the images of our imaginations of what we have the potential to be in our lives. Unfortunately, we think we can do this on our own, without God, without Christ, without the wisdom of Paul. The problem is we believe our own press and play that to the hilt.

 

God’s love comes down upon our lives, like the warm spring sunshine on the vines that the gardener tends. God’s love has the ability to wash away the notions of self-help, of helping us to see that the perceptions of anchors have at one time been a stumbling block, have had the ability to hold us back.

 

Yet, as we see with our own lives, with the writings of Paul, our pasts are able to help us to relate to the world. Paul reminds us that his life, his journey in faith Christ Jesus is a work in progress. The gospel points out that God is like a gardener, and God will shape us and form us with the love of a master gardener, with the patience of someone working with a bonsai plant.

 

It’s through God’s lavish love, through God’s guidance, through the teachings that come to us from Paul, from Jesus, we are able to heal from, learn from our pasts. We’re able to be examples of those around us who are struggling to feel the love of God, the love of the gardener.

 

Our pasts, our errors and omissions, our sins are able to, like Paul’s become life lessons and examples to show others the way. Like pearls that are produced by oysters: irritants that are coated over and over, again, by the oyster, until they no longer irritate, but rather become something beautiful and treasured. Each one unique and still something that has meaning to us.

 

They become invitations that don’t hold back but rather show the light of God, of Christ through actions so that, like Paul, we are able to guide others into the light of Christ, into the loving ministrations of the gardener as we produce fruit worthy of the gospel.

 

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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