Speaking of hard work, my sermon preparation was a little more
stressful this week than usual: it’s difficult enough to prepare
to speak in front of people, but it’s asking a lot of your
pastor to do that when I know there’s an entire field of ripe
tomatoes right outside the church door. I should have had the ushers
check for ammunition as you came in, but I will trust in God’s
grace in in yours.
I want to review some Brethren history with you this morning, tell
you some of the ways that intersects with my personal history, and
to think about our life in Christ in light of our scripture from
the 15th Chapter of John. On a side note, this text is the theme
for N Indiana District Conference next month -- September 16 and
17 -- and David Bibbee, who was pastor here at Creekside for many
years is the district conference moderator. David will be preaching
at the Friday evening worship service at Camp Mack. You are all
warmly invite to be there. I’m pretty sure that David will
say something different than I will say this morning, and I’m
almost positive that David hasn’t written that sermon yet,
but this is a great text, and worth hearing more than once.
These words from John are part of Jesus’ words to his disciples,
after Jesus has washed their feet and they have eaten their last
supper together. Jesus tells the disciples that he is the true vine
and they are the branches, and they are to abide in him and bear
fruit. The image of grapes as a symbol of bearing fruit, the wine
of communion, and Jesus’ blood has been part of Christianity
for a long, long time. It also has a special place in our Brethren
Slide 1 AM seal This is one of the earliest images associated with
the Church of the Brethren. Alexander Mack (AM) was the leading
spirit among the five men and three women who were baptized by immersion
in the summer of 1708. Their beliefs were a blend of pietism and
Anabaptism -- “ana” means again, anti means against.
These folks were not against baptism; they had all been baptized
as infants, and were committing civil disobedience by being re-baptized,
or baptized again.
We don’t know a lot about this seal -- it’s a combination
of a cross, a heart, and grapes: although these grapes always looked
like raspberries to me. You may have seen this at Camp Mack or on
Brethren literature or books. The AM is presumably for Alexander
Mack, although it could refer either to the founder of the Church
of the Brethren, or to his son, Alexander Mack, Jr. Later scholarly
research concluded that this seal was probably created by Mack Jr.
That scholarly research was done by my father, who was a college
professor and Brethren historian.
Slide 2 Eller version This is my dad’s re-working of the
Mack seal. This is an image which was woven through my childhood.
I heard dad talk about it in Sunday School classes and at church
camps, we had mimeographed copies around the house which were used
for handouts in college classes; I have a photo of a cake that I
decorated with this on it: I made banners and I don’t know
what else. I liked it better than the raspberry version, and like
so many other things which a child takes for granted, it never occurred
to me that this wasn’t familiar to everyone.
Let me just review the concepts here -- in case the words Gemeinschaft
was part of your childhood. This is Vernard Eller’s interpretation
of the Mack seal: the cross as the instrument of Jesus’ crucifixion
and our salvation, with the arms of the cross providing the structure
we received from the Anabaptists: non-conformity, community, and
the ordinances--Love Feast, baptism, marriage--the visible ways
we practice our faith.
The heart traditionally represents the blood of Jesus, but I know
for my father the heart meant the inward, emotional, devotional
aspect of our life in Christ. This heart-felt devotion is our Pietist
heritage, the love which is the root of Christianity: radical means
root, just like radish. I guess you could say they’re root
words. Love is the ground in which discipleship is rooted: discipleship
and the New Testament are at the heart of our faith.
The clusters of grapes represent bearing fruit, and that we produce
good works -- service, mutual support, love of neighbor -- when
we are connected to the vine. In 2004 I was invited to create a
logo for the Annual Conference theme, “Loving God and Neighbor,”
a version of the personal motto of early Brethren printer Christopher
Sauer, “For the glory of God and my neighbor’s good.”
Because of that church history and my personal history, I chose
to re-work the Mack seal.
Slide 3 Mack with grapes This version is stylistically different,
but conceptually the same. The elements of the cross, the heart,
and the grapes are combined with a heavy, rough outline a bit like
a colored woodblock print. We are blessed at Creekside that back
in 2004 Jean Mann made an embroidered fabric version that’s
here on the lectern.
I have been pondering this week how I could present this symbol
which is so familiar to me, and make it fresh and relevant to you,
and create an image which could help us think together about abiding
in Christ and what bearing fruit in Christ might look like. Something
strong and contemporary, but which still recognizes our heritage
and history. This is what I came up with:
Slide 4 Do you like it? I think it’s pretty awful -- all
those different shades of red! -- but it’s still better than
the raspberries, and maybe it can help us to think about bearing
fruit in a different way.
As I already mentioned, the fruit to which Jesus is referring in
John 15 is a grapevine and grapes. Tomatoes are technically a fruit,
but if they existed 2000 years ago, it was on a different continent
than where Jesus lived. Tomatoes are a New World fruit; nobody would
have known what to do with them in ancient Palestine. I’ve
never picked grapes, but I’ve picked a few buckets of tomatoes
in the past two weeks, and I think tomatoes can teach us something
about being connected to the vine.
Let me qualify my comments by saying that fruit-bearing is an illustration
-- a metaphor -- and like any metaphor, it can be pushed too far.
So I’m not implying that picking tomatoes is a more noble
or more godly thing to do than breading fish or welcoming guests
or pouring a cup of cold water or using a weedeater or any of the
other worthwhile things that so many of you do at Creekside. But
picking tomatoes fits the scripture which came to mind, and was
the metaphor I had at hand, so to speak.
Slide 5 Creekside tomatoes I took this photo in the Creekside garden
on Thursday. I can’t tell you where I was standing, because
I could have gone almost anywhere and got a shot like this. In fact,
I could turn around and look at a row I had just picked, and it
still looked pretty much like this. It’s kind of a cross between
picking vegetables and an Easter egg hunt. There’s an amazing
amount of fruit out in the garden. It’s pretty easy to tell
which fruit has come off the vine, though. Especially if you’re
picking bare-handed: it’s either green or it’s rotten.
Either way, unless the fruit stays on the vine until it’s
ready to pick, it isn’t much good. It doesn’t matter
if the tomatoes around it are all good, a ripe tomato which gets
knocked off and sits in the mud for a while is going to get rotten.
There’s a lot of difference between people and tomatoes:
rotten people can actually get better, while rotten tomatoes are
pretty much a loss. But being connected to Jesus Christ, the source
of life and health and joy is how we grow and mature and produce
something worthwhile. We can support and encourage one another,
but at the end of the day, no one else can make that connection
for us. Even if we hang around with some really good tomatoes, if
we drop away from the True Vine we’re either going to dry
up or start getting soft and soggy.
Abiding in Jesus is more about being than doing. The surest sign
that we’re abiding in Christ is that we are full of joy. Fruit
bearing isn’t a competition; one of the sure-fire way to kill
joy is with envy. It’s no wonder that envy is one of the seven
deadly sins. Let me give you an example: I signed up to bring cupcakes
for the Fish Fry yesterday. I enjoy baking, but I don’t often
make time to do it.; I had cleared out some time Friday afternoon
and was looking forward to making cupcakes. And then I was on my
way out of the office on Friday, and Betty Snyder was bringing in
her cupcakes. The looked so good, I asked if I could try one. It
was delicious. And instead of thinking, “Betty is really talented;
I’m so glad she’s willing to share her gift with our
guests at the Fish Fry!” I thought, “Well, darn it.
My cupcakes aren’t going to be nearly that good.” And
as I was driving home I thought about Danielle Garcia -- her cupcakes
taste delicious and they look like they were made by a professional
baker -- because they are. And suddenly I was all tied up in knots,
and I wasn’t looking forward to making cupcakes any more:
I don’t know why people have all these unreasonable expectations
of me, anyway. Like I don’t have enough to do? Thank goodness
I can laugh about it, because it’s ridiculous.
We have to be careful about taking on what we think are other people’s
expectations and making them our own expectations, and then acting
like those are God’s expectations. That’s not fruit-bearing,
that’s crazy-making, and that is not what God is calling us
to do. Here’s what Jesus says: “My Father is glorified
by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the
Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love . . .
I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and
your joy may be full.” (15:8-9, 11) We are called to be people
who are saved by the cross of Jesus and connected to the heart of
God so that we can grow and bear fruit. May we abide in Jesus, and
may our joy and our buckets be full! Amen.