Easter 5

John 15:1-8 Acts 8:26-40

A few years ago, we were on holiday in America and the hotel had a swimming pool on the roof. We decided to go for a swim and when we got there, there was just one other couple there and we got talking. It turned out that they lived just a couple of miles away from us in Leeds. What are the chances?

Has that sort of thing ever happened to you? Or have you ever been in the right place at the right time, against all the odds.

This morning, we have heard the story of Philip. We are told that an angel of the Lord said to him “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”  

Philip, didn’t question any of it. The fact that he was told by a messenger from God. Or his instructions, which, let’s be honest were a bit strange. Philip got up and went. I wonder what was going through his mind? He wasn’t told what to expect, who to meet or what to say. He was also told that it was the wilderness road, a place in the desert where the chances of spreading the gospel was practically non-existent.  

Have you ever had a message from God? It might not have been from an angel…or perhaps it was. It may have been something said by a friend or even a stranger, or a whisper in your ear or a dream you had or even some thoughts that persisted in your mind.

Philip had no hesitation and it seemed the most natural thing in the world to him to go and wait for further instruction.

So, what about us. Even if we realise that something might be from God, do we act on it? Do we take that step of faith and trust that we will be shown how to act, what to do and what to say?

I think it all depends on where we are at in our relationship with God.

Yesterday, for my Morning Prayer, I used the Celtic Prayer Book from the Northumbrian Community and they give a little a daily reading and it really made me think. It talked about a circle of awareness to help remind us that God is in our midst. It said:

pray constantly… in order to have a pure heart…in order to see God everywhere…in order to pray constantly.

I’ll say that again:

pray constantly… in order to have a pure heart…in order to see God everywhere…in order to pray constantly.

If we are praying constantly, then we will see God at all times and in all places.

This is what Jesus was talking about when he refers to himself as the ‘true vine’ and his Father being the vinegrower. He goes on to say that he is the vine and we are the branches. Too often we act as though we are alone. Jesus doesn’t say branch, he says branches and being joined onto the vine makes all the difference. Without the nutrients of the vine, the branches can’t hope to bear fruit. It is the life force of the whole plant. So what he is telling us is that we need to remain connected to him in order to grow as Christians and to further his Kingdom.

I mentioned Morning Prayer and there is something immensely powerful about praying and being connected with other Christians who are praying the same prayer all over the world at the same time as me. We are all part of the same vine and connected to God through Jesus Christ. Quite something isn’t it?

So, back to Philip.

Philip was one of seven to be chosen to run the food pantry in the Christian community so that the disciples could get on with the important work of spreading the word of God. It wasn’t long though before Philip too was venturing further afield in order to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ…and with spectacular results!

Are we all branches…channels of God’s love, just like Philip?

Are we open to the Spirit and do we act on those niggly messages that just won’t go away? Or do we convince ourselves that it must be our over-active imagination? Or that they are real but we’re just not up to the job? I mean, how can we get the message across ? And the answer, of course, is that we can’t…not in our own strength.

I do sometimes wonder about the long-term effects of the pandemic. Three lockdowns, so far and, according to the Electoral Roll, there is quite a number of people who haven’t been to church since Covid-19 made its first appearance.  

Jesus said “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

So often people say that you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. And that is true but, in order to grow, we need to be fed.

It is God’s Spirit that helps our experience of God. It is God’s Spirit that transforms us. The Spirit brings new ideas, new ways and new life to our faith community and to each of us. It is the Spirit that gives us the strength and the confidence to share our faith and bear fruit.

I think it was St. Francis who said “Preach the Gospel; use words if necessary.” It isn’t always about talking the talk or quoting the right Bible passage. It is about living our lives faithfully. It is about seeing Christ in others and about allowing Christ to be seen in us.

If we are constantly in touch with God, just like Philip, we recognise the right moments, we read into situations and we trust the Spirit to guide us to say and do the right things.

…the right place and the right time. What are the chances?
Rev Julie Clarkson

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