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Breath of the Spirit
Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.
Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.
Our sacred authors take for granted that our relationship with Jesus isn’t just a once a lifetime experience. Like all relationships, it either grows or dies.
MAY 3, 2015: FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
In my experience, I suspect many of us take more pride in being members of the institutional church than we do in being members of the Body of Christ. Though our early Christian authors believed some form of a structured community was necessary for the Body of Christ, they always put the emphasis where it should be. This seems to be the basis for today’s second and third readings.
John’s Jesus constantly emphasizes the relationship he expects his followers to have with him. The image of the vine and branches conveys that relationship in classic terms. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who remain in me and I in them will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” On the other hand, “Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither . . . .” Our relationship with the risen Jesus couldn’t be expressed in clearer terms.
The only problem is that we frequently overlook the part about being pruned. Even those branches of the vine of Christ that bear fruit will be pruned “. . . so that they bear more fruit.” In other words, our vine/branches connection with Jesus causes us to experience the same pain and pruning which he endured; a pruning which eventually leads to life.
Yet, as we hear in our Acts passage, that pruning could at times come from our relation with the institution. The newly-converted Saul quickly discovered this. “When (he) arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” Obviously Paul would like to become part of the Jesus movement, but those who were part of that movement before him are suspicious not only about his claims of conversion but also about his motives in joining them.
Though Barnabas eventually vouches for him, Paul’s habit of dueling with Hellenist Jews creates problems for the rest of the church. They feel much more comfortable shipping him back to his hometown of Tarsus than in having him evangelize in Jerusalem. It must have been quite painful for this newly appointed Apostle to the Gentiles to be sent so far away from the action. Thankfully he retained his relationship with the risen Jesus in the midst of this pruning, else he wouldn’t have been ready when the institution eventually discovered how badly it needed him.
The author of I John, normally no friend of a rigid church institution, also stresses the importance of that relationship. According to this writer, we don’t keep God’s commandments because we want to get into heaven, but because it’s the one sure way of staying connected to the risen Jesus. “Those who keep his commandments,” he writes, “remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us.” Other Christs are far less concerned with “word and speech” than they are with “deed and truth.”
Our sacred authors take for granted that our relationship with Jesus isn’t just a once a lifetime experience. Like all relationships, it either grows or dies. That’s why our deeds and the truth are so important. Unless we’re constantly building that relationship through those two means, we’ll be watching it disappear before our “faithless” eyes.
Though the institutional church is important, many of us forget why it exists. According to its theologians and Scripture scholars, its main mission is to help us build a relationship with Jesus, not with itself. Unless we keep reminding it – and ourselves - of that mission, it could easily become an obstacle and not a means to achieving that goal.
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