Sunday, 2 October 2011

:: Fruits ::

This is the first of my placement sermons which I will be using as part of my assignments in the module on preaching - enjoy and may you be blessed as I was:

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father

Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.

But if we are really honest with ourselves, we as individuals bearing fruit to Gods glory?
If we don’t feel that we are bearing fruit, then have we forgotten something, or are we doing something wrong?

We have a fruit tree in our garden, every year it bears fruit, more fruit than we will ever eat or need. We never do anything to it, we just let it be a fruit tree and it does what a fruit tree should do. We didn’t buy it, it was in our garden when we bought our house, it didn’t cost us a penny. So we give the fruit away, we share it, we bless others with this gift that came to us free of charge. We want other people to enjoy our apples and nothing gives us greater joy and more pleasure than when people tell us what they did with their apples and how much they and their loved ones enjoyed eating them. The apples are our gift and people’s pleasure in them is our blessing.
On the first day of my course in September we spent a whole day meditating and discussing and praying over this scripture. What I learnt that day was too good to keep to myself. In fact the lecturer commissioned us to go home and preach to our churches on this gospel. She said it was our responsibility to share it, and I think she is right. It was given freely to the class so that we might use it to bear fruit in our lives. It was given freely and I want to share it, I want you to enjoy and I want you to be blessed by what I learnt. Because it opened a door for me it was a light bulb moment when everything clicked into place and my prayer is that something in what I share today may be a light bulb moment for one of you too.
We often try to live like Old Testament Christians. By that I mean that we try to do things in our own strength, and then when things don’t work out the way we want them to we wander around the wilderness lost, never really learning never really moving forward just going round and round In circles ending up at the same place again and again, facing similar situations behaving in similar ways. That’s because we sometimes forget about the great truth, the Golden rule - which is letting God rule, under grace and not the law. When we follow the golden rule, when we rest in the grace of God we allow Him to rule and we allow Him to work in us from the inside out.
I know one of the ways which I walk as an Old Testament Christian is wanting Justice when people hurt me or others. But Jesus asked us to deal with hurt through forgiveness and through love. I know that this can be incredibly hard at times and I have spoken of it before, but it is only through this that the truth can set us free.
But my main problem with forgiveness is that although I can forgive others for hurting me I just can’t forgive myself. I know that I can forgive by will, but this doesn’t make me free and if I am not free then I can’t be free to love unconditionally. When this happens I can’t be a source of grace to those I forgive. I understand Gods forgiveness in my head but I have really struggled with understanding it in my heart. Like a stain in my favourite shirt, it faded with a squirt of vanish but it didn’t come out and every time I wear it I don’t enjoy wearing it as much as I did, because I feel angry with myself for getting a mark on it, I feel angry because I didn’t realise I had done it and I feel angry because I didn’t deal with it immediately because the stain remains and I cant get it out, because others may see the stain and judge me, because the stain has made the blouse less than perfect in my eyes. But we are perfect in Gods eyes, and I can’t ever get the stains in my life out by myself, only He can, and I have to let go and stop trying myself and let Him do it in his own way and his own timing. Because He wants to cleanse us so we can join with him. Sometimes we take part of Gods forgiveness but we can’t accept it all. We get used to living with the stains. But these stains effect the way that we abide with God and so we can’t bear the fruit that he intended us to. Because when people see Gods forgiveness in us they would see grace in action. When they see grace in action, they will want some for themselves and this is where we bear fruit and where we can share that fruit just as God intended.
God wants to forgive us so that we can be joined with him so that there is nothing between us and him, so that he can speak to us, be intimate with us and so that he can work through us and we can bear fruit. If we are bound up with guilt and self loathing then he can’t get near to us, our guilt is in the way, its taking up the space that God wants so that he can get close to us, so that he can develop his relationship with us. The fruit we bear is an outcome of our relationship with God. A plant can’t grow if its root bound in a tiny pot. It needs space to grow and God needs space so that we can grow with him and through Him.
I have an example. My year 13 ‘A’ level group are some of the most talented students that I have ever worked with. They have the potential to come out with grade A*’s and B’s for the unit which I am teaching them at the moment. But there has been a big argument between the girls. Apparently one of the girls has been heard saying something unkind about the other girls. This has caused a terrible atmosphere in the group. Now I believe the only way to sort out something like this is to bring it into the light. You have to lance the boil, it may hurt but if you don’t it will grow and it will fester and when it bursts there will be a lot of damage. So I brought the girls together and we had a big discussion, we brought the accusations out into the light, chairs were thrown and angry words said people stormed out doors were slammed. The negative atmosphere lasted for another lesson, the guilt the anger the hatred the regret all permeated the group. Result – no one created any work and what they did create was poor – why? Because their bad feelings towards each other and towards the situation was preventing them form being creative, from using their gifts. The good news is that we had another discussion, which went a lot better and I sprinkled the teachings of Jesus over them and talked things through again and they listened. I am happy to say that the wounds are now healing and they are being creative again. However, one girl in particular, who I am very fond of, wouldn’t let go of her pain, she couldn’t put it down. She was physically bound, you could see it, she couldn’t speak to anyone or share with the group, she withdrew completely and she was having an awful time in her drama lessons, the pain was really hurting her. What was worse was that she wouldn’t talk to me she wouldn’t make eye contact with me – I could see that she felt guilty and she thought I was judging her. So I took her to one side and we went somewhere quiet to talk and she told me although she was fighting this part of her nature she couldn’t win, she couldn’t let go of the pain even though it was hurting her. She wouldn’t accept that she had been forgiven and I had put the situation down, she couldn’t accept that I was really fond of her and I wanted her to do really well in her drama exam, I wanted her to love her drama lessons, I wanted her to be happy to be creative. Result - She didn’t create anything, she couldn’t create anything and yet she was my most talented student. She couldn’t bear fruit because she wouldn’t allow herself to be close to us any more. After a long talk and a hug I got close to her again, she asked me to pray for her, and I do. The following lesson was back to normal and she was being creative – she was bearing fruit.
The effect of not forgiving and holding onto those stains stops us from bearing the fruits God intended us to and we become bound. This is an example of a relationship between one of my students and myself. When she let me get close to her again she made space for me to teach her and help her to bear fruits in her work. Imagine what fruits we can bear if we allow ourselves to accept Gods forgiveness. Imagine what fruits we will bear if we allow God to work in us? It blows me away when I think of what he could do in me if I could shift out all the rubbish that I still hang onto.
Sin causes a barrier between us and God, Satan loves nothing more than this and he sets us up to fall- his greatest joy is to cause us to sin because he knows that this keeps us from God. Because he knows what we do with that stain, that sin. What do we do with a stain? Do we deal with it immediately and we get it out, or we leave it in the dark wash basket where it has time to work itself into every fibre and washing it out becomes more and more difficult – even impossible.
I just want us to take time to read the passage below and pray over it:
‘But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities: upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.’
Isaiah 58
When I read that passage I wept, I suddenly truly understood, I had my light bulb moment. If we don’t accept Christ dying on the cross for us then it was a waste. We must understand that forgiveness is a free gift. Why do we feel that we have to earn it? This is old testament thinking, old testament living - we don’t have to earn Gods acceptance, because we have it already - its free and it was paid for on the cross. If it’s finished its finished and if it’s freely given we should be accepting it in our lives and in turn we should be giving it away – we should be bearing fruit. This gift is not for us to keep, it’s come from God and it’s a wonderful gift that he wants us to share with others. Jesus never said to anyone ‘try harder’. I have spent year trying to be a good person, praying every day to be a good Christian, trying every day in my own strength, then failing and feeling useless and defeated. But I was living by the old testament I hasn’t realised that by the flesh I would never be able to do things it is only through the spirit can we do them. We have to end out old lives and start our new one. How do we do this? We do this by accepting Gods grace, by leaving behind our old life and our old ways.
I know that God had to bring me to my knees, to the very end of my strength so that He could say to me that dark night at three in the morning in a hotel room in Germany – ‘I want space in your head for me’. Only when I was broken, only then when I was literally lying on the floor in desperation and despair , only when I stopped trying to do things in my own strength only then did I hear Him, did I listen to Him did I give him that space,. Only then did he start working miracles in my life. We couldn’t both live in the same space, because the space was filled with my junk, He couldn’t abide in me and I couldn’t bear fruit. But when I stopped trying, God started to do it for me. We can tame our old nature, our anger or jealousy but when provoked it comes out again. But if we let God deal with our nature, no matter how much we are provoked it wont and it can’t come out. What hinders us from bearing fruit – hanging on to our old nature. So what is the answer?
The cross. Because at the cross our old nature died and the new nature was born. Christ in us, Christ working through us. This was my light bulb moment, I had understood here (head) but suddenly the penny dropped and I under stood here (Heart). I understood I had already left my old life and my old nature behind at the cross when I was baptised. I realised that my sins had been forgiven and I had been washed clean. But I couldn’t give up some things from my old life, one of the things that I couldn’t give up was what I thought I was doing well, that I thought I was good at. I wanted to keep some of my old life but it must all go to make the space for God to abide with us. The good and the bad and the quicker we do it the quicker He can start working on us. You see I always thought that I was a great teacher, I am ashamed to say I was really arrogant about it and filled with pride. But the arrogance and pride stopped God from making me an amazing teacher and using my gifts properly, for His glory and not mine. I had to be broken because it was only when I was broken and when I allowed God to take up the space in my life that my pride and arrogance had filled it was only then that my cracked pot could really bear fruit. I now know and can physically feel that I am teaching through Gods strength and I can see the difference, my ego and arrogance had to go and I had to submit to God so that He could make me the teacher He wanted me to be, so I could bear His fruit, so He could shine through my cracked pot. I couldn’t have blessed my 6th form group a couple of years ago because I wouldn’t have prayed and I wouldn’t have asked God to deal with it His way, I would have done it my way and it wouldn’t have worked, those girls wouldn’t have seen God working through me. The result of letting God deal with it was that one of the girls said to me later ‘I really love the way you explain things miss – they make sense and they are full of love. Not my love – His love, shining through my cracked pot. God hasn’t taken the gift of teaching away from me, He has made it better because now He is in the driving seat He is working through me and in me. It was so hard for me to give this up, I wanted to hold on to it, because I thought that teaching was the only thing in my life that I thought I could do. I didn’t really understand. But once I understood – I had it all, but I had to give it up, I had to leave everything at the cross, the good and the bad, the things I couldn’t wait to get rid of and the things I desperately wanted to keep. Letting go set me free. If you are struggling with this then I ask you to pray over it or ask me or one of the church family to pray with you about it – use the prayer corner, use your family to stand with you.
When you can’t do anything, God can do Everything. It’s the ‘I’ that holds us back. Stop trying to get to there by yourself – because you are already there. Stop trying to do everything in your own strength. God knows what you need to change and He will do it in his own time, He will deal with these things in his timing, at different times and at different seasons He will take them from us and He will do the impossible.
Your old nature may come back from time to time but Jesus can deal with it instantly, these weeds have no roots now we don’t have to wrestle and fight – Jesus will pull them out instantly. He will set us free, the truth will set you free. Don’t try and change things in your own strength - get on your knees and ask God to change them. You can’t do it because you were never supposed to . All we have is Jesus and that is all we need.
Clay pots will show Gods glory He will transform us from the inside out, inside in that space that we give Him, He will transform us – but from within. I really want to encourage you to carry the presence of Jesus within, abide in Jesus, let him gently work in you. Because when we carry him He will work in us and He will change our anger or greed into compassion and love. He needs the body of Christ to carry him, he needs the cracked pots, he wants the clay pots because He will use us the clay pots to His glory. We will never graduate from being a clay pot, we are supposed to be clay pots. But when we remember this, when we let God have space within our clay pots we will see beyond our wildest dreams. We are not working for God – we couldn’t do it anyway – God wants to work in us – but he needs space and when we give Him this space we will bear fruit. This truth will set you free.
So lets take some time to read the words on the screen quietly and lets take some time to pray and reflect on them. Lets start, together this morning, lets make space for God to come to us now to speak to us now, to start changing us now. I pray that each and every one of you will start to know and enjoy where God has put you through His grace and I pray that you will start making that space for him to abide in you now, this minute so that you and I can bear fruit. Amen

1 comment:

  1. Hey Helen, a very thought provoking sermon, lots of things to dwell on and yes, we are clay in the Potters hands. We must remain pliable so God can mould us into something that is pleasing to him. If we are hard, then we will break........

    I hope you are well, obviously very busy with your course.

    It's a beautiful morning here as I sit in bed with a cuppa and enjoy the view a constant reminder of God.

    Claire X


It is my prayer that my words may be of some comfort or may bless you in some way...I love to hear from you and your journeys...every blessing H