Aloha Friday Message – May 4, 2012 – 127 degrees

1218AFC050412 Fifth Sunday in Easter

Read it online here.

About 1,000 years ago, when I was in the eighth grade at Merrill Junior High in Denver, we had a pretty active Youth Program at our church. It was sponsored by two people who were not a “couple,” both in their mid-thirties, and the 15 or so Jr-Hi kids really had a great time with them. They let us call the Rick and Jane – adults addressed by their first names! They planned and chaperoned great parties, trips, Bible studies, and service opportunities that were – and still are – unforgettable. One particular party I remember was our Halloween Party in 1959. We had the usual scavenger hunt, hot cider and donuts, apple-bobbing, scary stories, and decorations. Toward the end of our party we played a little “adventure game.” Here’s how it went:

It was mid-Fall, the end of October, and it was already really cold outside. All of us were wearing our winter coats. The coats were piled up on a bed in one of the bedroom of the house hosting the party. Rick told us, “Go get your coat and bring it into the living room.” Once everyone had complied, he said, “Now, find a spot on the floor and lay down so that you’re not touching anyone else.” Amid some giggling and grumbling, we did as he asked. What came next made us wonder what he was up to and promised to be super fun.

“OK, now cover yourself with your coat so that you are completely hidden. If your coat won’t cover everything, make sure it at least covers your head, shoulders, and most of your trunk.” (Rick was a doctor.) Once we’d worked that out, with Jane’s help to make sure we were well-covered, Rick gave us this scenario.

“You are lost in the desert. It is a hundred-twenty-seven degrees. You have no water. The heat is just burning you up. You decide you have to get rid of a piece of clothing that you don’t need in this heat. Pick an article of clothing you don’t need and set it on the floor next to you.” More giggles, more unspoken questions, more temptations to peek, more patrols by Jane and Rick. Most people had taken off a shoe. The game continued.

“It’s still a hundred-twenty-seven degrees. You’re burning up. That last move didn’t help much. You need to discard something else you don’t need.” More giggles, more groans, more shoes. This just kept going on, and on; it was always a hundred-twenty-seven degrees, and it was always, “Take something else off, a piece of clothing you don’t need in this heat.” After several rounds a few people were getting close to experiencing embarrassment in one form or another. They might be embarrassed because they removed so many clothes they were down to their unmentionables, or they might be embarrassed because they were one of the last persons to recognize that if it is a hundred-twenty-seven degrees outside, the first piece of clothing you don’t need is … YOUR WINTER COAT!

We all had a good laugh about that and trooped into the kitchen to finish up the cider and donuts. Then we went back to the living room and talked about our adventure. We talked about when we first realized what we needed to do – move the coat. Jane asked us if the rules said we had to stay hidden. Nope. No one told us to stay hidden so getting rid of the coat was OK. Rick asked us if we were told we couldn’t ask for help from someone else. Nope. There was nothing wrong with asking anyone or everyone, “What did you throw off?” Then we talked about sin.

Rick said, “Each one of us, everyone here, has a burden of sin. It weighs us down. No matter what the weather is – boiling hot or freezing cold – if our lives are covered with sin, it’s not helping us, it’s not protecting us, and we certainly don’t need to keep carrying it around with us.” Then he read Psalm 55:22 to us: Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” HE will never allow us to fall. Then Rick and Jane explained that we never should feel like we have to carry that burden of our sins around with us. It’s like loading up a backpack with big rocks and then walking up a hill covered with boulders. “Sin is a burden you can always lay down and leave behind,” said Rick.

Jane followed with, “And as we saw tonight we’ll often try to get rid of everything else in our life but still hold onto and even hide behind that sin which we do not need.” Someone asked, “What if you lay it down, but pick up more somewhere else?” Another teen answered, “Well, I guess whenever we realize we’re carrying around a burden we don’t need, we can just do the same thing. Give it to the Lord, or just leave it lying on the ground.” You could see little light bulbs above everyone’s head. Then one friend’s light bulb winked out. “But, what if you lay it down and it still doesn’t help? What if you’re still burdened, hot, and tired, and feel terrible?” That was a tough one. Rick and Jane waited for us to think it over, and then another friend said, “Then come over and tell me about it. I’ll help you! You’re my friend!”

Beloved, so many of us are burdened with so many useless things. Remember Martha and Mary? Martha’s multi-tasking in the kitchen, the garden, and the terrace getting together a banquet for Jesus and a house-load of friends. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet talking, listening, and being of no help to Martha. Martha comes in and blows a gasket asking Jesus to tell her sister to help her. Very gently, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Many of the things we think we need to do, have to do, and can’t live without – they are like that winter coat in the desert. They might as well be dead, barren, fruitless branches. We trim the dead branches out of trees and vines, and we need to get the “deadwood” out of our hearts as well. And that brings us to today’s Bible passage.

John 15:5 (NAB) I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.

If you are hoping for a very fruitful vineyard, for example, you have to prune the vines. It’s not enough to cut out the sections that have dried up. You also have to cut back the good parts, the living parts, the fruitful parts so that they will become even more fruitful. In verse 2 of this same chapter, Jesus said, “He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes, so that it bears more fruit.” What is it like when God prunes away the deadwood in our lives? It is like laying down that winter coat in the desert. And what is it like when God prunes the live branches? It is like the times we know our lives are reshaped, refocused, and poised for growth; it is when we learn by yielding to the hand of God. It is when our lives are shaped by listening to the Word of God.

Suppose I know that you really love grapes. I decide I want to give you a memorable present, so I go to a vineyard being pruned and gather up a few of the pruned branches, and wrap them in a pretty bow as a friendship present to you. “Not much of a present,” you say. “What am I supposed to do with these? They’re already wilting.” You get the idea. You do not define your life, or anyone else’s, by the fruit that can’t be grown on pruned branches. Like the artist who throws away everything he does not need in a chunk of marble so that only the figure remains, the branches that are pruned are discarded because they allow the true purpose of the vine to become manifest. The vine bears more fruit after it is pruned.

Beloved, lay down your burdens. Sin, painful relationships, ill will in families, bad habits. NONE of these are things you need. Let your branches be pruned. Friendship, faith, knowledge, charity, wisdom. ALL of these are things you need. Remain in the vine so the vine remains in you. He has loved you with an everlasting love; he has created you and shaped you to be uniquely his and to resemble him closely in your life on Earth. Why should we do this? Look at verses 7-9:

7. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9. As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.

Beloved, you will always be nestled in my love, too.

Whatever, whenever, wherever, whoever, however, if ever, forever — at your service, Beloved.

chick todd

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About Chick Todd

American Roman Catholic reared as a "Baptiterian" in Denver Colorado.

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