Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Worship and Education Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
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I spent last weekend at Camp Sunnyside, a family retreat put on by Sunnyside Presbyterian Church in South Bend, IN. The retreat was held at a beautiful camp in Three Rivers, MI (see photo below, left), and I had the chance to speak three times. In this post I want to reflect a bit on my Sunday morning sermon on John 15:1-8 (called “The Fruit is the Thing”) and a conversation I had afterwards.
I updated and changed my sermon from one that I had originally preached at the first week of the Montreat Youth Conference back in June. It tries to reinforce the scripture’s claim that Jesus wants us to bear fruit, and we can do that by connecting more closely to him and by letting him prune away the sin in our lives.
The last part of the sermon seeks to remind listeners that the fruit we produce is not for ourselves, but for the world. To make this point, I describe this scene from The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and the Scarecrow follow the Yellow Brick Road until the reach an apple orchard. When Dorothy reaches up to eat an apple, the tree scolds her and tells her that those apples aren’t for her! Only when the Scarecrow tells them that they don’t want their wormy fruit do the trees pelt them with the apples they didn’t want to give up in the first place!
In the sermon I try to make the point that these trees on the way to the Emerald City have it all wrong. Are they cannibals? Apple trees don’t eat their own apples (not even enchanted trees with deep husky voices). Apples are not made for apple trees. Apples are made for other people to eat. The tree has it all wrong—those apples are for Dorothy. In the same way, the fruit we bear as Christians is not so that we can feel good about ourselves or feel that we are particularly close to Jesus, but rather so that the whole world can experience more of the life that Jesus wants for them.
After the sermon, one of the retreatgoers put a different spin on the scene from Oz. From his point of view it was not that the tree didn’t want to share his apples; he just wanted to be choosey about who got them. “Just like us,” he said. “We want to be careful about who gets the fruit we produce.” When fruit looks like forgiveness, generosity, or love, he is right on. We may realize that love, forgiveness, and generosity is not simply for ourselves, but we are often slow to share these gifts with those who don’t deserve them.
On the other hand, when we realize that God has shared love, forgiveness, and generosity with us, even though we don’t deserve them, we are more likely to share them with others. Gratitude follows grace like thunder follows lightning, according to theologian Karl Barth. Bearing fruit for everyone—regardless of whether we think they deserve it or not—helps the world realize that’s true.
Over the weekend I traveled to a meeting of the Presbytery of Northern New England to present on the decisions of last summer’s General Assembly concerning same gender marriage and divestment and to preach. At lunch, I had an interesting conversation with a woman (I’ll call her “Jane”) who is concerned about the long-term decline in her church’s membership and Sunday attendance. She obviously loves her church, so it distresses her that her small congregation has 18-20 kids in youth group but only two or three come to worship. Implicit in her comments is the idea that the best measure of a church is how many people come on Sundays.
Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago in order to attend the installation service for the new dean (Dr. Ted Hiebert) at McCormick Theological Seminary. Because the support of PC(USA) seminaries is part of my area of ministry, I was eager to learn more about McCormick by meeting with some administrators, professors, and students. President Frank Yamada was very gracious in helping to flesh out my schedule.
Last week I was at the Fellowship Community/ECO conference in Dallas, TX. The Fellowship Community (formed recently from the Fellowship of Presbyterians and Presbyterians for Renewal) is a ministry of and to conservative churches within the PC(USA); ECO is the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, composed of conservative churches who have left the PC(USA) to begin this new denomination.
Last week I was part of a panel discussion on theology and theological education at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s National MultiCultural Conference in Fort Worth, TX. At such a diverse conference, where being white was an exception and not a rule, I spent some time thinking about my own background and my ability to speak with meaning in such a context.