WHAT NEXT: A QUEST
SCRIPTURE: ACTS 8:26-40; JOHN 15:1-8
In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!
There is a story about a homeless man in England. One day he spotted the sign of a pub. It was called “Momma and the Dragon.” He went to the back door and knocked. When a heavyset man in a stained white apron opened the door, the hungry
man asked for any food he might spare. The cook yelled at him, “Food, I’m not going to give away food or I will be in your condition. Now get out of here and get a job.”
The homeless man walked about a half block away and waited for a while, then he returned and knocked again. When the same cook answered the door again, the homeless man said, “This time I’d like to talk to Momma.”
There are times in all our lives when we want to talk to Momma, especially right after we have had an encounter with a dragon. Mommas are stereotyped as the safe people, ones who will receive us and understand.
We are all on a quest in life. When we are children often the quest is to find security and protection that is represented by good moms and dads. A part of the maturing process, of growing up from childhood, through adolescence, and into adulthood involves our quest shifting from safety and security to seeking the real, the true, the authentic in life.
Let me pause at this point and make a comment about the choice of the Acts lesson in the lectionary for today. I don’t believe the lectionary folk had picked the story of the Ethiopian eunuch to be read on Mother’s Day. How strange is that? Yet we must remember the lectionary is put together by an international group of scholars who don’t follow national observances anywhere.
Stories from Acts of the Apostles are to be read in the Easter season, so here we are with a very strange combination of a wonderfully invitational story about an unusual person assigned to Mother’s Day. Yet, I think we can learn much from this yoking as we continue a quest to parent well, as we seek to be authentic mothers and fathers, or some other type of guide for others, especially children or grandchildren.
The Ethiopian eunuch is certainly a person on a quest. He has been to Jerusalem to worship. Yet it probably was not a very fulfilling quest, for it is almost certain he would not have been allowed in the temple. Several circumstances of his life would have marked as unacceptable for admission.
Yet despite this rejection, he is still on a spiritual quest, for as he returns home he continues searching by reading from the prophet Isaiah. He is reading the portion about the suffering servant. He asks Phillip, “About whom does the prophet say this?” Phillip then tells him of the good news of Jesus. After hearing Phillip, the eunuch requests baptism and he receives it at the side of the road.
In the passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus is teaching about his own identity. Evidently the disciples have asked how they can know Jesus is the authentic messiah. They are involved in the same quest as the eunuch. They are searching for one who will provide guidance for their lives. Jesus is the true vine and God is the vinedresser. Jesus’ claim to authenticity is that God has pruned him.
Here, as in Acts, authenticity is in the faithful fulfillment of the suffering servant role sung about by Isaiah. Jesus quickly moves from speaking of his abiding in God and being pruned by God to the disciples abiding in him and the need for pruning in their lives.
It has been said we spend the first half of our lives collecting stuff, and the second half giving it away. Jesus is inviting us to implement this dual dynamic throughout life and in our relationships. Our relationships are to reflect the relationship between God and Jesus. In our quest to parent well, to be authentic mothers and fathers, to be healthy guides for all others, including our children and grandchildren, our relationships need elements of both pruning and abiding.
Lets take pruning first. In our homes and in all our relationships what would God want us to remove from our lives? I can remember when computers were first marketed for us. One of the big claims was they would save all kinds of time. Yet my observation is that computers now consume much of our time.
What if everyone cut a tithe, ten percent of their time on the computer and families spent that time together? Similarly, most families could do with less on their family calendar. Pruning some activities surely could reduce our stress and provide some time for creative fun together.
If we still had children at home, or even grandchildren how would they rate the tone of voice in your home? A related question is, if the tone is silence, is it comfortable or a threat? Does some family member carry around a lot of anger? Is someone resentful? Does one person always leave a mess and expect others to clean it up? What of each of our actions and attitudes do we need to prune?
In the concept of abiding there resides an element of hospitality. What would we like to see abiding in our homes to make them places which are more hospitable? What would make the home climate more open, warm, bright ? What can we do in our families to strengthen our connections with each other? What can we do in our families to help each member strengthen his or her connection with Christ?
One of the parental tasks that we have as mothers and fathers is to help our children, grandchildren, as they reach young adulthood, to become independent. Sometimes their attitudes during their teen years give this task a lot more appeal! Occasionally parents are more than ready to have their children move out.
These days many young adult children boomerang as well. Considering circumstances, such rebound abiding may be totally appropriate. We need to remember that our quest is always for everyone to experience the healthiest relationships in family and with God.
The suffering which authenticated Jesus was for giving life to others. The purpose of pruning and abiding is to give life as well. That is certainly true in our family contexts. We prune and abide in such a way that everyone receives the maximum blessings in life.
Brian McLaren, in his book Generous Orthodoxy, says we should never underestimate our capacity to be wrong. That is a powerful concept. As we seek to parent, to live in family, to help each other find the fulness of life, we will make mistakes. Our pruning and abiding will not always bear fruit.
Much about the ways any of us, especially our children, grow and mature physically and spiritually is a mystery. Humility is required in the face of the mystery of life. When we make mistakes, we apologize, ask for forgiveness, and change our ways. We then try again. The quest is what is important.
What next? Each of us is on a quest that requires a balance of pruning and abiding. When we feel we just can’t abide other persons any longer, perhaps its time for us to be pruned.
A mother was trying to teach her little boy about the circulation of blood. As she did a handstand in front of him she asked, “Now Jimmy, what happens when I stand on my head?” He son watched for a few moments and responded, “Your face turns red.” His mom came back to her feet and said, “That’s right, because the blood runs to my head. But when I stand on my feet, in a normal way, why doesn’t the blood run into my feet?” Jimmy explained, “Because your feet aren’t empty!”
Sometimes our heads are empty. Sometimes our whole lives are empty. God calls us, invites us, and helps us in the quest to fill our lives with love and joy. Pruning and abiding help. Thanks be to God.
MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH