Aldon Hynes's blog

Sermon: Locating The Vine

Below is the text of the sermon I delivered Sunday, May 6, 2018 at Grace and St. Peter's in Hamden, CT. As described in the sermon we had switched the Gospel lessons between last week and this week, so the text was John 15:1-8. I did vary a bit from this draft as I presented it, but the ideas and framework remained the same.

[From the center Aisle]

Good Morning. Bob is out of town today and Dexter has graciously given me the opportunity to preach. In today's lesson were going to talk about about location and I’m going to do something a little bit differently. Bob has been preaching from the aisle, Amanda used to preach from the pulpit. I’m going to do a little bit of both and maybe bring in a little bit from my studies in seminary. I also invite you to think pay attention in a different way. I want you to pay attention to all that is going on here. Look around the sanctuary. Look at the altar. Look at the light coming in through the stained glass windows. Listen to my words. Listen to the sounds of people shifting around in their seats, rustling papers, and the sounds of the world outside the church, the traffic, the birds, and so on.

[pause… Walk to the altar and then to the pulpit]

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

Today, we hear the lesson about Jesus being the vine and us being the branches. We’re doing things a little bit out of order. Our lesson last week about God’s love should have been the lesson for this week and vice versa, but Bob wanted to change the order so that youth Sunday would have such a great passage to preach from and that fit in with their song. We need to keep in mind that today’s lesson comes before the lesson we heard about love last week.

These two lessons, together come as part of the Jesus’ great Farewell Discourse in chapters 14 through 17 of John. They are preceded and followed by Jesus telling the disciples about God sending the Holy Spirit.

In Biblical Studies, a lot of attention is paid to the location of various texts. When and where were the texts written? Who wrote the texts and how did they fit into the society of the time? What about the location might shape what got included and what didn’t get included in the text? Finally, how does our location today shape how we think about the texts?

An important question that the early Christians at the Gospel of John was written were struggling with was the relationship between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Would Gentiles have to adopt Jewish customs? If so, which thread of Jewish customs, the customs of the Greek Jews spread out across the Middle East, or the customs of Hebrew Jews in Jerusalem? This was about more than things like keeping a kosher kitchen or being circumcised. It was about the very understanding of who they were.

What role did Jerusalem play to these Jews and early Christians? Jesus’ comments about being the vine need to be thought about in terms of Old Testament scriptures about Vineyards.

In Isaiah 5:7, we read:

The vineyard of the LORD Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.

Deuteronomy 28:30 echoes this theme but with an ominous warning, “You will plant a vineyard, but you will not even begin to enjoy its fruit.”

Various commentators have suggested that what Jesus is saying here is that what matters is our relationship with God instead of any specific physical location. In this light, John 15 fits very nicely between the discussions of the Holy Spirit coming in Chapters 14 and 16. The physical body of Jesus cannot possibly be with all people in all locations at all times, but the Holy Spirit can be.

As we continue to think about who we are as a community, I think this is an important perspective. We have a beautiful church building at a great location. Its purpose should be to draw each of us closer to God and to one another as we bring God’s love to the greater community. We, as a community, can bring God’s love, as we experience it here to people in our daily lives, wherever our paths take us.

In the Gospel, Jesus calls us to remain in him, as he remains in us. An older translation of this is ‘abide’. What does it mean to remain or abide in Jesus? The same word is used in Matthew when Jesus sends out the disciples. “Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay [or remain or abide] at their house until you leave”.

This location here in Hamden is where we are sent out from. It is where we abide as we show God’s love to those around us, through programs like Dinner for a Dollar and Abraham’s tent.
Another place where the word ‘abide’ is used in the New Testament is by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In Matthew, Jesus says to his disciples in the garden, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here [abide or remain] and keep watch with me.”

Our location here in Hamden is also where we abide in times of grief or sadness as we say good bye to loved ones and comfort one another. We abide with those we love when they are grieving or troubled, whether they are with us here at Grace and St. Peter’s or far away from us. It is part of what makes us the community we are.

And what is the result of our abiding in Jesus? Jesus tells us, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

What is this fruit? We find the word used many different places. Many of my evangelical friends think of these fruits in terms of the number of new people we bring to church. That is part of it, but that is much more. In Galatians are told that the fruits of the spirit are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”.

In the story of Jesus birth, we get another view of what these fruits. In the beginning of Luke when Mary visits Elizabeth, Elizabeth shouts out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”.

This is the fruit we are called to bear, to bring God’s love into the world. It is what the children of our Sunday school spoke with us about last week. It is what we show through ministries like Dinner for a Dollar, Abraham’s Tent, Arden House, Older and Wiser, and simply showing God’s love to those around us.

Finally, we come to the type of fruit that grows on vines. The grapes used to make wine; the wine which will become for us the mystical blood of Christ in the Eucharist in a little while. We are the body of Christ. We are the branches of vine, bearing the fruit that will bring hope, love, and joy to those around us. Let us keep all of these things in mind as we consider our location, here in Hamden, and as branches connected to the vine of Christ. Amen

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First Look: Inspired by @rachelheldevans

When the famous German theologian, Karl Barth was asked to summarize the millions of words he had written, he reportedly responded, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.” These words come back to me as I finish my second semester of seminary. I have been studying the greatest love story of all time and it isn’t just some academic pursuit, it is a story I am caught up in the middle of.

There is the story of the burning bush and the comment about how the miracle is not that the bush was not consumed, the real miracle was that Moses noticed. In the turmoil of our daily lives, we often don’t notice how God is telling us that he loves us. We get caught up in the drama, the conflict, or simply the academic studies.

Yesterday, I received a reminder in an unexpected way. I received an advance copy of Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans.

In between my class assignments, I’ve started reading it. The introduction starts off with personal stories of Evans struggling with what the Bible means in our lives today. She starts off from the perspective of growing up in the Bible belt, going to a conservative Christian college, and struggling with how to make sense of the Bible in our post-modern milieu.

At least a little ways into the introduction, this seems like a really important book for our age. It is important to those trying to figure out their relationship to God and stories about God. It is important to those trying to figure out what Jesus would do and how we should then live. Yet it is perhaps even more important to anyone who is trying to struggle with devastating polarization in American politics today.

Hopefully, over the next few weeks I’ll have the opportunity to write more about this book. I look forward to other people’s comments about the book as well.

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Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit.

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. May Day. Happy Anniversary CHC. At the beginning of each month I try to find a little time to look forward to the coming month, remembering the childhood incantation for good luck, Rabbit, Rabbit Rabbit.

It looks like the day with start with rain but get nice out. I continue to plow away through my reading for school. I’ll be preaching this coming Sunday. I’ve got my final projects for New Testament and Christian History to complete. I’m starting to gear up for my summer classes.

My studies are going well and right now, as the semester winds down, they are taking up much of my focus and free time.

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Implicit Bias and Racial Reconciliation

Continuing on from my blog post yesterday; a couple weeks ago, I received an email about the Executive Council Committee on Anti-Racism’s Framework for Anti-Racism and Racial Reconciliation Training in the Episcopal Church.

I shared about this in my Christian History class and one of the responses summed things up fairly nicely,

Yes, there are a number of initiatives, programs, and efforts across the Episcopal Church to try to frame these discussions, address our past, and think about ways to move forward. Anti-racism training is required of everyone in the ordination process, and many dioceses have their own programs. Part of what Executive Council is trying to do is think about how the church as whole can move forward in these areas.

In my discussions around racism, particularly around racial health disparities, I’ve often run into the idea that various groups have their anti-racism training, their cultural competency training, or other trainings that count as checking off an issue on a list, but perhaps might not really be having as big an impact as desired or necessary.

I thought a lot about this earlier this week when I attended the Connecticut Health Foundation’s conference on the future of health care. Dr David Williams shared a lot of important information in his presentation Making America Healthier for All: What Each of Us Can Do.

He notes that if White America was a country, its life expectancy would be 34th in the list of industrialized countries. Black America would be 96th. In 2012, the infant mortality rate for black Americans was over twice that of white Americans. Recently, a friend shared a link to a New York Times article addressing infant mortality, Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis.

As life expectancy increases, it takes forty years for black Americans to catch up with white Americans. The life expectancy rate for white Americans in 1950 was 69.1 years. It took until 1990 for black Americans to reach that rate.

In a study in Portland Oregon, it took black male pedestrians of similar age and dressed similarly as white pedestrians had to wait 32% longer to cross the street. In 2012, the average wait time to vote for African Americans was 23 minutes. For white Americans it was only 12 minutes. In Connecticut, the county with the highest heart disease death rate for white women was better than the county with the lowest heart disease death rate for black women.

For median household income in the United States, for each dollar a white American household makes, a black American household makes 59 cents. For every dollar of wealth that white Americans have, black Americans have six cents. As an aside, I am not suggesting that wealth is what people should be seeking. I suspect some of the problem is caused not only by too many black Americans not having enough wealth and income to meet daily needs but also by too many white Americans having too much wealth.

I hear a lot of people talking about ‘racial reconciliation’. Is this what we want black people to be reconciled to?

What are the causes of this and how can we address this? One important factor that gets listed as an ‘essential concept’ in the Episcopal framework, but not explored deeply is implicit bias.

During Dr. Williams talk, he mentioned the work Patricia Devine is doing to address implicit bias such as mentioned in this Atlantic article, Is This How Discrimination Ends?. You can see more in a YouTube video, Patricia Devine on Kicking the Prejudice Habit

I’m not sure how much anti-racism trainings address the issue of implicit bias. The ones I’ve participated in don’t seem to address it much. Yet it seems like it needs to be a starting point for anti-racism trainings.

Thoughts?

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Christcon: Does Jesus Love the Incel?

It has been an interesting to week to have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other to borrow from a famous quotation from Karl Barth. The Rev. Patrick Conroy found that speaking truth to power, even in an opening prayer can present risks and he resigned his position as House Chaplain without having to be let down through an opening in the wall.

How do we talk about stories from the time of Jesus in twenty-first century America? In my New Testament class, we’ve been talking about pseudepigraphy; texts attributed to an author by members of the authors community. As an example, several of Paul’s letters are considered by many scholars to be pseudepigraphic. I posed the question of how this is different from fanfic today. In a class discussion forum, I wrote:

Looking at pseudepigraphy through a twenty first century lens, it seems to be a fancy word very similar to fan fiction today. I'd encourage people to read The Promise and Potential of Fan Fiction as you think about pseudepigraphy.

Perhaps our worship services are really weekly fanfic conventions. ChristCon?

Expanding on the idea, imagine a gathering where fans of a particular literary opus met weekly. They would start their gatherings with a person walking in carrying a replica of a device used to torture and murder the hero of the literary opus. Some participants might even wear small pieces of jewelry in the shape of the torture device. People would read sections of the literary opus. A keynote presenter might get up and expound on some of these sections. Later, they would re-enact a significant scene from the literary opus.

This week we also read about an attack in Toronto where the Toronto suspect apparently posted about an 'incel rebellion.'.

A friend of mine just posted about this on Facebook. He asked to what extent people who identify as Men’s Rights Activists (MRA) or ‘involuntarily celibate’ (incel) are privileged men who have not developed necessary social skills, perhaps because they are neurodiverse or other similar reasons.

What jumped out at me in the CNN article was a quote from an incel website, this "enters the realm of having no possibility of finding a partner, either to get validation, love, or acceptance from".

To me this gets to the core of Christianity and key issues American Christendom faces. Whatever your thoughts on substitutional atonement are, the cross is the ultimate offer of validation, love and acceptance. Yet so much of American Christendom fails to show that love to those that are different, that are other, whether the otherness comes in the form of neurological differences, differences of race, gender, ethnicity, orientation, class, or anything else that is used to try and separate ourselves and those around us from the love which is in Jesus Christ.

Yes, if we want an authentic ChristCon, we need to sit down and eat with incels and everyone else who feels ostracized from society. We need to accept and validate every person as a beloved creature of God, even if they do things we find morally reprehensible or a simply different or other than ourselves.

The final topic I want to talk about from this week is implicit bias and racial reconciliation. However, that is a long post in and of itself, so come back later for that post.

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