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Four Preachers

Last Sunday was Youth Sunday. We had the honor of listening to four of our youth who would be graduating high school this spring and heading to college in the fall. Youth Sunday is a proud moment for our church community and every parent because we all get to hear our children express their faith in profound ways. We hear from Hannah, Gavin, Jonah and Setutsi-each expressing how they have been impacted by faith, relied on God and through the gift of faith have been motivated to serve others. I am so, so proud of them,

I have been reflecting on their thoughts and feel very privileged to share my reflections on the thoughts of our four preachers. One of the important points that Setutsi made was that if you abide in Christ , you wouldn't only bear fruit, but you would bear much more fruit. The point is, you don’t stop bearing fruit, in fact you bear much more fruit insofar as you continue to abide in Christ.

If you abide in me, you will bear much fruit. Jesus said. I believe that the purpose of our faith and our walk with God is to bear fruit. To bear fruit is to be of purpose, to be of use, not only to yourself but to others. Bearing fruit is about the transformation you have experienced as one who is rooted in God, abides in God and walks with God.

Jonah’s Eagle Scout project reminded me of my little garden by my father’s house in my early teens. I tended that garden every afternoon after school. I planted mainly vegetables and those seeds that I planted were like the seed Philip planted in the Ethiopian Eunuch story of Acts. As they grew, I would weed around it and make sure that my plants aren’t fighting for space with weeds-I wanted them to bear fruit. I do not know how those seeds grew but I was always amazed at the transformation of the seeds into plants. After harvest, I would split the produce between my mother’s house and my father’s house. It felt good eating those meals which were prepared with the vegetables that I planted.

As a kid it didn’t occur to me that I was supposed to bear fruit-that I should have some purpose, that someone, whoever, should find me to be useful. A few days ago, I shared a video of Nick Saban, the now retired decorated Alabama University football coach with my son, James. Coach Saban said this- if you want to be happy for an hour, eat a steak. If you want to be happy for a day, go play golf. If you want to be happy for a week, go on a cruise. If you want to be happy for a month, go and buy a new car. But if you want to be happy in your life, just ask yourself one question, if I didn’t show up here today, would anybody miss me (he used a colorful language, but I wouldn’t use that)? That’s when you know you have accomplished something of significance-in other words, you have borne some fruit.

Martin Luther King gave a speech about 60-70 years ago about a street sweeper. But he started out saying that there is a shoeshine guy in Montgomery, Alabama, at the Green Stand Store, who is the only guy I let shine my shoe because of the pride and performance that guy has in shining shoes and the great feeling he has when you tell him he did a good job. He goes on to say that if you want to be a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper in the world, sweep the streets like Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, like Shakespeare wrote literature. 

Let them post a sign that says the best street sweeper in the world lives right here. Because if you do that you have accomplished the best there is in life-which is knowing you did your best to be the best you could be, no matter what you choose to do.

I thought about the little girl-Leslie, who hangs out with Hannah in the narthex, helping each other serve the many people who walk through our doors on Sunday mornings. I can only imagine the impression that they have both made on each other. Hannah believes that Leslie not only finds her to be bearing fruit, but she also notices a sense of purpose, and is attracted by that.

If the gospel story John 15:1-8 is about being trimmed and poised to produce fruit and more fruit, how do we bear fruit? How shall we carry on this sacred tradition that was handed to disciples like Philip? How do we also act like Philip and explain the good news to the Ethiopian Eunuch who had traveled all the way from Ethiopia to Jerusalem? This Eunuch was reading the prophet Isaiah’s text but didn’t understand what he was reading. How do we explain the good news to those who are yearning to know, yearning to understand, so they can be purposeful, have meaning in their lives and have some sense of direction?

How do we respond to the good news by requesting to be transformed by the waters of baptism? How can we, like the Ethiopian Eunuch, seek a new beginning with God?

There’s a story of a mom who was cooking breakfast for her two young sons-Ryan, 5 and Kevin, 3. The boys began to argue about who should get the first pancake. The mother saw the argument between the boys as an opportunity to teach them a lesson. She screamed ‘boys, boys, if Jesus were here, he would say, let my brother have the first pancake. Ryan turned to his little brother and said, ‘Alright Kevin, you be Jesus.’

As people of faith, our first and primary task is simply to “abide” or “remain” in him. To “abide in him” comes before any action on our part. Any action we take, any “fruit” we might presume to produce on our own whim or motivation must be a direct result of our abiding or remaining in him — or it is no “fruit” at all, but only an ego trip on our part, something we’re doing to make ourselves look good.

If we cease to abide in him, we wither and die — that, I suppose, is the threat, if we must have a threat to motivate us.

When we act, or take it upon ourselves to produce fruit, we need to be certain that our motivation comes from our abiding in Christ, and not out of some vain desire to make ourselves look good, prove that we are better than others or to show the world how wonderful we are.

I loved the power in Gavin’s story about providing beds to those who didn’t have beds. Gavin’s response to a need, just as much as Jonah’s response to a need wasn’t an ego trip, it was based on being grounded in the values of service as the ultimate expression of our faith. To abide is to be of service to another, to be useful to another,

Our first task is to abide in Christ. Like a seed which abides in the soil in order to produce, we also have to abide in him if we are to produce. Our second task is to produce the fruit we are meant to be producing.

Abide in Christ. Walk daily with Jesus Christ. I know a man, whenever he sees me, he would ask ‘Manny, are you walking with Jesus?’ My response has always been, ‘Yes, I am walking with Jesus.’ Are you also walking with Jesus?

If we abide in him and his words abide in us, then we may ask for whatever we wish, and it will be granted. Remaining or abiding in Jesus offers us a solid promise: “ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you”! For me, that’s one promise we can take to the bank-and the four preachers reminded us of that promise.

Well done, Hannah, Jonah, Gavin, and Setutsi.



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