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5th Sunday of Easter - 03 May 2015 - Fr John's Homilies

5th Sunday of Easter - 03 May 2015
  1. During this whole period of the year, the focus is on discipleship. In Lent the emphasis is on recognising the blockages that exist in our lives in following Christ and repairing damaged relationships with God and our neighbours. In Easter it is about growing in discipleship.

 

  1. Discipleship is not a rush of enthusiasm, but a long term commitment to following Christ, collaborating with Christ, to having a relationship with the Father through Christ. And, in every long-term relationship there is need for refocusing, replenishing, restoring, and reconciliation.

 

  1. Discipleship is also about ‘discipline’ in the sense of training and the building of habits of behaviour. To be a disciple of Jesus requires training in a particular way of living, it requires the acquisition of specific skills, and it requires the practice to know how to put those skills into practice in our lives.

 

  1. A missionary in Africa several decades ago lived in a small hut which was electrically supplied by a quiet, small generator. The little gas powered wonder supplied current for both his home and the primitive church building beside it.

 

  1. Late one afternoon two men from another much more remote village visited the Pastor in his hut, and were amazed when night fell, and he simply switched the room lights on. They were wide-eyed at the electric light bulb hanging from the ceiling of his living space.

 

  1. One of the visitors asked the Pastor if he could have one of the bulbs. Thinking perhaps he wanted it for a sort of trinket, the Pastor obliged and gave it to him. Months passed. On his next visit to the remote village of that same man, the Pastor stopped at the hut of the man who had previously asked for the bulb.

 

  1. Imagine his surprise when he saw the bulb hanging from an ordinary string. The man understood the general idea of connection, but he didn’t understand empowering. Lots of believers today are like that.

 

  1. To follow Christ requires that we have developed some skills in prayer – not perhaps the elaborate schemes for prayer that some teachers of prayer have developed over the centuries, but it does require knowing the basic prayers of the Christians.

 

  1. But the skill of praying requires the practice of regular prayer and the prudence to know that sometimes one has time to pray and sometimes one does not. A Christian lifestyle demands sympathy for the poor and those suffering injustice, but this sympathy is a skill which entails recognising injustice and knowing that it is not part of God’s plan, and the prudence to know how to do something about it.

 

  1. In the early church there were little manuals for leaders and mentors in the community to use with those who were about to become Christians, to impart the basic Christian skills to them. We often translate these as ‘manuals of teaching’, but a more careful look at their titles and content shows that they should be seen as disciple-making guides and that they were not concerned with ‘doctrine’ or ‘teaching’ such as is found in a catechism, but with imparting the habits and skills so that the newcomer would know how to behave within the new community she or he was entering.

 

  1. Hence, they impart a series of ‘do’ and ‘do not’ rules, they guide on how and how often to pray, when and why to fast, when and how to assemble for the Eucharist. To become a Christian, that is to rise with Christ in baptism at Easter, was to have started the life-long process of acquiring the skills to be grafted onto Christ.

 

  1. This notion of skilling is not one often used today within the context of preaching, yet everyone knows it from his or her workplace. Every job has a prescribed skill-base; you must have the skills and the experience to use them or the job is not yours.
  2. Adverts read: ‘you will have high standard IT skills, competence in HR, …’ – and if not, you are not ‘our kind of person’. Equally, people do not just have skills, they need retraining, in-service training, and continual professional development.

 

  1. As current management speak has it: ‘without continual staff-development, you are de-skilling your workforce.’ This is exactly similar to the situation with the skills of discipleship and being the sort of person that can be described as ‘Christian’.

 

  1. While we readily link Lent with this sort of returning, reforming, restoring, it is equally true of the time after Easter: during this time the newly baptised are supposed to be getting the mentoring they need to be full disciples; but also all the baptised are supposed to be refining their skills, and retraining, and up-dating their understanding of discipleship, here lies the focus of today’s gospel.

 

  1. We are all grafted into Christ and have entered the service of the Father, but our belonging requires that we bear fruit. Have we the skills and the practice in the skills to recognise that we are not just passively ‘grafted on; we are grafted on in order that we can bear fruit. Note that in each image the point at issue is not belonging, but activity which fulfils the purpose of that to which we are grafted.

 

  1. We are not ‘in Christ’ as a cup of water diffused in a barrel; a passive image, but made part of vine and the vine only makes sense when it yields the grapes for which it was planted and tended.

 

  1. It is from this perspective of discipleship being costly, demanding commitment, and serious long-term training that we can read this gospel in Eastertime. This is how we are to understand its references to pruning, and dead wood being thrown-away and burnt.

 

  1. Discipleship is being someone with the vision to see the kingdom in outline and the skills to help build it. It requires a dynamism that the word ‘following’ does not convey in English, and it requires a commitment to the coming of the kingdom and to doing the Father’s will on earth – this is the fruit we must show for being part of Christ.

 

  1. It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples.’