When I first came to Saint Thomas some people were disappointed with me. They expected that, if they stopped by the church office anytime during the day, I would be there to chat with them. What they discovered is that I spent a good deal of my time out of the building, visiting people where they were. My explanation was simply, although probably not in these exact words, "Stagnant pastor, stagnant church."
Ten or fifteen years ago, as we participated in our synod's ABLAZE movement, this "away from the building" concept was expanded to having many meetings out of our building as well. "Man on the run" is what many may have been thinking ... which I just discovered is NOT the title of Paul McCartney's song from 1990! By now, most people know what to expect of me. This week, a short one that concludes with a memorial service on Saturday, nine of my thirteen scheduled appointments are offsite.
My goal of reading through the New Testament in six months (Have you joined our New T: 1-K initiative?) currently has me in the gospel of John. The last words Jesus speaks in chapter 14 are, "Rise, let us go from here." (John 14.31). Chapter fifteen then starts with Jesus saying, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15.5) A little later Jesus goes on to say, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide." (John 15.16) If you know anything about vines and viney plants, they are anything but stagnant. They spread anywhere and everywhere ... and often show up in the places you least expect them.
So it is with Jesus ... and the Kingdom of God ... and the people of God ... and, thus, so it is with us. Jesus says, "Rise, let us go from here," and we go ... to visit the sick and the suffering ... to help those in need ... to reach out to all who have wandered from the path, and to the least and the lost. When Jesus says, "I appointed you that you should go and bear fruit," do we ask ourselves, "What exactly does he mean by 'GO'?" (When the traffic light turns green, what do you expect the car in front of you to do? How long do you wait to blow your horn if they do not move?) Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches," and we know full well that healthy vines are green, and that green means GO ... and that healthy vines spread anywhere and everywhere, and often show up in places we least expect them.
These days I am working on taking someone with me on many of the visits, in order to share the joy and expand the blessings. And, though we as a society have moved away from front porches to family rooms, rear decks and fenced in yards (and lives on the run), I find that most people welcome the visit (when they can find the time). Yet, through these visits, the Word (which is really what it is all about) get IN people ... and, as Jesus says, "Whoever abides in me and I in him ... "
Much earlier in his ministry Jesus commented, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3.8) Christ comes to us in his word, and we are encouraged ... and invigorated. Christ grows in us and, like a vine, the spreading begins. Christ goes with us, and others are encouraged, and invigorated ... and the Kingdom of God starts showing up in the places we least expect it to be found ... our lives are changed ... so are the lives of others ... and all because of those simple words of Jesus, "Rise, let us go."
Viney people, are you with me? Let's go ... together ... and make a difference in ways and places that will surprise the world.