The Rev. Sarah Buteux
May 6, 2018
John 15:9-7, Acts 10:44-48
“Fruit That Will Last”
“You did not choose me but I chose you.
And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…”
When I think back to the church of my youth, a church I attended pretty much every week from the time I was born, I don’t remember a whole lot of specifics. I can recall maybe 4 sermons out of the thousands I must have sat through. I don’t remember a whole lot from Sunday school, except being told I needed to stop talking so much about dinosaurs.
I do remember that one infamous youth group lesson about the dangers of dating that could lead to hand holding, or maybe it was hand holding that could lead to dating. I’m not sure. Either way, the point was that both could lead to kissing- and that was right out because God only knows what kissing might lead to. The lesson involved a stick of butter and a cookie sheet tilted over a lit candle. That one is seared in my brain for all eternity.
But on the whole, perhaps because we went to church on Wednesday evenings, Friday nights, and twice on Sunday, I have to admit it’s all a bit of a blur.
I learned a lot. I learned a lot about God, much of which I don’t believe anymore.
I learned a lot about the Bible, much of which I don’t believe anymore.
And I learned a whole lot about other people, especially those kind people… you know the kind of people I mean right? (Democrats.) It’s ok, I don’t believe what they said about you either.
But you know what? Here is the thing. Even and in spite of all it’s flaws. – and they were many – at Grace Conservative Baptist Church, I also learned what it was to be loved.
I may not remember the themes of Vacation Bible school, but I do remember the small army of adults who showed up faithfully every day of that week so 300+ kids could fall in love with Jesus.
I remember Gary, a tremendous artist who suffered from depression and yet managed to work in the craft room and show us with unfailing patience how to glue hundreds of burnt matches into a pattern that made a beautiful cross. Ohio Blue tips I’m sure he himself had lit and blown out, one after the other, after the other, after the other.
I remember Mrs. Hanson who was 6ft tall and looked like Olive Oil playing “Jesus love me” on her ukulele without the slightest bit of irony. And I could never forget the ladies in the church kitchen who made sure every child got 2 cookies and a dixie cup full of bug juice at the end of recess.
To paraphrase Maya Angelou, I don’t remember much of what anybody said that week, but I do remember how they made me feel. They made me feel loved.
I remember Mr. Hanes who taught my baptism class and leant me book after book by C.S. Lewis, (even though I was terrible about giving them back). In a church that was highly suspicious of intellectuals, he nurtured the young theologian in me and gave me a safe place to ask bigger questions rather than settle for simple answers.
I remember Dave Hansen, our minister of music, who encouraged me to sing. Just like Dana, Dave was one of those rare church musicians who had the grace and patience to value participation over perfection. And just like Dana, he had such immense musical talent that the music was always beautiful no matter what.
At Grace I learned that women couldn’t be pastors or preachers, but Dave taught me that I could still be a minister. He showed me that I could minister through music.
And I remember that one year we had a living nativity on Christmas Eve. A young couple had just given birth to a baby boy and they agreed to do the honors that night. It didn’t seem extraordinary to me at the time. And I don’t know if was extraordinary or maybe even controversial for anyone else either. But our Joseph that night was white, our Mary was black, and their little baby boy was the perfect shade of Jesus.
I thought it was one of the beautiful Christmas Eves we’d ever had, and as far as I know no one in the church thought otherwise. All I remember of that night is love: the love of my congregation surrounding that family as we sang “Silent Night” to them all.
Now I believe my childhood church got a whole lot of things wrong, but that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus was real to them. They could be narrow minded, willfully ignorant, and I’m sad to say, sometimes truly hateful. But for all their faults they were loved by God and that love spilled over on to me.
It bore fruit in my life. It made me who I am today. Because, you see, that love was real and it is love that remains.
In spite of their faults, God truly loved them and God forgave them over and over and over again, much the way God forgives people like you and me when we are narrow minded and willfully ignorant and sometimes, I’m sad to say, truly hateful. (Because it can happen here too).
I admit it’s one of the frustrating things about God – this whole really loving everyone thing – but weirdly I believe God was as present in that church as God is present in this one. Just like God is present with both the circumcised believers and the Gentiles in today’s reading from Acts.
In verse 45 we read that the Holy Spirit fell upon “all” who heard the word. It fell on the old guard and the new converts, the conservatives and the progressives, because the Spirit knows no limits. The Spirit doesn’t label. The Spirit fell then the way the Spirit falls now… with indiscriminate love and grace. And then the Spirit does what it will because that’s how the Spirit rolls.
Those folks at Grace Conservative Baptist Church knew the love of God and that love spilled out and over me in ways they never could have imagined and thankfully could not control.
Because you see, even as their words taught me that I couldn’t be a minister, their love managed to teach me otherwise.
Their words taught me that some people belong in the church and some people don’t, but their love taught me otherwise.
Because you see as sincere as they were, their words weren’t always of God – anymore than mine are – but their love always was because love always is, for “Love is of God…” (1 John 4:7).
This is why, in his farewell to the 12 disciples, Jesus stresses love above all else. After three years of parables, sermons, miracles and meals, he doesn’t give them a pop quiz in systematic theology before he leaves them. He just tells them to love one another. “Abide in my love, “says Jesus and you will bear fruit, “fruit that will last.”
My experience at Grace taught me so much I needed to leave behind, but the fruit of their love remained in me. That is what lasted. It continued to work in me and shape me until I became the one thing they told me I could never be, and for that I am thankful …and I am humbled.
I’m humbled because as a pastor, so much of what I have to offer you comes packaged in words – doesn’t it? – words I labor over and craft with care. But for all that effort, I can’t help but wonder, when you go home: is it the greek etymologies that stay with you or is it the taste of Dawn’s cinnamon rolls?
Is it a clever theological insight offered from the pulpit, or is it the hug from that person during the passing of the peace who also knows what it is to grieve?
Is it our progressive politics, our ability to say the right things, or is it the fact that if you go sign up for Sanctuary accompaniment training at the UU church, you’re bound to see someone from First Churches there?
If you go to the Jericho walk to speak up for Lucio, you’re bound to see someone from First Churches there?
If you show up at the garden to pray for the earth, if you spend the night at the cot shelter, if life takes a turn and you end up in the hospital, you are bound to see someone from First Churches there.
Not necessarily one of your pastors, because even with two of us we can’t be everywhere at once. But you folks show up for each other, showing up is an act of love, and love is the whole point. Love is the fruit that matters. Love is the fruit that remains.
We got a call from Greg and Amy Richane this week letting us know that their baby Sam, who was just 2 1/2 lbs. when he was born, is getting stronger everyday. Todd asked if they needed anything from us yet, and Greg said, “Not right now, but please don’t underestimate what it has meant to us knowing that Sam has the prayers of a whole community behind him. This is my first experience of being part of a church, and it means more to me now then ever.”
It is the love that matters. Your love. It is the love that remains.
This past fall we had a white privilege discussion group and there was one night when things got particularly hard for someone. Her grief at our collective brokenness became too much to bear and she started to cry. Another member of the group reached out and offered to just hold her hand. I don’t remember what essay we were reading, but I will never forget the way those two held on to each other as we continued. How such a simple yet unexpected gesture had the power to show us all that we are not alone in the struggle.
It is the love that matters. Your love. It is the love that remains.
Dear ones, the ministry of this church goes so far beyond what Todd or I can do or say as your pastors and teachers, and thank God for that. In the end, it won’t be the sermons we preached that people will remember. It will be the love that you showed.
I’m so thankful that our stewardship theme this year is all about “Shared Ministry,” because it’s not just about raising enough in pledges to ensure that Todd and I can continue to share the ministry together up here. It’s about understanding that the ministry of this church is not just too big for one pastor, it’s way too big for two.
It’s going to take the priesthood of all believers to pull this off. It’s going to take the Spirit falling on and working through all of us together. I thank God that the Spirit is willing and I thank God because if past is prelude, I do believe you are too.
I thank God for all your acts of love -past, present, and future – because in the end that is what matters. Your love is the fruit that will last. Your love is what will remain.
Thanks be to God. Amen.