Mule headed

May. 03, 2015

Acts 8.26-40; 1 Jn 4.7-21; Jn 15.1-8

I wonder sometimes if many of us are not just plain mule headed, that is, mules by nature. In modern parlance, a "mule" is someone who carries something... often a contraband or illegal substance. But by definition, a mule is the offspring of two completely different species...a female horse and a male donkey. It seems like it ought to be impossible--a donkey only has 62 chromosomes, while a horse has 64-- but as we all know, mules happen. It adds new meaning to that old expression about "horsing around"? Although mules are legendary in their ability to carry great burdens... mules are more much commonly associated with stubbornness. It's an interesting fact that all female mules are sterile. So, as a rule, mules don't make other mules. I read that if a herd of wild horses is attacked by a predator, the horses form a circle with their heads at the center so that the predator must face the hooves of any horse in the circle, but if the same thing happens with a bunch of donkeys, they form a circle with their heads facing out and when the predator approaches they kick the mule just behind them in the circle. The point is that we like the mules seem to be the offspring of a dual nature, a spiritual and a physical nature, almost like two different species that are brought together, but for what purpose? That's what I want to talk about today.

I want to talk about how our connection with God and with our very selves informs our vision of life. As the Epistle of John says this morning, love is our connection to others and to God. But when love is absent, or weak-willed or just forgetful, then the connection between God and us can be missing or intermittent at best. St John said, "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love." That seems pretty clear. The presence of love is the litmus test for the presence of God.

St John's gospel adds something on top of this. He uses the image of a grapevine to visually illustrate the importance of the love connection. And the point that John makes very emphatically is that Christians are expected as a result of abiding in God to be fruitful, and we may be high energy, or be forceful, charismatic, willful, or dedicated--but as important as those characteristics may be...unless love is in it, it will not produce anything that lasts. There's an old saying, "God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts." The question is: what kind of fruit are we producing?

Love produces spiritual fruit. John's gospel uses this word "fruit" a total of ten times in his entire gospel and 80% of them are from this passage. He's trying to make a very important point that we must live in God's love to produce the fruit that God wants us to produce. The gospel urges us to reach out and to share this love.

Love entwines, like a "vine" that wraps in and around for support. There are numerous kinds of vines, but the Scriptures are referring to the vines that produce grapes. In the OT, the image of a "vine" was synonymous with the people of Israel. There is an OT parable about a vineyard owner, who planted grapevines, but they turned out to be "wild"...meaning that they produced, but the fruit was inedible. And if a branch is connected to the vine but not producing, then the Scripture says, it must pruned. St Paul frequently said that Christians are meant to live "in" Christ because apart from God real life is missing. We maintain our connection with God by "abiding" or living in God. For example, if we say that someone is "law abiding," that means they keep to the standard of the law; they live within it. As we abide in Christ, we are putting our hopes, dreams, and lives in God's hands: we remain, we stay, we abide, we live there. Abiding allows us to produce the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. When we live and move and have our being in God, then we can bear these fruits. Finding our place and function in life comes from abiding in God.

Our purpose as a branch of this True Vine is to carry that love and grace to others. If we are deterred from this primary purpose, then we have lost the essence of what we are about. A vine that produces nice green leaves, but no fruit is of little value to the vintner. Think of someone like a co-worker or acquaintance whom you have a difficult time liking or even tolerating. Now think of you and this other person standing beside each other with Christ in the middle holding you both together. Does whatever separates you from them or makes them noxious to you still seem important enough to turn your attention away from Jesus? You see that's the choice. We can be stubbornly mulish about carrying anger or resentment...but then there's no place to carry the fruit of the Spirit. Whenever we focus on the wound, or the offense, or the feeling of loss or damage, our connection with God is overlooked and we begin to live or abide someplace other than in God. In fact, we have chosen in that instance to live in our pain instead of in God. What could be more important than abiding in God's presence and bearing or carrying that presence to everyone we meet? If we are going to be mulish about anything, let it be that we have adopted the singular purpose of bringing the love of God to ourselves and to others. That makes us God's mules, I suppose, but what a wonderful cargo to carry. If we could willingly say, "Load me up, Lord, I'm ready to carry the message of the Risen Lord wherever you bid me go." Then that stubbornness will help us to persevere in carrying God's love. But if you find yourself or another carrying the contraband of trouble or going off in the wrong direction, or when life's predators are circling around, rather than kicking someone, why not just lean over to a friend or if you see it in yourself, just subtly say to yourself, "Hee haw! Hee haw" and to remind yourself to lighten up on the mulishness and abide in the Lord and bear spiritual fruit! Amen.

The Reverend Wayne Ray
St Thomas Church
Diamondhead, MS 5/3/15