We just heard in the Gospel reading this morning, a rather telling and eye-opening parable from the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ, who spoke about some vinedressers who were given everything that they needed to bear fruit. Yet when the owner of the vineyard sent his servants, and even his own son, to collect, the empty handed vinedressers beat and killed them.
There is a tendency when reading this parable to think that this horrible story doesn’t really apply to us, because Christ is describing in this parable the history of the Jewish Nation. He gave them the promise, the worship, and the temple…everything they would need to succeed and bear fruit. And when they failed to cultivate and grow crops, they not only slaughtered the prophets who God sent to them, but they went and crucified His own Son…our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We should not flatter ourselves brothers and sisters, and think that this parable was only given for the unbelieving Jews! Like them, we have been handed everything in our life to succeed. We have been given everything we need to bear fruit. Yet, we so often forget that all important axiom: “Where much is given…much is required.”
As Christians living in America, we truly have a tendency to take for granted all of the privileges that we have been given. We are blessed to live in a place where we are able to worship freely. We can all go home peacefully after Church, sit on a nice comfortable couch, pick up a copy of the Holy Scripture, and be inspired by the works of our Lord, without any fear of reprisal from the police or from our government.
In this country, we don’t have to hide from Jihadists, or travel from one destroyed house to another, or live underground, or search the garbage for food. Most (not all) of those who are in poverty in this country, would be considered wealthy when compared to the poor of other countries.
Yet with all of these blessings, and with so many of life’s natural worries taken care of for us, how much time do we devote to bearing fruit in the vineyard? How much of our time is devoted to reading scripture? How much of our time is spent in service to others? How much of our time is spent in prayer, and growing closer to the creator?
Where much is given, much is required.
We cannot afford to overlook the vineyard. This life isn’t just about just accepting and being thankful for the gifts that we have been given…it is about bearing the fruit that our predecessors could not.
There is an interesting “dig” that our Lord uses towards the end of the Gospel reading today(that I am completely taking out of context of today’s parable) when Christ asks the Jews: “Have you not read Scripture?” I bring this up as a question to all of us here this morning, because in order to learn how to bear fruit…you have to be able to read and understand the manual!
When we study the Old and New Testament, we quickly learn that it all can be summed up in one very simple directive…Love. We bear fruit, by growing in love.
The bible describes for us how God’s love overflowed in the giving of His Son. That Love was passed on through the Son, when our Lord gave up His life for the sake of all mankind. At Pentecost, we read how the chain of love continued through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us…the Third person of the Trinity that teaches us from the inside”how to love.” Anyone who has ever read scripture, knows that love is EVERYTHING!
St. John Chrysostom says beautifully:
“If love was duly observed, there would be slave, nor free man. If love was duly observed, there would be neither ruler nor ruled. There would be no rich or poor…no small or great…and no devil that has ever been known, not even Satan himself, would be able to have any power over any souls at all…as long as love existed like this.”
Cultivating Love…bearing fruit…this is a lifelong ministrythat we cannot afford to take for granted, brothers and sisters in Christ, because by passing on that love that we have received from the Father, we can literally change the world.
I would be remised today, if I didn’t also touch on what we all have had the blessing of witnessing this morning, when by the Grace of God and through the coming of the Holy Spirit today, a faithful servant has been added to the vineyard, in the servant of God Theophan.
I, like many of you, have gotten to know this new warrior for Christ over the past year, and it was apparent to me from the very first time I met him, that despite all of his faults and failings, this is a man who desires nothing more than to continue to grow in his love for God, his family, and his new parish family.
I have watched and been inspired by his child like innocence, as he stepped foot in his first monastery and felt the grace of Orthodox Worship sweep over him. I saw the overwhelming emotions that overcame him when he first saw an icon literally weep into his hands on our parish pilgrimage to Monasteries in Eastern Pennsylvania. I feel the growing connection that he has with the Grace of the Ancient Christian Church, with every worship service that he is apart of. I am overcome with anticipation and glee myself, knowing the incredible and eye-opening journey that he has begun today as an Orthodox Christian.
You have received the grace of the Holy Spirit today and have begun your entrance into a new life. It is the ancient Christian custom to take on the name of the Saint, so that you can always have someone to look up to, and to pattern your life after, second only to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I don’t think you could have picked a better patron than St. Theophan. Throughout his life, he had so many incredible writings, which has inspired million of Christians to live a life that bears the fruit of love, and I will leave you today with his words of wisdom that I pray you take to heart, all of the days of your life:
“It is true, that one may know man’s ultimate goal…which is communion with God. And one may even describe the path to get there, which is to walk in the commandments with the aid of Divine Grace. But there is still one thing, and one thing only that needs to be said in addition: You know the path…now start walking!”