Rev. Dr. Craig Parrish preaching to the ordinands during the Service of Commissioning and Ordination at the 2013 Pacific Northwest Annual Conference Sessions in Wenatchee, WA. Photo by Patrick Scriven.
Manuscript by Rev. Dr. Craig Parrish
Click here to watch the video stream of the Ordination Service. His sermon begins around the 23 minute mark.
What an honor to stand before you to share thoughts on the John 15 text at this 140th session of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference. Thank you Bishop Hagiya for the invitation. For years I have thought of having this opportunity and what I would say, now that I have it I am a bit nervous.
You may not know that I also the Treasurer of Alaska AC, and one time when I was up there my friend Dave Beckett who took me bear hunting. We go up to his cabin north of Willow and Dave gets up in morning and goes outside to walk around; I stay in the cabin to cook breakfast. Well Dave runs into and awakens a sleeping bear. The ensuing chase leads back to the cabin where I am cooking breakfast. Just about home safely, Dave trips on the first step up to the cabin door and falls. The bear having picked up speed is unable to stop, falls and rolls across the porch into the cabin through the front door. Where about fast-thinking Dave gets up and pulls the door shut. Well, there I am looking at the bear over a bacon and egg breakfast. And I hear Dave’s voice. This one’s for you, I’ll go find another.
I’m feeling just about that nervous right now. I am where I have thought about being for years, now what to do with the opportunity.
The text is certainly familiar to all of us. I am the vine you are the branch; abide in me and you will bear much fruit. There is that awkward part about the fruitless branch being pruned off. But let’s hold onto that verse until later; we don’t like to think about accountability. That is for someone else.
We will assume that everyone wants to bear fruit. Everyone will abide in Christ. We all know and practice the spiritual disciplines of the ages. We all want to bear fruit so the question before us is how do you bear fruit, after doing all we know how to do, when there is such little regard for religion and the church in our time? People care about things spiritual, but not so much about the church.
I want to share a couple of ideas with the ordinands before us tonight about bearing fruit and if some of the rest of you over hear well that’s okay. I will be referring several times to a book called Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future. This is a secular, business, leadership related book, one of many Bishop Hagiya has referenced. There have been so many books and theories over the past 20 years I could not take them all in. And there are times when I doubt whether books about leadership and theory for the secular world of profit-making endeavors have much to do with the world of fruit bearing branches and vines. But Presence, a book about Theory U, is story after story of transformation. These secular writers use spiritual concepts and language to describe change possibilities for bearing fruit. I will try to let you know when Presence has impacted this message.
Leave your ego at the door. Not your self-esteem. You will need to cultivate a strong positive self-esteem. The work is difficult, you may get discouraged, and you may be deflated by your circumstances. You will need to have the support of friends and colleagues who will offer wise and truthful conversation. But your ego, the part that screams, me, me, me and I, I , I. Keep it in check.
This work is not about you, but about the one who called you. The fruit you bear is not your fruit but God’s own creation. Problem. We are in a system where cynicism develops pretty easily when the ego rules: the comparisons with a colleague’s status or appointment, the harsh critique of our colleagues work – only seeing the errors and overlooking the positive. The work is hard. People are reluctant to follow. Others get what we feel we deserve. Discouragement is always around the corner. Failure is more prevalent than success. It all builds up. “Others outside ourselves become the explanation for our current reality. When I find myself worrying about the little stuff or whether I’m a hero or a failure, I know I’m listening to the wrong voices. The real voices are all about this conversation that started many years ago about what really matters. What really matters is the capital W…Work and the Work of Ministry comes out of this magical, spiritual concoction of the reasons we started down this road in the first place.” The call.
So you wanna bear fruit? Then get out of your own way. Set cynicism aside. Find colleagues to walk through the vineyard with.
Every church has a vision statement or is working on one right now. Rather than expend a lot of energy, It may be better to simply ask. So, I wanna bear fruit…why? The answer will be your vision for ministry. For the branch to bear fruit… to make disciple for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Seems like a big enough vision. Can you see yourself in it? As the authors of Presence suggest, only when people begin to see from within, the forces that shape their reality and to see their part in how those forces might evolve, does a vision become powerful. Are you bearing fruit now?
We all have a current reality; the circumstances of our lives, for some that reality is empowering for others it is a burden. Do you see how your behavior has contributed to your current reality? The vision has power and you can bear fruit only after you own your part in creating your current reality. Can you see how little changes in behavior or how a new skill might cause your reality to change?
George Bernard Shaw said ”This is the true joy of life, the being used for a purpose you consider a mighty one, the being a force of nature, rather than a feverish clod of aliments and grievance complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” Boy, that sounds like a lot of us who have been here a while. Here is the fruit bearing principle. From Presence: It’s not what the vision is but what the vision does. The only way to judge a vision is by the action and the changes that flow from it.
If you are going to bear fruit… On the way to transforming the world, you have got to take risks: try a lot of stuff, ideas, plans, and you are going to fail some. Do not let discouragement over take you. Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera, said “A mistake is an event the full benefit of which you have not yet turned to your advantage.” The Bishop has said experiment, try out ideas, and learn from failure. Once you can acknowledge your part in creating your current reality, you can begin to experiment with changing it, experimenting with fruit production.
You cannot bear fruit alone. You are a branch…not a vine. You cannot bear fruit apart from the source of energy and support, the Christ, the community of believers. You are not a complete leader or even a complete person. You have gifts, talents, skills abilities, but you don’t have all gifts, talents, skills and abilities. Other people have some as well.
You need other people to bear fruit, to transform the world. You cannot survive without the vine, the community. Presence “When people in leadership begin to serve a vision infused with larger purpose, for instance …bearing fruit to transform the world, their work shifts from producing results to encouraging the growth of other people who will produce results…bear fruit. You need others, the community the laity. The laity are partners in ministry. So you wanna bear fruit…then turn the laity loose on the world. Do not be afraid of them. They will not take your place…they need you. Equip them, encourage and support them and together you will change the world or at least your town or neighborhood. Laity, don’t sit back and let the pastor do all the work of ministry.
Who does the church belong to anyway? To the pastor…I think not …the church belongs to the community of disciples…the fruit that has been birthed…and is being birthed, The Laos…the stewards of the mysteries of God, those who will use their diverse gifts to redeem…to transform the world. And you have been called to serve among them. Who is Jesus talking to in John 15, an individual or the community of disciples that he has gathered? How many branches are on the vine anyway? You are not alone. If you wanna bear fruit…stop behaving like you are.
So you wanna bear fruit…then remember who and who’s you are. There is nothing sadder or more disheartening to colleagues and the community than a clergy person crossing the boundary of sexual misconduct. The entire community suffers for years. Individuals and churches are changed forever. You should know that people will attach themselves to you in positive and negative ways. But you have the power. There may come a time when you have needs that a person from your church must not be invited to fulfill. You have the power. There will be people in your appointment who have needs that you must decline to fulfill. You have the power.
I was once young and very naïve. It never, ever occurred to me than someone in the congregation would have inappropriate feelings for me. Well I had an appointment in my office with a young woman who had been attending with her husband. I assumed she want to talk about joining the church. When she came in she sat down and handed me a letter. The letter professed her love for me; she was leaving her husband and invited me into a relationship with her. After I picked my chin up off the floor…What do you say….other than NO in as straight forward a manner as possible… She and husband were gone forever after that. The abuse of power is not way to bear fruit? The abuse of power is a sure way for the branch to be pruned from the vine and thrown in to the fire. Remember who you are and whose you are. There are boundaries you must not cross.
There are other boundaries that some of you may decide to cross out of conscience, the Disciplinary boundary on same sex marriage. We, clergy and laity alike, disagree on this issue. The general church has spoken many times… the vote is usually about 60-40. The majority carries…but we disagree. We are not of one mind. With the Washington State law making the situation more difficult, each clergy person will need to determine what they will do if asked by a congregant to perform a same sex marriage.
Can we live together in our disagreement without destroying each other? Will someone file a charge against every pastor who out of theological understanding, conscience and/ or the admonition to bear fruit performs a same sex marriage? It is possible that …that is our future. Every one regardless of position taken on this issue must remember who you are and remember what the Work is. You will define the work of your mission field. “When I find myself worrying about the little stuff or whether I’m a hero or a failure, I know I’m listening to the wrong voices. The real voices are all about this conversation that started many years ago about what really matters. What really matters is the capital W …Work and the WORK of Ministry comes out of this magical, spiritual concoction of the reasons we started down this road in the first place.” To bear fruit, to make disciples for the transformation of the world. Those disciples are going to be very different from one another. How we all live together has yet to be determined.
So you wanna bear fruit…then improve your skill, your ability in communicating across cultures. Learn about people, whose customs, and world views are different from our own. The populations in our towns, cities , and neighborhoods is changing rapidly. It will not be long before the Euro-American population is the minority. New people groups are looking for spiritual homes, If you are going to bear fruit… people will need to know your heart and if you cannot move about in diverse settings with a degree of comfort and sincere caring…you will not bear much fruit.
It is no mystery that we like to hang around with people who agree with us. We do not easily listen to those with variant ideas or who resist the obvious wisdom that comes from our mouths. It is difficult to be with folks whose theology makes us uncomfortable, whose opinions are strongly stated as if they came from God. If you want to bear fruit you’ve got to listen to resistance to your ideas, to other points of view, and to other theological understandings. You might even want to seek out folks you know will have a different opinion than the majority. When you and the folks you are appointed to serve begin planning for new and experimental ministries, you need to see that detractors are included in the conversation because the outcome will be better when all perspectives have been considered. Not necessarily followed but considered.
I was a young pastor 33 years old…in a pretty good size church for our conference. We were receiving members in big numbers. My first membership class had a family, the husband was retired military. The man was quickly into leadership in the church, strong opinions, forcefully stated. He would put me on the defensive faster than any person I ever met in my life. I would leave meetings so frustrated because he pushed every one of my buttons. I remember one time a proposal to start a ministry for the recently divorced came up. He thought that was a terrible idea…just reinforces marriage breakups…on and on. The idea died but from somewhere I found new resolve to build a relationship with this guy. So I started listen to him, asking questions to go deeper. We forged a friendship that has last through to today…he and his wife have acknowledged every wedding anniversary of Sharon and I since we met them 33 years ago. He is here listening to me talk about him. He has been and is a leader in this Annual Conferecne for many years now. I am not suggesting that his life of leadership has anything to with me, but I am saying if you wanna bear fruit you have to listen to people…even the ones you may disagree with, even the ones who push all your buttons, you have to learn what can learn. Other opinions have something to teach you if you will listen. Everybody wants a chance to be heard.
You are not a complete leader; you don’t have it all or know it all. You need what other people have to offer.
So you wanna bear fruit? Then you need to:
1. Leave your ego at the door
2. Ask yourself why you want to bear fruit…have a vision
3. You cannot bear fruit alone…empower the laity
4. Remember who you are…have clarity when faced with boundary crossings
5. Develop skills to become inter-culturally competent
6. Listen to the dissonant voices.
These are a few ideas and behaviors that may help you bear fruit in your ministry. One last point….
A final story from the book Presence. Human Purpose and the Field of the Future.
Several years ago in one of our leadership workshops, a Jamaican man from the World Bank name Fred told a story that moved people very deeply. A few years earlier he had been diagnosed with a terminal disease. After consulting a number of doctors who all confirmed the diagnosis, he went through what everyone does in that situation. For weeks he denied it. But gradually, with the help of friends, he came to grips with the fact that he was only going live a few more months. Then something amazing happened, he said. “I simply stopped doing everything that wasn’t essential, that didn’t matter. I started working on projects with my kids that I’d always wanted to do. I stopped arguing with my mother. When someone cut me off in traffic or something happened that would have upset me in the past, I didn’t get upset. I just didn’t have the time to waste on any of that.” Near the end of the period, Fred began a wonderful new relationship with a woman who thought that he should get more opinions about his conditions. He consulted some doctors in the States and soon after got a phone call saying, we have a different diagnosis. The doctor told him he had a rare form of a very curable disease, and then came the part of the story that is hard to forget. Fred said, “When I heard this over the phone, I cried like a baby-not because I was going to live but–because I was afraid my life would go back to the way it used to be.” A false death sentence changed his life.
We can learn all there is to know: about church life, leadership theories, we can be very smart, but, when it is all said and done the only change that will make a difference in your ability to bear fruit is the transformation of the human heart, starting with yours.
So you wanna bear fruit…abide in Christ, bear fruit…make disciples…go and transform the world.