Cleansed by the Word Jesus Has Spoken – A Personal Testimony

  • May 2, 2021

The Rev. Robert P. Travis 5th Easter Sermon – 8:00 and 10:00am online (due to Pandemic) for Morning Prayer and Outdoor Eucharist Church of the Ascension, Wakefield RI and Chapel of St. John the Divine, Saunderstown RI

RCL 5 Easter Year B 5/2/2021 Text: Acts 8:26-40, 1 John 4:7-21, John 15:1-8 Psalm 22:24-30

Sermon Text:
Have you ever seen a vine grow?
How can you live in South County Rhode Island
and not see vines grow?
They’re all over the place.
A vine is such a wonderful metaphor for Jesus Christ,
but not just because of the connection to the Eucharistic Wine we immediately think of.

Vines are interesting compared to trees,
because they seem to be so much more active.
They don’t just stay put.
If you have a vine that you’re trying to control,
you know it is hard to keep it growing the way you want it to,
you constantly have to prune,
or it will go off in all sorts of directions.
Kind of like human beings.
There is so much life in a vine,
it seems like if you look at it
from one day to another, it has grown so much!
Kind of like human children.
And if a vine has a healthy, old root and stalk,
you know it can endure just about anything.
Kind of like human adults.
But vines, like humans, also need something to grow on,
and to do well, to produce fruit, they need to be tended.

An interesting thing about Jesus’ “I am” statement here,
compared to all the other “I am” statements,
is that this one includes the role of the father.
He says “I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vinegrower.”
It’s like Jesus is expressing his humanity,
His unity with us, but he shows the importance
Of God the Father’s role.
The Father doesn’t just let Jesus grow wherever,
He is the one who gives Jesus the support,
to grow and thrive wherever he is planted,
and he tends to Jesus, as a careful gardener,
pruning those places that need to be pruned,
so that the best fruit is produced.

This is a wonderful image and the best part of it,
is that we are included in it.
When we are in Christ, abiding in Jesus,
we are branches of the vine.
But there is something to our place on the vine as well,
something to how we need to abide in the vine,
for our lives to bear fruit.

I have had a powerful experience that started nearly
A decade ago, about abiding in the vine.
That I would like to share with you this morning.

It started at the beginning of Lent
back when I lived in Tennessee.
The day after Ash Wednesday I was sitting,
and doing Lectio Divina,
with our Centering Prayer Group on a Thursday afternoon,
with a Centering Prayer group I lead at the time.
As we usually do, we listened for a word we were drawn to
in the Gospel reading for Sunday.
I felt drawn to the word “beloved.”
So I meditated on that word,
And I felt lead to use “beloved” as my sacred word,
in my daily prayer practice throughout lent.
Well, of course, I just thought for the longest time,
that the word “beloved” just had to do
with Jesus being beloved of God,
with Jesus being God’s beloved son.
And that idea was enough for quite a while.
When I went on my first Cursillo Weekend,
that March I had been meditating on “beloved”
for about 5 weeks, almost everyday.
Then God changed my thought and began to show me,
that there was more to this than the way he loved his son.
Cursillo weekends have a series of talks
Given by different people, followed by small group discussion.
On this weekend, one talk made a point,
that we are God’s “beloved.”
The connection to my sacred word was not lost on me,
Actually, it hit me like a beam of light into my heart,
and I felt my heart being healed,
in a way I did not know I needed.
Later that weekend we had a healing service,
and I went up to one of the spiritual directors,
with a heavy heart.
I still had not told anyone of the importance of the word
“beloved” to me.
As he prayed for me, this priest totally out of the blue,
told me, that I am God’s “beloved,” and I started to cry.
God was getting through to me,
even though I thought I was open to Her,
there was something deep inside me that had needed to be pruned, for me to accept and realize,
this state of being “beloved” of God.
I left that weekend with a greatly lifted spirit,
and was starting to experience what being “beloved” means.
That would have been enough for me,
I did not think I needed any more.
I prayed for help to continue to experience what I was
coming to know.
I continued to abide in Jesus,
through my practice of Centering Prayer.

It was as if I had been cleansed by the word
that Jesus spoke to me.
Just one word, without explanation,
was enough to be a pruning, a cleansing of my spirit.

Notice that in the gospel we heard today,
Jesus tells his disciples, “you have already been cleansed,
By the word I spoke to you.”

But those two experiences of that word were not all God was offering me.

Let me go back and tell you a little
about what convinced me that I was not beloved.
When I was a kid,
my mom suffered from pretty severe depression for many years.
I did not know what it was,
She used to yell a lot, and I just figured she was mean sometimes,
and she used to call me a “wretch” when she yelled at me.
I internalized that,
and it would always make me cry to sing Amazing Grace,
because of the line,
“that saved a wretch like me.”
As an adult I was given the courage to confront my mother,
about this hurt,
and thankfully she had the humility to apologize,
and our relationship was healed.
But there was more that needed to be healed than that.
There were of course many other experiences in my life,
that encouraged me to believe I was more disliked than liked, more hated than beloved.
The most recent was when I served
at my first parish out of Seminary.
I served under a priest who was very severe,
and who did not hesitate to criticize.
Through his frequent badgering, and one might even say,
bullying, I started to believe that I was not truly called
to be a parish priest.
He broke me down to a point that I left church work,
and went to work for a hospital for a year,
in a chaplain resident program.
I told the people I worked with,
that I went to help people in the hospital,
but really I needed to “go to the hospital” myself,
to seek healing from the wounds I had endured,
right out of seminary.
I look back on that time as a time of pruning as well,
we all have them in our lives don’t we?
Times when we don’t know how we’ll make it through,
and how life could really get any worse.
I know there have been times like that in these churches,
and I imagine there have been times like that,
for each of you here as well.
But I was constantly told by people who love me,
to stay connected to Jesus throughout my suffering,
not to abandon him, to abide in the vine.
So I continued to seek to be rooted in Him.

A few years later I went to a conference called CREDO that all Episcopal priests get invited to once in their career.
Through a week of study, large group sessions,
small group talks, worship, prayer and reflection,
I experienced a sort of completion of the healing
that began back in Florida and continued in Tennessee.
Why did it take so many years, for God to heal these wounds?
Well, I kind of think, when it is love itself that needs to be healed, when what is broken is the sense, of being beloved of God, it doesn’t come fast,
but in a loving and gentle way.
Heart wounds take the longest to heal.
Once again, at Credo I was struck,
by the fact that in one of the first lectures of the week,
the word “beloved” was used as a focus.
It seemed that God wanted me to know,
and I hadn’t gotten it quite deeply enough,
that I am her “beloved.”
That she loves me, and is in love with me.
God loves you, and is in love with you.
That belovedness is not just reserved for Jesus,
but is central to everyone who abides in him.
The word “beloved” was all over the place at CREDO,
it popped up in prayers, and in readings, and in lectures.
And it clearly was getting through to me,
that God wanted me to know from all sorts of angles,
to make this belovedness abide deeply in me,
Deeper and more strongly than I had ever experienced before.

I continued to use the word Beloved in my Centering Prayer practice, and finally just a few years ago I was spoken to directly with that word while looking at an Icon of Jesus on Mount Athos in 2018 when I went there on a pilgrimage with my father.
That experience taught me that God was not going to let me forget this belovedness, as long as I abide in the vine of Jesus.

If Jesus is the vine,
and we are the branches,
than God’s love is what flows through us,
binding us into the vine,
and helping us grow and flourish.
If Jesus cleansed me from that hurt by the word “beloved.” I wonder what word he cleansed Philip with,
The apostle we heard about in our lesson from Acts today.
Philip was clearly abiding in the vine,
Enough that he was able to listen when the Spirit sent him to a new place to bear fruit for God’s kingdom.

I do not think that God has been healing me,
and making me understand my belovedness
just so I will feel good.
The fact is, I thought I felt pretty good before
all this started happening.
He is clearly doing this, from pruning,
to caringly feeding, so that I will bear fruit as well,
so that I will spread his life and love to others.
That’s what we saw happening with Philip and the Ethiopian. Philip had already been cleansed by the word, was abiding in the vine, and was able to reach that man with a simple question, “do you understand what you’re reading?”
That opened the door to a conversation about Jesus,
That lead to the preaching of the Gospel to a whole kingdom, as Ethiopian Christians trace their origins in Christ back to this story.

Do you want to have this kind of experience,
to abide in the vine so that you are healed, and renewed?
That requires some discipline on your part.
Maybe you can’t take a retreat right now,
Or go to a conference,
But you don’t have to do that to hear the word of God spoken to you.
You just have to listen and make space to hear that word.
We can all be more intentional
about making space for God in our lives.
We can turn off the devices from time to time
and spend time becoming aware of God’s presence,
we can look at our schedule and dedicate a weekend,
or even a whole week, to prayer and study,
seeking what the Lord wants to heal in us.
There are so many ways to do this,
and here at the Chapel of St. John the Divine and Church of the Ascension,
your clergy, and your brothers and sisters in Christ,
want to help you grow more and more
into your place in the vine.
That is the very reason we are here,
To keep you rooted in the true vine.
Avail yourself of every opportunity,
to become more rooted in the vine of life.
Abide in Him,
and you will find him Abiding in You.
You will bear much fruit and
become Jesus’ disciples.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! (the Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!)

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The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob goes by Father so that he remembers his duty to the people of God whom he serves. He’s been ordained since 2006, serving in Florida and Tennessee and before that served as a youth minister in Long Island, NY. More details