31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
October 1, 2017
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
In “Pinocchio”, the main character famously sings:
I’ve got no strings
To hold me down
To make me fret
Or make me frown
I had strings
But now I’m free
There are no strings on me
Dickie Jones (Pinocchio)
What Pinocchio does not realize is that even though there are no physical strings on him, there are plenty of connections that tie him to others.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood this very well when he said:
It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny.…Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. (Christmas 1967)
We are so connected that before we have even finished breakfast, we have depended on more than half of the world.
Some of our connections are as obvious as “apron strings”, tying us to family and friends.
Some of our connections are a bit more like fishing line – hard to see and yet still strong, like our dependence on the service workers in our lives: the barista who gets your coffee, the man who refills your home’s oil tank, the caregiver for yourself, your parent, your child, our barbers and hairdressers.
And some of our connections are as fine and translucent as a gossamer spider web. Like our ties to all of those who grow and bring us food: the store clerk who stocks the shelves, the truck driver who brings it from the factory or farm, the farmer who grows it, and the earth that creates it.
We are all connected; we are all one; we are interrelated with all of life. No longer is there Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. We are all connected.
It’s a lovely thought, and it’s true, and it’s challenging, because while we are connected to the world and all that is in it, it is really hard to live in such a way that acknowledges and honors those connections.
Sometimes, we just want to throw everything in the trash instead of thinking about what goes in the recycling bin and what goes in the compost bin. We just want to think about our own convenience, instead of thinking about the earth and the generations that will come after us.
Sometimes, we don’t want to slow down in traffic, or stop at the yellow, quickly turning red, light. We want to get where we are going, not consider all of the lives that are dependent on us following the speed limit and traffic laws.
Sometimes, the person we are “connecting” with is rude, anxious, demanding, annoying, or downright cruel, and we do not want to be connected to them. We want to pretend to be an island, pretend to be a totally independent and free nation, pretend “there are no strings on me”.
Sometimes, honoring our connections with the earth and every living thing takes more compassion, care, flexibility, and love than we feel capable of, and that is when we need to be renovated by the Spirit. That is when we need to be made new in Christ so we can bear the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That is when we need to be clothed in compassion, kindness, and love.
(Last week, as I preached about being “clothed in compassion” so we could show care even when we don’t feel like it, I also shared that the King James version translates this expression to “Bowels of mercy”, giving the impression that compassion is something we feel natually from our guts, and a fair number of you felt the need to make potty jokes in response– so I’ve got this congregation’s number now. You’ve been hiding it well for nine years, but now I know, you are really Kindergarten boys in disguise.)
So on Sunday, I preached on intentionally and purposefully putting on our compassion and kindness, and on Wednesday night or I should say Thursday morning, God put me to the test. That was the night I was the Family Promise night angel, and also the night, we were hosting a brand new family to the program. The family recently moved to the area, and the wife already had a job, working second shift in Manchester. I had been prepared by our wonderful Family Promise coordinators, Rob and Donna, to be aware that I would need to let her in at 11:30pm. So at 11:20, I went down to the backdoor, prepared to great her with a smile and a gracious welcome. I was still prepared to do this at 11:45, but right about midnight, I began to feel my compassion start to slip off. I started to think about me – how tired I was, how less than comfortable I was laying on the floor of the foyer.
And the more I thought about me, the less I thought about her and my connection to her; and the less I thought about her and the tie that bound us as fellow human beings, the less compassion I felt.
Thank God, I was able to firmly pull my compassion back in place when I saw her headlights. Her cell phone had run out of battery, which is about the worst thing that could happen when you are depending on it to give you directions to someplace new, in the dark, and she had to stop multiple times for directions.
I say “Thank God” because my ability to stop thinking about myself and greet her with compassion and care was not my own doing. Being able to live clothed in compassion, being able to live lives that bear the fruits of the Spirit, so we can care for one another and creation is not something we can do all on our own. We need God. We need to be connected to God.
In our gospel passage, Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Jesus is the vine; we are the branches. If we are going to bear the fruits of compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, peace, and love, we need to be connected to God, connected to Jesus, connected to the Spirit, because apart from them, we can do nothing.
Otherwise, we are like a power cord trying to charge that cell phone or computer, without being plugged into the electricity socket. It’s a ludicrous thought, right? You have to be plugged in to power something else, and yet, how often do we try to do exactly that – nurture, support, recharge someone else without recharging and nourishing ourselves.
This isn’t a sermon about finding more “me” time because honestly, the time we spend thinking about what we want, we need, we deserve, rarely makes us feel better. Rarely does “me” time leave us feeling refreshed and recharged and able to connect with others in kindness, compassion, and love.
This is a sermon about finding more “we” time, time with God, time spent connected to the vine and the vine grower. “We” time, God and me time, is often exactly what we need to be recharged, to have our reserves of compassion, kindness, and love replenished and restored.
Are you getting enough “we” time? Are you connected deeply to God, fully plugged in, so you are able to bear much fruit and give to others? How are you nurturing your Christian faith journey so God can nurture you? How is the Spirit renovating, renewing you so you can connect more to God and others?
Jesus reminds us, “I am the vine, and my Father is the vine grower…Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1, 5)
Abide in me because apart from me, you can do nothing; because apart from Jesus, we will not have the strength to clothe ourselves with compassion; because apart from Jesus, we will struggle with our differences, being divided instead of united; because apart from Jesus, we will be tempted to pretend we are an island, instead of one part of an “inescapable network of mutuality”.
Through our baptisms, we have died and been reborn with Jesus Christ. We have been made new in Christ so we can bear the fruits of the Spirit. We have been blessed so we can be a blessing, transforming our world with Christ’s love, and all of that is only possible if we stay connected to the vine; plugged in to our life source; tied firmly and faithfully to Jesus, nurturing ‘the strings God’s got on me’.