This is another of the great I am Sunday’s. Last week we had Jesus identifying Himself as the Good Shepherd, the shepherd Who knows His sheep by name and the shepherd Who will lay down His life for His sheep.
This Sunday Jesus identifies himself as the life giving, life sustaining vine, the only source of life to all the branches attached to the vine. Using this imagery Jesus’ lesson is clear; if we who are the branches wish to bear fruit we must remain attached to the vine. If we are fruitless we will be snapped off and thrown away. If we are fruitful we may still be pruned to make us more fruitful, not as punishment but to help us be healthier, more fruitful as we try to live out our Christian lives. Being so pruned our love will not be in mere word or speech but in truth and action.
But I’d like to go back to the first reading from Acts. We all know the surprising story Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul was an intense individual. He was on his way to Damascus to do what he could to stamp out this new sect. He had no patience with those people who claimed that the crucified Nazarene was the Messiah. He saw such people as apostates to their own Jewish faith.
On his journey to Damascus Paul was blessed with a deep spiritual experience. He met the risen Lord and came to know that Jesus truly was the Messiah. Because of this deep spiritual experience Paul turned from persecutor to proclaimer. So we have Paul speaking boldly in the name of Jesus, so boldly that those who heard him wanted to kill him. For many of his listeners Paul was a traitor to the faith and they wanted to do to Paul what Paul had in mind to do to the Christians in Damascus.
This encounter with Christ opens Paul’s life up to a whole new future, a future that does not negate his past but allows him to live with it peacefully. In his future ministry Paul never denied that he persecuted the church of God, that he was an enemy of Christ. But Paul would say “there is one thing I do, I forget what is behind and I strive on to what is ahead and I go with confidence to the throne of grace.” Paul would not let himself be haunted by his past. He was not preoccupied by memories of his deep hostility to the followers of Jesus. For Paul, “that was yesterday and yesterday is gone.”
Remember the saying” every saint has a history and every sinner has a future.” This is so true of Paul – as a saint he did have a history of which he was not proud – as a sinner Paul had a future which he gratefully embraced. “By God’s grace I am what I am and His grace in me has not been in vain.”
Too often we can let the present living of our lives and our relationship with God be stymied by our memories of past sins and failures. As I’ve said before we can be plagued by memories of past mistakes and find it hard to trust that God does not hold grudges. We impose on God our own tightfistedness, our own unwillingness to let go of past hurts.
The grace and the forgiveness of God does not negate our past, yes we did sin, yes we did fail to be the man or woman we are called to be, the man or woman we want to be – but our struggle is to be able to live peacefully with our past. We don’t allow memories rob us of the love and forgiveness that is ours today.
To be fruitful branches on the life giving vine we pray that we be pruned of nagging memories of past wrongs and be more open to the ever present grace and peace of Christ. To be fruitful branches on the life giving vine may we capture the boldness of Paul and forget what is behind, forget our history and strive on to what is ahead and face each day with confidence in the presence and power of Christ in our lives.