Readings: Acts 8 v 26-40
John 15 v 1-10
I’ve been thinking a bit recently about how we welcome folk to Castlehill church.
How we demonstrate hospitality.
What do folk see when they cross the threshold of our building.
Is it a place that looks inviting?
A place where they might be welcome.
Does it seem as though everyone has their space and their friends and it would be a difficult circle to break into?
Does it seem as though folk are willing to break out of their routine to be accommodating?
What do strangers see?
How do we make them feel?
If folk pitch up, will they stick around.
Are we hospitable enough to afford them some space or include them in our activities.
Hospitality is a basic requirement of Christian discipleship.
It’s a gift that most of us would claim to exercise.
But would our hospitality stand up to scrutiny?
Does our hospitality come with conditions and exclusions?
Or are we as open to others as Jesus taught us to be?
Our story from Acts this morning, is a powerful demonstration of hospitality.
Its early days for the church.
They’re still trying to work out boundaries.
While Paul is still struggling with widening the church to include non Jews, Philip is taking the gospel, as per Jesus command – to the ends of the earth.
When we encounter Philip this morning, he is fresh from a successful mission to the Samaritans.
But God asks him to go to the wilderness to meet with one man.
What a contrast to be preaching to crowds, seeing the church experiencing huge growth, and then being called to share the gospel with one man miles from anywhere.
But, like the Samaritans to whom he had been preaching, here was someone else who was denied access to worship.
We’re told that the eunuch was returning from worship in Jerusalem.
His worship would have been as one on the margins.
Eunuchs were among those classed as unfit to be part of the church.
Folk who, like women would never be allowed into the inner sanctuary of the temple.
They were excluded.
Philip climbed up into that carriage with the eunuch, got alongside him and then proceeded to tell him what he needed to know.
And the passage culminates with the eunuch being baptised – heralding a whole new order.
The good news is that Jesus came to dismantle barriers, to open up ways for God’s grace to be experienced by all people, not just a chosen few.
And so the eunuch, up until now excluded from being fully included is assured of his acceptability to God.
The eunuch asks: Look here is water, what is to prevent me being baptised?
And the answer he gets – is nothing.
Nothing prevents any of us from experiencing the grace of God.
Here we have a demonstration of the gospel and the amazing grace of God.
God’s grace ensures that we all have a place in his kingdom – even those formerly excluded and even those we would consciously or unconsciously exclude today.
You know, those who don’t quite fit.
Those who don’t look the part.
And, God forbid – or rather, God allow – even those who don’t know the rules.
Who don’t know how to behave and how to conform to all our little rules and regulations?
How can we be so welcoming?
How can we intentionally make this a place where all are welcome?
One thing is for sure.
It doesn’t “just happen”.
It takes work.
And, when we’re already overloaded with all manner of other tasks, its not going to happen easily.
That’s why our gospel reading is a timely one for us in Castlehill.
As we look to the issues we want to focus on for the next wee while.
As we look to the direction that God is nudging our collective ministry in this place.
Pruning is required.
As is abiding in God, staying close to the vine.
Throwing off busyness.
Letting go of the rules.
Taking a good look at what we do and comparing that with what we discern God wants us to do.
Of course we are all busy?
But are we busy doing the right things?
A few years ago I spent six weeks in the Presbyterian Church USA, studying team ministry.
I had to go to America because, here in Scotland, we really know very little about team ministry – just not part of our training or our psyche or our culture.
We ordain and induct ministers to charges and expect that they, as the paid professionals will get on with ministry – despite all the promises we make to be ministers together.
The first week of my study was spent attending seminars on team ministry in North Carolina.
On one of the breaks one day, someone asked the senior pastor at our host church: “Is this coffee decaf?” his response was: “I have no idea, we exercise team ministry here”
He didn’t feel the need nor was he expected to know what kind of coffee was served, how the projector worked, what time the heating came on, how many bulletins needed photocopied.
There was a whole team of people to do those other tasks and to do them well.
They took team ministry seriously.
That old adage about being jack of all trades and master of none is all too true.
When we spread ourselves too thinly, everything suffers, and what is for sure is that God is not honoured.
Its better to do less and to do it well than to run ourselves ragged achieving nothing.
The second week I was in Ayr, I had an interesting encounter with some of my colleagues.
I was visiting at Ayr hospital.
I had the name of the person I wanted to see but wasn’t sure of which station she was in, so I popped in to the clergy room that holds those records.
It was a Friday afternoon and this tiny wee room was hoaching with ministers.
Once I’d dutifully introduced myself, I mentioned that I just needed to look up one name.
There was a gasp around the room.
One name? Aren’t you going to work your way through the list and see if there is anyone else in hospital who lives in your parish?
No, I’ve been told about one person. I’ll find out which station she is in, I’ll go and visit her and then I am going to collect my daughter from school.
Obviously the “new young lady” as I’ve been referred to -at Castlehill wasn’t taking all this seriously enough.
Despite having been inducted to the biggest parish in Ayr, she wasn’t a competitor in the busy stakes.
That is what was happening in the clergy room that day.
Everyone was demonstrating how busy they were.
If you couldn’t clam to be the busiest minister in the room, then you had no business being there.
Its something we’re far too good at.
Making ourselves busy.
Always rushing from one thing to the next.
Because if we are not busy then we are of no value to God.
Being busy makes us important and gives us self worth.
Being busy also keeps folk at a distance.
If folk are convinced of your busyness they’ll not ask you to do any more.
And there’s also that good old fashioned work ethic.
If every day is not crammed with tons of essential tasks, then we are not being faithful in our call to serve God.
Now I confess that, often, I do not have my days off in the week that I should have.
But I can say that, in almost every day I do get some essential time out.
Its the easiest thing in the world to start a day at the desk at 7:30, perform loads of useful tasks throughout the day and, after a round of evening meetings to return to the desk until 1am.
It takes discipline to break that pattern and to inject some space for reflection, some time out for creativity.
Time spent with God, just resting, is never time wasted.
And it probably does us and the folk we serve much more good than our frenetic round of activity.
Time resting with God displays our faith in God much more acutely than our constant doing things for God because we’re frightened that God just wouldn’t manage without us.
Time resting with God prepares us and equips us to do what God wants and to get the balance right.
So pruning is an essential discipline.
Resting in God, staying close to the vine – Otherwise we get too straggly, we lose the connection to the One who gives life.
Our gospel reminds us that unless we rest in God, unless we stay close, we can bear no fruit.
“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples”
We don’t glorify God by running ourselves ragged.
We don’t glorify God be always looking busy.
We don’t need to all sport those T shirts that say: Jesus is coming, look busy.
God is glorified by our bearing fruit.
And we will bear fruit if we abide in God.
Abiding in God allows us to listen to what God wants of us.
To discern where God wants us to channel our energy.
To allow God to prune down all that needless wasting of energy and resources.
And become disciples.
Disciples who, because we rest in God, really know what it is to experience the grace of God and to share that grace with others.
Rooted ourselves, we are able to be welcoming.
Knowing ourselves loved and cherished as we are by God, we won’t feel threatened by sharing that love and that grace with others.
God is glorified by us bearing fruit and becoming disciples.
We bear fruit by sticking close to the vine.
By knowing our connectedness to God and to one another.
We become disciples by being secure in the love that God has for us.
From that place, firmly rooted in the vine, we can show the hospitality that God asks us to show.
From that place, we can perform ministry that is essential, that bears fruit and that still allows us space and time to rest in God.
Today, what is God asking of you?
And of me?
Is it too big an ask?
Then we need to let God get to work with the pruning shears.
So, before you take on one more thing.
Before you carry on complaining about your heavy load.
Before you keep on about how busy you are serving God.
Rest in God.
Allow God to point out what is fruitful and what it is time you let go.
Rest in God.
And God will rest on you.
In the days ahead, if we will allow God to prune us in our collective ministry here, we will witness much fruit.
We will be part of great hospitality.
We will share in God’s mission right here in this place.
Castlehill will be known as the place where all are welcome, those who know how to behave – and those who don’t.
A place where disciples bear fruit.
And God will be glorified.