A Sermon Given January 21, 2007 at the Alafia River Rendezvous
Intro: I consider it an honor to be here today, to be trusted enough that can stand before you and talk about our God. Thank you.
1611 Bible: In thinking about a message for today, I found myself reflecting back on what it must have been like in the late 1700’s, sitting in church and listening to the Word of God, hearing the messages that moved our ancestor’s hearts. So I thought I would begin my message today by reading out of the same Scripture that was used during those times. America had no large printing presses back then so we imported our Bibles from England. The official Bible of the time was known as the 1611 King James Bible. I have a reproduction of that same Bible in my hand. Hear our Scripture for today read as our ancestors heard it 300 years ago:
1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
Recap: Last year I spoke about how it was the very nature of history that defined who we were, that history points us to the future and even empowers each of us for our journey.
Noah Story: Today, I plan to take you down a different path and speak to you about fruits of the vine, “GRAPES.” Yes, grapes. They are first mentioned in Genesis 9:20 when Noah escaped the flood and planted his first vineyard. Unfortunately it only took until the next verse, Genesis 9:21, which recorded man’s first hangover when Noah celebrated in excess. I guess this says something about mankind and why we always need God. There is also the Gospel of John who gives us words directly from Christ, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” We all can remember the glory of Christ’s first miracle at Cana, creating wine from water. Yes, all through the Bible the vine and its fruits have been used as a metaphor for Christ, our connection to Him and our faith in Him that directs the good works of fruit-filled lives. So what does this mean to us today here at Alafia?
Choices: First, we must recognize that God Himself did not create us to be obedient creatures and who are we to argue with God? God created us to make free choices, good ones and bad ones. Each of us will have a lot of choices to make this week. I am particularly interested in those choices that involve your love of history and how you will share that love this week. Each of you made a choice this morning to come to this service and proclaim your faith to all those around us at Alafia. That was a great choice. Thomas Jefferson once said about himself, “For it is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must judge me.” In other words, it is in what we do and not what we say that others will notice at Alafia. With that said, let me start with a true story about my own life.
First Home Story: A first home is an exciting thing. I can remember when finally saving enough for a down payment and found that first home, some time around ‘68. It is hard to believe that for the last decade, the carriages I have owned cost more than that first house. It was small house at 750 square feet with three bedrooms, a single bath (indoors, quite an advancement for its time), a kitchen and living room. The original owner had built the house from recycled lumber that came from an old barn. He had hand carried stone for the fireplace from the local river and a natural waterfall in the town center called Chagrin Falls. Its name is believed to have been derived from an Indian word “shagrin” meaning “clear water”. Chagrin Falls and the surrounding area was unique, first settled in 1755. This home was filled with charm and it was ours (and of course, the bank’s). It was located on Pine Street.
Lehman: It was here that my love for black powder turned serious. Growing up, my idols were Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. There stories filled my imagination and my love for the 18th century took hold. As I sat in my new home, that field stone fireplace just looked empty. Something was missing. I enjoyed taking walks at lunch and that took me past a gun shop near where I work. One day I stopped in and there it was. It called to me and said “hang me over your fireplace.” That is how I came to purchase an original Henry Lehman trade gun. It still hangs over our present fireplace today. And while there are many stories I could talk about those early years of home ownership, the one that seems to have impacted me the most happened in the back yard.
Love of Owning Land: Land is an amazing thing. To own land is a privilege that few in the world ever get to enjoy. It was one of the principle reasons that our forefathers so generously fought for our freedom. The promise of land that went with each enlistment during the American Revolution was no different than my own dream. I can imagine how a young soldier would have felt in the 18th century when he received land for his service.
The Arbor: My yard was small with an old apple tree, a pear tree and a field stone fire pit. Next to the house was a grape arbor. The arbor had been there probably as long as the house itself. Yes, our first house and its fruits were the American dream.
DYI: After the initial bloom faded upon the rose, the reality of owning this older home began to set in. My time was filled with repairs, remodeling and constant upkeep. Don’t take my wrong. There was no time in those early years that I would have had it any other way. The constant projects bonded neighbors into work crews, established life long friendships that still continue today and provided me with the training ground for many of my skills. Simplicity and necessity are wonderful things in life. Too bad we all work so hard to leave them for bigger and better things.
The Arbor: In the back yard was a grape arbor. It must have been the labor of someone’s love once upon a time. The arbor was built to gracefully hold and guide the branches of two very large vines. They had flourished over the years, intertwining and forming a canopy over the arbor. It was so peaceful to walk out our side door into the back yard and stroll under the arbor. A wooden table sat next to the arbor under the apple tree. The apple tree was a great place for my children as they learned to climb their first tree. So many hours were spent sitting at that table in the yard.
Fall Harvest: In fall, my family was ready to enjoy our harvests: Apples, more than we could use; pears, sour but great for jam; and grapes. Wait a minute, “Where were the grapes?” Fall came and then winter and there were no grapes. We had a healthy vine, loaded with branches but there was no fruit. As I examined the arbor, it became clear that over the years, the vines were never tended. Easy, I thought, to just prune back the vines. However, this turned out to be much more of a task than I was prepared for. The wood used to build the arbor had decayed and as I tried to prune the branches, the arbor collapsed. It was with great reluctance that I found myself forced to tear down the arbor and cut down the vines.
Bare Roots: After finishing the demolition and cleaning up, I was left with two very short and fat vine roots about two feet long and several inches thick. As you can see, I did not prune the vines; I cut them up, ready to discard them. I can’t tell you why I hesitated that day but for some unknown reason, I decided to give them one more chance. Sort of something that God does with each of us everyday. Both vines, or should I say what was left of them, were planted against a fence along our property line. Winter came and I never gave the vines a second thought. Winter in Ohio usually takes up most of your time trying figure out how to keep warm.
Spring Surprise: The following spring came and I noticed that those stubs of a vine that I planted were sprouting buds. As the season progressed, branches were formed, buds flowered and, yes, grapes were on the vine. Through the summer and into fall, our family waited in anticipation. We were not disappointed. The fall harvest came and we enjoyed concord grapes from our own little vineyard. It was a great first home and for many years, my family finally enjoyed all of those “fruits” of our labors.
Vine and Us Today: When thinking about my message today, I could not help but to reflect back to that grape arbor and my experience with it. To let the vine grow without attention was no different than leading an unexamined and self-focused life. My arbor had not been touched in years. The vine had grown large but the branches did not bear fruit. The infrastructure that held the vines from the ground, the arbor, had become rotten and weak. This old memory brought me to my first point for today, that the measure of our success should not be the complexity of our life or the size of a Rendezvous (the size of the vine or arbor). Alafia and all of us must be measured by our fruit, our grapes. The Apostle Paul gives us a clear picture of what a fruitful harvest should look like. In Galatians 5:22-23, he lists the Christian fruit to be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control.
Sharing Fruit: Now that we know what Christian fruit should look like what should be the next important concern? It could be to answer this question, “What good is the fruit if it is never shared?” Our love of history, our knowledge about crafts and our wilderness skills hang on the vine. Thousands will walk through our vineyard this week. What will our generosity be like?
Who is the Vineyard: The vineyard represents the faithful believers of the universal Christian Church. In my Old Testament reading Isaiah 11:1-2, we find one of the places our Bible foretells the coming of our Savior. The root of our vine, therefore, must be in Christ, the branches representing you and me. If we don’t bring forth fruit, if we don’t share our bountiful harvest with those around us, the grapes do nothing more than drop to the ground. Sharing them with those who will pass by us this week is exactly what the Apostle Luke was speaking about when he said “For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” A shorter way of putting this is that one’s generosity and actions are a window to one’s heart.
Sharing at Alafia: Each of us will come into contact with old friends, acquaintances, make new friends and meet thousands of visitors. How many will walk away with the fruits of your spirit? There will be children in our school that have not yet formed their love for history. Those children could benefit from knowing how you established your own values and why you love this place so much. I listen each month as we express concerns that the next generation will have the desire to carry on in our footsteps. Will you find time to share your “fruit,” your love of Alafia with a child this week? Will shared stories with friends and guests awake an interest that blossoms into someone’s new love of the Lord? It was Christ who first bent down to us to share His fruits for us to eat and be filled. He was the first Vine and the first Grapes. It was Christ who was crushed and became the first Wine in the chalice for us to drink. He asks us to represent Him this week.
Ice Wine: So maybe this sounds like a good thing for someone else filled with special skills and knowledge, just not for you. Life has been hard and your stories don’t seem interesting. Or maybe you’re just a little shy. Well let me bring my third point out here and tell you about ice wine.
Wine in itself is a true wonder. No organism harmful to humans can live in wine and it has been used medically for as long as it has been made. Outside of water, it is no doubt the first beverage to touch the lips of our ancestors.
How it is made: Wine is also one of those rare things that actually get better with age. I wish I could say the same for my shooting skills. Now to make ice wine, grapes are left on the vine well into the winter months. Canada is the leading producer for ice wine. The resulting freezing and thawing of the grapes dehydrates the fruit, and concentrates the sugars, acids, thereby intensifying the flavors. The juice from ice wine grapes is about one-fifth the amount you would normally get if you pressed unfrozen grapes. To put it another way, a vine will normally produce sufficient grapes to make a bottle of wine; but frozen grapes would produce only one glass of ice wine.
The frozen grapes are pressed in the extreme cold. The water in the juice remains frozen as ice crystals, and only a few drops of sweet concentrated juice is obtained. This juice is then fermented very slowly for several months, stopping naturally. The finished ice wine is intensely sweet and flavorful. Because of the lower yield of grapes and the difficulty of processing, ice wines are more expensive than regular table wines. In fact, because they are so sweet, they are often served for desert.
Analogy: I use the example of ice wine because I believe that for those of you who have endured the discomforts of a frost-filled life, may have the most valued fruit to share. When struggles and faith are intermixed, people are often blessed with an understanding of our God that the rest of us just search for. Patrick Henry – a great American statesman said “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience; I know of no way judging the future but by the past.” And it is the sweetness of your history that should be shared.
Recap: So what have I said today?
1. First, we must be branches on a vine that is rooted in Christ that produces fruit;
2. Second, we must share that fruit with those who will wander through the Alafia vineyard this week; and
3. Third, every one especially those who have struggled and won the battle of becoming a believer have the sweetest fruit to share.
So how will you personally measure the success of this year’s Alafia River Rendezvous?
Go back in time: Well, if we could transport ourselves back 300 years ago to a Sunday, any Sunday during the 18th century when our forefathers were giving birth to our country, it might have been John Wesley who was giving you the message. And if there ever was a man who knew the hearts of our pioneers and patriots, it was John Wesley (1703-1791). He is remembered today as the founder of the Methodist movement. John Wesley became a Christian at the age of 35. Before his conversion, he had done missionary work among the American Indians as an Anglican minister. He was forced to leave the Anglican Church (the Church of England) and spent the rest of his life preaching in the fields and on the streets and wherever he was able to. He was up each morning before 5:00 for prayer and Bible study, and often rode on horseback 15 to 20 miles a day, preaching four or five times daily. During his lifetime, Wesley traveled 250,000 miles, preaching a total of 42,000 sermons. He died at the age of 88 and preached up to the very month in which he died. I close us this morning with his words of advice to all of us: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
May God place is generous blessings upon this Alafia River Rendezvous for now and evermore. Amen