A Heavenly Haircut
Words for the Fifth Sunday of Easter
2 May 2021
A cyber sermon from the Vicarage
Text: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.
Well, have you done it yet?
Have you been able to make an appointment yet?
Have you made a decision about style yet?
Or have you decided that you are content with your Lockdown Locks and have just decided to ‘Let it Grow?’
It’s been the topic of conversation all week on some Social Media channels. Many of my friends have been posting ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures when they finally get to the hairdressers and to a person they are all relieved and feel a little more able to face the future.
Having my own haircut is not so intense an affair. It probably goes back to days at the Royal Hospital School and the School Barber, Mr Kett. He had a simple routine and started on the school roll with ‘Abbott’ and worked his way down to ‘Zammit’ and then started all over again. I had a ‘Short Back and Sides’ every three weeks for seven years so my definition of Haute Couture is a case of ‘Hair today gone tomorrow…’ My post lockdown haircut routine extends to slipping my hairdresser a Tenner and asking her to fix any damage I did to my mop with a Number Two setting on the razor.
Unless you are a Rastafarian, or your first name happens to be Samson, most people look forward to a trim or a perm or some braiding. There comes a time when it becomes just too much of a mess and we all need to go for the chop. It should not surprise us that the Spiritual Life is the same. In this time of Lockdown have you found that some unhealthy habits have grown more easily than usual? I know I have.
Many of the reminders that keep us on the ‘straight and narrow’ have not been there to help us keep things in order. Yes, I know we can pray privately and, when doing good works, we must not ‘let our right hand know what our left hand is doing’ (Matthew 6v3), but if I know no one is watching I am so tempted to be a little more lazy, a little less caring, somewhat selfish, and am happy to appoint myself as the judge, jury and executioner of my fellow pilgrims.
All through this time of being in lockdown and shut away from my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ (who graciously hold up mirrors to my soul) I have found it very difficult to focus on producing good fruit and instead find the vineyard of my heart is overrun with weeds.
What I need, what most of us may need, is a vinedresser. Someone to come along and sort us out. Tidy things up a little. Train some of our wandering tendrils to produce fruit instead of just greenery. Grapes instead of raisins. I want to be God’s wine instead of spending so much time whining!
But this comes at a price that I am not so sure I want to pay…
my Father… removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.
It looks as if, one way or another, I am headed for a heavenly haircut!
In the physical separation from the church that has come with lockdown I have never before been so acutely aware of the importance of the Incarnation to our faith. I have missed physical contact and seeing the everyday love and care of my sisters and bothers in Christ. This has made it easier to drift into unfruitful habits and spend energy on producing leaf but no fruit. All flannel and nothing of substance.
Now, as we turn towards a time of greater freedom and liberty is a good time to have a spiritual haircut; a pruning of the soul. And this is a trimming that requires to visits to the barber’s chair.
Firstly my Father… removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.
Time to ‘fess up and be honest. What habits have we acquired during Lockdown (or what habits have been magnified by Lockdown) that produce absolutely no good fruit at all? Do we ‘tut-tut’ at the inaction or actions of others more frequently? Has cynicism about our common life and our nation become our home room? Have we become arbiters of other people’s behaviour whilst excusing all of our own? Or have we simply just given up and allowed our spiritual life to ‘go to seed,’ allowing our prayers to become less fervent and our study of the Scriptures less frequent?
In my own life I have found it a challenge to, because my diary has been emptied and I have more time than ever, pray for others, read the Scriptures and the lives of the Saints, give a little extra attention to others. Instead I have too often chosen to just give up. I know one of the reasons this occurs is because of the common grief we find ourselves in as our lives have been turned upside down. But I also know that I really should be producing fruit and not weeds. Lord, please get out your pruning shears and cut deep!
Secondly Every branch that bears fruit [my Father] prunes to make it bear more fruit.
Lockdown has not been all bad. Adversity has bred opportunity and each of us has found ways of engaging with those around us for the common good in different and deeper ways. As a church we need only look no further than the impact the Parish Pantry and Pushchair Pitstop has made on those who live in challenging circumstances. We would not have had the opportunity of producing this good fruit were it not for lockdown. This time in the wilderness has called many of us to dig deeper, to give more, to care better for those who may not even have darkened the doors of our churches. It never ceases to humble me that strangers come up to me daily and say ‘thank you’ for all that our parish is doing for those who are in need.
Fruit continues to be produced and our Vinedresser God smiles upon us, then comes at us with the pruning shears so that we may produce even more. The price of spending our resources producing this fruit may well mean that we cannot continue to do all that we used to. I know it is hard to have services interrupted by people unwittingly barging in to church to use the Parish Pantry. Remember the Good Friday service? I know it is upsetting to see litter outside the church, our Meeting Room taken over by racks and racks of baby clothes, and even the quiet of our private prayer disturbed by the chattering of children. But if we do not make these small sacrifices, if we do not allow God to ‘prune’ us just a little, then we will produce little or no fruit.
It seems as if, fruit or no fruit, we are in for a haircut from God. How do we get ready for this?
For the last few years the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, together with the leaders of other churches across the globe, have called upon us to use the time between Ascension Day and Pentecost to pray more deeply for others and ourselves under the banner of Thy Kingdom Come. A short time, just over a week from 13th to 23rd May, of intentional prayer for those who do not yet know the depth, breadth and height of the love of God, Thy Kingdom Come challenges each of us to get on our knees on behalf of others. We are being called to become people who are serious about prayer and the regular reading of the Scriptures. We are being called to become people so in love with God that we are eager to give our time, our treasure, and our talents away to others. We are being called to become people who make this ancient prayer of Richard of Chichester our heartbeat.
Thanks be to you our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.
[Thy Kingdom Come materials which include a Prayer Journal and map will be available free of charge in church and with print copies of Parish News next week]
[This blog ‘A Heavenly Haircut’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2021 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]