Spring Pruning: A Sermon on John 15:1-8
Post Author: Vicki Flippin
Young Clergy Women International was founded in 2007 as The Young Clergy Women Project. YCWI is now an organization of over 1500 clergy women under 40. We gather in online community, host annual conferences, and for ten years have faithfully published on Fidelia twice a week, amplifying the voices of young clergy women. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of YCWI, we at Fidelia are bringing you a series of articles from our archives. We’re showcasing some of our favorites – pieces that went that went viral, and underappreciated gems; essays that harken to earlier times (A lot has changed in ten years!) and ones that feel perennially fresh. We give thanks for the young clergy women who have shared their voices and stories, hopes and fears, leadership and wisdom over the last ten years. We hope you’ll join us as we amplify the voices and stories that brought us this far.
I got pruned the other day. There were some dead, unfruitful, suffocating branches that had grown up out of me, making me ugly and overgrown. And God came over to me with some big sharp clippers and pruned those dead branches right off and threw those useless pieces into the fire and burned them to ashes.
My pruning happened on a retreat I went to a few weeks ago, led by a woman named Tilda Norberg. At one point, Tilda asked us to do something called “Speaking Truth to Lies.” And she asked us to write down two or three lies about ourselves that we needed to get rid of. Not ridiculous lies like: “My hair is blonde” or “I’m a professional body builder.”
But the kind of lies we tell ourselves—lies that we know in our head are not true, but that our hearts hang onto.
If I give you some examples, I think you’ll recall some of these kinds of lies knocking around in your heart at some point.
“If I weigh more than 120 lbs, no one will find me attractive.”
Or this one: “Because I have cancer or because I can no longer move the way I used to, I will never be whole or well again.”
Or this: “I don’t have a problem with drugs or alcohol.”
Or this: “If I weren’t so needy or noisy or nosy, the abuse would stop.”
Lies that we live our lives by. Lies that we die little deaths by. These are the kinds of lies Tilda asked us to write down.
And then she had us get into groups and do a ritual that would speak truth to our lies. Now, I had two lies. And before I tell you my two lies, let me highlight some parts of myself that will give you a little background. I was a shy and timid kid. I’ve been shy and timid and content to be a follower most of my life. But in college, I started taking a leadership position in a new student organization. And, through this organization, I started developing and organizing and teaching workshops for high schoolers.
Me! A shy and timid follower was starting to become a fledgling speaker and organizer and leader.
And then I went to seminary. And I started leading some more. And I built up quite the resume. I was the leader of the Methodist Society. I was leading campus ministry. I started and led a new worship service at my church. And I was becoming rather known around my campus. I was the student representative to the faculty. I was meeting with faculty and students about race issues on campus. I was playing viola in the Yale Divinity School chapel services at least once a week.
And the people around me thought pretty highly of me. And I was starting to feel a little bit like a big shot!
…And then I moved to Greenwich. And I became a small fish in a major, powerful, tough pond. When I went to my first Greenwich clergy meeting, I realized just how big this pond is. And just how little my seminary accomplishments mattered. As I filled up my china with the fully catered meal of the clergy meeting and sat down at my table in a church fellowship hall that looked like a grand ballroom in a Hyatt, I felt suddenly very small.
There are some ways to immediately gain respect in a new community. And being a 26-year-old, petite, half-Chinese, middle-class woman in her first year of ministry is not one of them.
And, although I know in my head that I am every bit as important and worthy as all of my colleagues-even those older white male leaders of the wealthiest faith communities in Greenwich, CT—Even though I know in my head, that I am as important and worthy as all of them—I have found that I have in my heart a few tangled up lies.
The two lies I shared on my retreat were these.“I am not as important as my colleagues.” And “My worth is dependent on what other people think of me.”
Now, I need to say right now that this sermon is not about me.” It’s about all of us.
It’s about all of our lies that we tell ourselves.
It’s about how desperately we all need to be pruned by our God.
So, anyways, I wrote these lies down on two pieces of paper, and we began our truth-telling ritual.
In my group there was a young Nigerian pastor, named Michael. Michael later told me that, as a Black man, when he sat in meetings with all-white pastors, he struggled with the same lies.
Michael held those lies in his hands, and he looked straight into my eyes, and he said words like these, “Vicki, I declare with the authority of the gospel of Jesus Christ that these are lies; that you are created in the image of God; and that Jesus Christ abides in you and you abide in Christ. And this is where you get your worth. I declare with the authority of the gospel of Jesus Christ that you are every bit as much a child of God as anyone; that you have been called and commissioned by the church of Christ for ministry in this world. I declare with the authority of the gospel of Jesus Christ that you will bear fruit for God’s vineyard, through the power of God that is within you.”
And he handed me those two pieces of paper, and I ripped them up into pieces, and threw them on the floor to show myself and everyone in the room that the power of the vine-growing God was pruning those dead and unfruitful lies from my life.
The Greek word for “prune”—ka-THAI-ro—is related to the word for “cleanse”—KATH-a-ro—is related to the English word for purge, purify, release—CATHARSIS.
We could all use a little spring catharsis, a little spring pruning to cut off, rip up, and throw into the fire the lies we live by.
And if your lies are anything like mine, if you struggle with your self-confidence or self-worth in a culture obsessed with status and station and surface detailslet me just speak some pruning truth to you this morning.
I declare with the authority of the gospel of Jesus Christ that these are lies; that you are created in the image of God; and that Jesus Christ abides in you and you abide in Christ. And this is where you get your worth. I declare with the authority of the gospel of Jesus Christ that you are every bit as much a child of God as anyone; that you have been called and commissioned by the church of Christ for ministry in this world. I declare with the authority of the gospel of Jesus Christ that you will bear fruit for God’s vineyard, through the power of God that is within you.
May our hearts come to believe in the gospel truth. Amen.
Now: The Rev. Vicki Flippin is the Pastor of New Communities at St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist Church, where she is starting new multi-racial and LGBTQ-affirming faith communities and also serves as co-pastor of LaMP, a progressive Protestant campus ministry. A graduate of Yale Divinity School (2008) and the University of Chicago (2005), Vicki considers LGBTQ equality and racial justice to be central to her ministry. She also serves as Co-President of the Board of Directors of the Methodist Federation for Social Action and enjoys her work with Methodists in New Directions and PFLAG-NY's API Project. Born and baptized in Taiwan to an American missionary and a Chinese war veteran, Vicki maintains close family and church ties to both Taipei and the American Midwest.
Then: The Rev. Vicki Flippin is senior pastor of Diamond Hill United Methodist Church in the very interesting town of Greenwich, Connecticut. She continues to learn new things about the area everyday, like the awkwardly large difference between “thrift shops” and “consignment stores.” Who knew?
Image by: fui
Used with permission
Thank you for sharing this powerful sermon with us!!!
Thank you Vicki- I’m proud of you and you speak truth to my lies today!
Love it, Vicki. Now I’m thinking about my own lies…
Thanks for these gospel words.
Thank you! Vicki, I need to hear this truth. Thank you for your loving, honest story.