What are Your Connections?
“Excuse me, sir! We’ve just clocked your vehicle doing 85 in a 60 zone. Do you have your licence?”
“Yes, here it is, officer.”
“It says here that you should be wearing glasses.”
“That’s OK, officer. I have contacts!”
“I don’t care who you know, sir. Where are your glasses!”
Do you have contacts? It’s rather hard to tell from here! I expect I can assume that the people wearing glasses aren’t wearing contacts, but I can’t be sure of the rest of you!
Of course, some people put a lot of store on having contacts. They say, “It’s not a matter of what you know but who you know that counts!” You’ve got to have connections! Some people are forever proving themselves by their connections – forever dropping names of this well-known person or that whom they know or met once or was present at the same function as they were. The mere mention of their “connections” gives them a greater feeling of importance.
Many of the truly “important” people don’t feel any need to talk about themselves at all. The greatest people of our time have been remarkable by their self-effacing humility about their achievements.
This is not to say that connections are unimportant. A society is a whole network of people. We cannot be isolates or hermits. Our first act on waking in the morning – whether it involves switching a light on, flushing the toilet or drinking a glass of water – reminds us, not only of the important physical connections that we assume are in place, but of the people on whose continued work and attention our life in society depends.
A civilisation can only begin to develop when one family can produce more food than they can eat themselves. Food is the bottom line. From that point it becomes possible for other people to develop specialist skills in providing shelter, clothing, utensils for cooking and eating, transport…
A family that had adopted Buddhism moved into the Stanthorpe area when we lived there. Their aim was to live independently of the rest of society. I recall talking to the father one day and hearing him explain that he had to work as a pathologist for three days a fortnight because “I can’t make petrol and I can’t make concrete.” I expect there was a good deal more dependence on the rest of society than he was admitting. He needed not only petrol but roads, not only concrete but clothes… It is sad that many groups withdrawing into communes end up drawing a great deal from society but giving little in return.
Our society is a network of connections. We are inter-related and need to seek our part in giving as well as receiving. I respect that for a variety of reasons we try to avoid being too dependent on the system – whether by growing vegetables, catching fish, sewing clothes, doing our own “handyman” things about the house… And while our present world population cannot be sustained with an “alternative lifestyle”, I recognise the desire of some groups to carry this independence as far as they can.
A holiday is the time when some of us try to show some semblance of independence from our connections. We live in a tent with reduced comforts and diminished housekeeping. We try to simplify. For a while we have lots of fun “roughing it” (after a fashion) and then coming back to the certainties and comforts of a more structured (and dependent) lifestyle.
I remember visiting a farm in the Allora district during my boyhood and being told by the farmer’s daughter what you had to do if you walked under mistletoe. I was at the age that studiously avoided being caught by that one!
Positively, I learnt to recognise mistletoe by its different colour, different leaf and drooping habit. It was only much later that I discovered that mistletoe is a parasite. It draws its life from the host tree and gives nothing back.
I recall the impression made by the giant buttress roots of
the strangler fig trees in the Cunningham’s
Only much later did I begin to learn about some of the parasites that afflict the human population of many of the poorer countries of the world.
There are of course many examples of what is called “symbiosis” where plants or creatures live together in a mutually beneficial way. With parasites one organism benefits and the other is harmed.
We do well to ask the nature of our connections – parasitic or symbiotic? As a human race we have too much of a selfish disposition. Our increasing tendency in recent years is for our relationships (individual and communal) to be parasitic. Again and again, we are “in it for what we can get out of it”. And we don’t seem to mind in the least “killing the goose that lays the golden egg”, as the old saying put it.
Having said that, connections are important. The saying mentioned at the beginning does have some positive significance – “It’s not a matter of what you know but who you know that counts!” It doesn’t have to be the badge of the parasite!
Solomon said, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Prov. 13.20). Whenever we receive a child into the church family, one of our prayers is for family and friends and for all whose influence will come on him/her – because those connections are important and formative.
Psalm 1 puts it this way, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (Ps. 1.1-3).
A tree and its connections – receiving life and bearing fruit. The tree needs the water or it will die. The tree receives the water so that it will fulfil its life purpose and bear fruit.
Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (Jn 15.5a)
When we went to Stanthorpe to live, there was an Isabella grape vine growing on the fence between the manse and the policeman’s house next door. The Isabella isn’t the sweetest of grapes, but we were determined to use it to supplement our diet. It hadn’t been pruned for a long time, but had been allowed to grow wild. Early in our first spring (after a good hard winter!) I decided to prune it. Some of the branches must have been easily two inches across. It was a rather savage pruning and the vine stood up to it well. But I noticed that, for a week or so afterwards, sap was oozing out the cut ends. That sap was the key to the life and fruitfulness of the branches.
Jesus was saying that we need a vital relationship with him in which we are receiving his life. And we need him just as certainly as the branches need the sap from the vine!
“If a person remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5b)
The sap that I saw steadily pumping out where the branches had been cut – it was sending life to the branches so that there could be life and growth and fruit. The farmer, of course, doesn’t leave it as long as this vine had been left! But he prunes every year, cutting out the dead or unfruitful wood, studying the little buds so that the energy of the sap won’t be directed to a lot of leafy growth but to the production of more fruit.
What is your life all about? and what are your connections? Are you living your own selfish parasitic life – living for yourself, pursuing your own goals, getting what you can out of the system? Or do you have a symbiotic view – noticing and caring for the needs of others, recognising that “it is more blessed to give than to receive”?
The one who gives us the direction for life – who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” – is also the source of the strength we need for living. We all have some bits that need to be pruned off so that our lives can produce the kind of character that our Maker has always intended.
What are your connections? Are you linked to him by faith, receiving his life and making a significant difference for good in your part of the world?
It’s one case where it’s not what you know but who you know that is important! Come to Jesus and put your trust in him – for life!
© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill & Ayr Uniting Churches, 7 November
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.
Back to Sermons