Marvin Gaye's 1968 Motown classic, "I heard it through the Grapevine,"tells a story about a man who finds out from someone else that his woman is cheating on him. That's how hearing it through the grapevine works. We hear something about someone through gossip. Bad news travels fast, and in no time a rumor bears the fruit of fractured relationships.
I've been thinking though, that the gospel often bears fruit a lot like gossip. The gospel is news too. Good news. The best news. We were fighting a losing battle against sin. Jesus won the battle that we could not win, bearing our sin, absorbing our death and conquering our enemy. And he sent us to be heralds of this good news with the promise that his gospel will bear the fruit of restored relationship with God. Of course, some people are gifted enough to stand on street corners and soap boxes and stadium platforms and herald the gospel loudly. But most of the time the gospel travels less spectacularly, along the grapevine of relationship. We gossip the gospel, from person to person. In our age of skepticism, the gospel is mostly heard and believed by people who trust us enough to listen, because they've seen it at work in our lives in tangible ways. We hear it through the grapevine.
I love that verse in Paul's second letter to Timothy, in which he commends the way in which the gospel has come to his young prodigy. This is Paul the Apostle, dramatically converted with a blinding vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul who boldly preached wherever he went. And yet he commends the understated way in which the gospel came to bear fruit in Timothy's life. "I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well." 2 Timothy 1:5 The gospel was passed down through the generations in a seemingly undramatic manner, and yet it dwells sincerely in Timothy. This is a picture of the grapevine of the gospel. Of course we trust God for Damascus Road conversions, but those are God's prerogative. Our prerogative is to gossip the gospel and ask Him to cause it to bear fruit as it travels along the grapevine of relationship.
This Sunday I was freshly reminded of how the gospel travels from person to person down the grapevine of relationship in Cindy, who baptized her two children, aged 9 and 11. Cindy was a top flight soccer player, who had shattered her knee playing soccer and had since become a soccer mom. She was invited to our church a couple of years ago by a fellow soccer mom as they stood along the side lines, watching their kids play soccer. Cindy arrived at church as an atheist with a boat load of questions and a fair amount of apprehension about Christians. She attended our *Alpha course twice, and found people very open to dialogue with her about her questions. To her surprise, she also discovered that even Christians still had questions about faith. Imagine that. One day at church someone asked her if they could pray for her damaged knee. She said yes, and experienced significant healing. (We played soccer last week with Cindy, and she is now very mobile, whereas before she could not play at all.) Cindy continues to be a voracious questioner, but over time the cumulative effect of being invited, befriended, listened to, answered, prayed for and taught, caused the gospel to bear fruit in her life. She was baptized as a Christ follower about a year ago.
She is now a questioner with faith, rather than a questioner of faith. Not surprisingly, her children did not automatically adopt her faith. But she has patiently prayed, and answered their questions, gossiping the gospel to them like it was gossiped to her. Obviously they have seen significant change in her life, which has helped them to believe that the gospel really is real. This year both of her children put their faith in Christ and asked Cindy to baptize them. Cindy's children's father attended their baptism and remarked afterwards that he felt overwhelmed by how loving the community was. Cindy's own father was also at his grandchildrens' baptism. He has a similar approach to faith as his daughters' prior skepticism, but after coming to church, he has agreed to attend the Alpha course.
This is just one example of how the gospel undramatically yet unmistakably travels down the grapevine of relationship, bearing fruit in God's time.
Jesus is the vine and we are the branches.
Jesus saves people. But we connect people.
What we are called to do is to abide in Him and gossip His gospel.
*Alpha is an 8 week introductory course to Christian faith. The next Alpha course at Southlands starts on April 17th.