Opening Question: Have you ever moved to a new neighborhood? Gone to a new school? Who helped you feel at home? Who was your first real friend?
First Reading: Acts 9:26-31
A few weeks ago, I told you the story how Saul, the man who hated Christians, became Paul, the great Christian preacher. On the way to a foreign city to arrest Christians, Saul saw the Risen Jesus. Jesus asked him, "Why do you hurt me?"
"Who are you?" Saul asked in return.
"I am Jesus!" the risen Lord replied.
That day, Saul became a Christian and dedicated his life to spreading the message of Jesus.
Did any one believe Saul when he went to the Christians to tell them he was now a believer? NO! "This man arrested us and helped kill our brother Stephen," one said. "This man was the best friend of the high priest who wants us dead!" exclaimed another. "I don't trust Saul. He's wants to spy on us for the high priest," whispered a third. You can imagine what happened when Saul went to meet with the apostles in Jerusalem.
After Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the other followers of Jesus. But they were afraid of him. They didn't believe he was a real follower. So, Barnabas decided to help him. He took Saul to the Apostles and told them, "Saul was on his way to Damascus when he saw the Lord! Jesus spoke to Saul. As a result, Saul talked about Jesus to everyone he met at Damascus."
Saul moved freely about Jerusalem and spoke about Jesus with a bold attitude. He preached to the Greek-speaking Jews and even had debates with them. But they planned to kill Saul. When the followers recognized the plot, they took Saul down to Caesarea and sent him back to Tarsus.
Then, the Church grew throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. It enjoyed a time of peace. It lived in a deep reverence for God. The Holy Spirit gave comfort to the Church. And many more people joined.
This is how Saul became Paul. One person became his friend. Then another and another. Soon everyone wanted to help Paul, the new Christian.
Paul needed people to help him feel at home and protect him. He needed help to grow. Good friends help us grow, like the early followers helped Paul. When we help others, especially those who are new, we act as good friends.
By the way, who is our best friend? (Jesus)
Bridging Question: What's the difference between a team player and a loner? Can a talented loner add to a team? Explain.
Gospel: John 15:5-8
Jesus told his followers:
I am the real vine and my Father is the vine gardener.
He cuts away every branch that does not remain with me.
But he prunes every branch that produces grapes,
so it can produce even more.
My Father has already pruned you,
because of the words I spoke to you when I lived with you.
Stay close to me and I will stay close to you.
Like a branch that cannot produce grapes by itself
unless it remains on the vine,
you cannot live as my follower,
unless you stay close to me.
I am the vine and you are the branches.
Without me, you cannot do anything as my follower.
But the follower who stays close to me and I am close to
will do many things,
just like the branch that produces lots of grapes.
If a follower does not stay close to me,
my Father will reject him,
like a branch he throws out and allows to dry up.
He will gather that branch together with the others,
and will throw them into the fire so they can be burned up.
If you stay close to me
and you keep my words close,
ask my Father for whatever you want,
and he will answer you.
My Father always receives honor
when you become my followers and do many good things.
At the first practice for the new soccer season, Coach Kathy called the boys together for a pep talk. "Boys, we've her to play soccer as a team. A team is like that big oak tree over there. The trunk and the branches draw their strength from the roots that feed it water and keep it stable."
"Our team needs to grow as strong as that tree. As team members you are the branches. As the coach, I am the roots. I'll try my best to give you the training, the skills and the plays to win. If we work together, our team will be a strong as the oak tree."
Billy, the all-star player from last year, burst out laughing. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard." A few other players began to giggle.
Coach Kathy didn't say anything. She stood up, went over by the oak tree, and pulled up a young oak sapling that was just beginning to spout it's first leaves by its giant parent. The coach walked back to Billy holding the plant she just pulled out of the ground. "Comments like that pull the life out of a team, just like I pulled this young plant out of the ground. What do you have to say now?"
Billy stood there with his mouth open. That was the weirdest thing he ever saw a coach do. This was going to be an interesting year.
"Let's get practicing!" the coach yelled.
Over the next few weeks, Coach Kathy brought the dead sapling to practice. She always began with a comment about the strength of the oak tree. Then she would show them the shriveled plant and ask them what kinds of comments or attitudes causes a team to die. At first the boys didn't say anything. After a few weeks, some of the boys began to respond. "Selfishness," one said. "Being negative," said another. "Not listening to the coach," said a third.
Billy, the All-Star, didn't say a thing. He felt alone, like he didn't belong. After all, he always was the star of the team. He got a lot of the coach's attention. This year the coach didn't treated him special. She talked to him like any other member of the team.
By the first game, Coach Kathy had brought the team together. They felt positive and strong, like the mighty oak. In fact, that was their team name: the Might Oak. The other teams made fun of them for such a strange name. But the team knew better.
At the team banquet at the end of the season, the team with the strange name had an undefeated record and the respect of the other teams they played. Even Billy felt part of the team and that the team helped him grow. Everyone was proud to be part of a team that grew to be a mighty force in the league.
When Coach Kathy stood up to give out the player awards, she showed the dead plant one more time. "You're seen this poor plant many times. It showed you what happens where a team doesn't grow together," the coach said. "But now I have to apologize to you. This dead plant was a weed I pulled out of my yard. Remember the oak tree I pulled up on the first day of practice. I planted it in a pot when I got home. Here it is." The coach uncovered the small tree and showed it to everyone. The sapling had really grown! "This tree represents this team," the coach continued. "The care we put into the team made all of us grow. I would like to present this tree to the player who grew the most with us, a player who became the most selfless player I have ever seen. Billy, could you come up here?"
Billy was stunned. Yeah, at first, he didn't listen to the coach. But as he saw the other players get better, he figured he would start to listen. As he listened, he learned. And as he learned, he tried to help others on the team. He didn't see the changes everyone else saw in him. When he walked forward, everyone in the room stood up and cheered.
Billy looked down on a plaque that was attached to the pot. The plaque read: "To Billy. Thank you for helping us grow."
Think of us as Christians like a mighty oak tree. Jesus would be our roots and trunk. He feeds us, gives us strength, and guides us, like Coach Kathy. If we pull away from Jesus, we will die like the young oak tree pulled from the ground. But if we help feed others, we will help the tree to grow, just like Billy helped his team.
Jesus gives us life and love. Our job is to pass that life and love onto others.
Closing Reflection: How has Jesus helped you? How can you pass that help onto others?