Sunday, April 29, 2018
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Prayer of the Day
O God, you give us your Son as the vine apart from whom we cannot live. Nourish our life in his resurrection, that we may bear the fruit of love and know the fullness of your joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Acts 8:26-40 Philip teaches and baptizes an Ethiopian
1 John 4:7-21 God’s love perfected in love for one another
John 15:1-8 Christ the vine
Sermon: Life on the Vine
Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!
For those who may not know, we are spending these 50 days of Easter exploring how to make the resurrection event into resurrection practice. A one day happening into an everyday exercise. We are asking how do we daily live this new life that is ours in the risen Christ. Because, while the victory over death that Jesus won for us offers us eternal life in the end, through the grace of God, this life-enriching gift is unfolding for us even now, in un-measurable ways. We wake up every morning to a new day, lived by faith, uplifted by God’s grace, as disciples of Jesus, and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now for those who have been along with this exploration, you may perhaps want to go back to last Sunday. Back to those wonderful, calming, and peaceful images of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Of sprawling out in the green pastures. You remember the image of sprawling, right? Really stretching out and relaxing in the presence of the care-taking Christ. We even saw that what seemed as difficult as death’s shadows was navigable because the Good Shepherd is leading us, walking with us, protecting us. Last Sunday, this resurrection practice seemed all so filled with peaceful pastures.
But today, Jesus is offering the image of a twisted growing vine. Sure we could look at it as a nice healthy passive vine hanging on an arbor, sprouting leaves, growing a few cluster of grapes here and there. But there is a lot more going on here. So shake off that sleepy sheepy sprawl, and today, let us see with Easter eyes that we are connected to the vine that is Jesus, through who all life flows, through who we are connected to God and to one another, through who this vine of God continues to grow.
We are branches on the vine who is Christ. By our connected-ness we have life. The love. mercy and grace of God that flows from the heart of God passes through this vine and onto the branches that we are. How wise we are to stay connected. For our living, for our growing, and for our bearing fruit. Good fruit. Fruit that serves others in its goodness. And yet, as any vine dresser will tell you, even the branches of the best vine need to be pruned from time to time. That which does not bear fruit must be clipped so that which is good might bear more fruit. Now the ego in us might start looking around and thinking: “oh, yeah, that one needs to be pruned, and that needs to be clipped off of that one.” Or if the judge in us really gets going we might look at another one and suggest that the vine dresser clip that branch off completely.
While in junior high school, one of my best friends was Ronnie Lee. His family owned one of the last family farms in town. It had gotten surrounded by housing developments. From time to time we would break from our playing around the farm and I would help him with his chores. One of the fun things to do was prune the fruit trees in the early spring. Using clippers we would cut off the unwanted growth that had sprouted on branches in the past year. They called them suckers. They sucked the nutrients away from the branches on which the fruit would be growing, producing no fruit themselves. How often we look at another and blame them for sucking the life out of us. We pray that the vine dresser would prune that one.
But our resurrection practice reminds us that we all are called to die daily to sin. That which is dead in me needs to be pruned and trimmed so that which is new life might grow and thrive. And we branches are never good at self-pruning. This is why connected-ness to Christ the vine is so essential. It is by grace that we are pruned, lest anyone should think they are self-made, think they are responsible for the fruit they bear. It is through Christ the vine that all life flows. His is our new life that bears fruit.
Through Christ the vine we are not only connected to God, but also to one another. And perhaps this is the biggest challenge to life on the vine. For on this vine are countless branches and therefore, all those branches are connected because of the vine. Our first reading this morning tells that wonderful story giving witness that from the beginning of the Church, the followers of Jesus saw that the good news they had received was intended for all people. The Ethiopian eunuch could not have been any more of an outsider to those first followers who shared Jesus’ heritage. As one who was mutilated, there is a good chance he would not have been allowed into the very Jerusalem temple he had traveled so far to visit and worship in. He may have been returning to his land sorely disappointed. And he certainly didn’t look like the residents of Jerusalem. How much more was he excluded because of the color of his skin? But Philip joins him, teaches him, passes along the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the gift of new life that is ours in the gift of baptism. His witness makes this man so hungry for the resurrected life we share through baptism, that as soon as he sees a little water hole on the side of wilderness road, he asks to quench his spirit’s thirst rather than his body’s. From this story forward, the diversity of this young church, grows. Peter baptizes the household of the Roman centurion, Cornelius. Paul really blows the lid off of things and travels into Gentile lands preaching the good news and planting churches. Branches were sprouting all along the vine. And some branches that thought they knew what every branch on the Jesus vine should look like, had to be pruned into a new understanding.
And still to this day, we are seeing in a variety of arenas that living into diversity is not easy. We want all branches to look like us, grow the same fruit as us. And there we are trying to play the vine dresser again. Christ is the true vine. Whoever bears fruit for God’s banquet can do it only through connected-ness to that vine and the life that flows from it.
And blessings abound when we take up this challenge, of living on the vine, connected to God and others. Not only do we produce fruit, but we are fed and nourished by the fruit of community. Yesterday, a sanctuary full of people gathered upriver in Kingston with a respected member of our synod, Pastor Al Ahlstrom for the funeral of his wife. What heartache he must be going through after seeing his wife die in a car accident in which he was the driver. But clearly, as yesterday showed, he is not going through this alone. He is blessed by his connectedness, not only to family and friends, but also to former congregants and colleague pastors with him on the vine that is Christ.
In spending a week thinking about vines and branches and finally seeing buds on branches and greening taking place, I noticed a tree that was right in the midst of some temporary scaffolding. The scaffolding was build such that some of the tree’s branches were above, exposed to the bright sunlight, and some branches were below it, in the shadows, completely shielded from the nurturing sun. And yet, even those branches struggling in the shadows had green buds on them, showed signs of life, were producing fruit. Connected to the other branches, life was still flowing, even in the midst of less than perfect growing conditions.
And so, planted by God, branching from Christ, flowing with the Holy Spirit, we live and we grow. And as John who writes our second reading encourages, this growth, rooted in the love of God that loves us first and undeservedly, is the result of our abiding. Abiding in God, abiding with one another. Enduring, connecting, receiving and sharing, forgiven and forgiving, experiencing blossoming, accepting pruning, sharing with one another, abiding with one another, growing together. This is life on the vine. This is new life in Christ who is the true vine. For this vine not only grows fruit in us, but also feeds us with the fruit of resurrection new life, the fruit that fills the cup on this table, so that we might feast on the abiding presence of Jesus, strengthening an enabling us for the journey as we live what we shout…
Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!
The Rev. Mark Erson,