Fifth Sunday of Easter 29 April 2018
(Acts 8:26-40 Psalm 22 1 John 4:7-21 John 15:1-8)
“Vines! Vines! Everywhere!”
In these past few chapters of John’s Gospel we’ve heard Jesus say,”I am the bread of life!” “I am the light of the world!” “I am the Good Shepherd!” “I am the gate!” “I am the Resurrection and the Life!” “I am the way, the truth and the life!”
Today, we hear the seventh and final “I Am” statement from John’s Gospel: “I am the true vine!”
I felt a bit like Jack and the Beanstalk a few weeks ago when I was pruning my Trumpet Creeper vine that takes a life of its own when cascading around the pergola at our deck. “Vine! Vines! Everywhere!” is how I feel every time I take on the challenge to prune my vines!
The imagery of the vine would have been very prolific in the time of Jesus. Grapevines, especially, could be found in many areas. The image was clear—stay connected, bear fruit—relationship with God is most important-relationship with each other and the world flows from a profound experience of being in relationship with God. Christianity is relationship. It is as simple and as challenging as that!
Here’s the initial challenge: much of our lives have been constructed around the idea of the individual, “I’ll act on my own;” “don’t bother others;” “I can do this myself.” We really do live in a world that does NOT encourage, I mean, really encourages relationship. It’s revealed in our laws, in our priorities, in the way we spend our money and the ways we use our time.
From the very outset, this passage can sound like a word of judgment. Branches that do not bear fruit are removed by the vine grower. Period! But I wonder if we can hear this text, no less, as responsibility that flows from relationship. The Greek word kathairo is translated as “prune,” and “cleanse” in this text and carries a sense of “being free from blemish or shame.” It has the same root as the word used in the foot washing scene only two chapters earlier in John. Vines are pruned and feet are washed as the task accepted when we abide in the Christ.
Did you notice how many times the word “abide” was used in those nine verses? Eight times! Hmmmm! Might be important! The Greek root for the word “abide” (meno) carries a range of meanings—staying in place,” “enduring,”—that imply steadfastness and reliability of God’s presence in and for God’s community (where we are at our best)—so we will be steadfast and reliable witnesses to God’s presence to the world.
In this text, Eugene Peterson [Message] uses the words “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I make my home in you.” The notion of making a home, of finding the heart’s true place to live in Jesus, brings a settled peace to the turmoil that often characterizes our lives.
So here’s the challenge for the preacher of this text—to make the connection between relationship with the Risen Christ and the rest of our daily lives, especially in a world where we are so committed and so busy, and very often struggling with confusion and crisis in our lives.
So a team has just returned from Haiti! We are preparing Youth for ELCA Youth event as well as a workcamp trip this summer. We have many individuals grieving loss and confronting difficult predicaments in daily life.
In everything—both good and painful, how does God take up residence, move into our neighborhood, move into our home? This implication is staggering!
On the night before Jesus died He was ready to take up residence in the hearts of his disciples. In today’s language it may sound something like this: “I challenge you not to allow your life distractions to prevent you from being connected to God in a deeper way! It is in this “holding together” of our relationship with God and others, where we best grow.
What might this Gospel really be saying to us? (I can only tell you what it might be saying to me!)
When we live in relationship, things begin to happen—not always sure of the lines between the two—of what actually stirs the action…..but relationships shape who we are (think of it with friends/loved ones/family members/children), and what we do.
Things happen: We love because God first loved us! [1 John 4:19]. I hear the call to an abiding relationship with others while resting in an abiding relationship with God. I hear the call to live more deeply into the Risen Christ. I do NOT hear this as the language of escape; but rather, the language of living/action:
To live…..with more awareness (be aware of language)
To live…..with greater sensitivity (someone cuts us off at corner//spouse asks to repeat same sentence three times)
To live…..with deeper compassion (how you express disagreement with fellow worker//on FaceBook//editorial comment)
There is this interplay—awareness, sensitivity, compassion—in the Gospel text (reinforced by the story of Philip and the Ethiopian official in Acts)—God abiding in us and we abiding in God–being lived out (special way) today with the excitement of two girls receiving Holy Communion for the first time!
I’ll end with a story: (reflects this balancing of God abiding in us/us in God)
Jewish people watching a sunrise and they begin to argue as to how we know when the sunrise began and when it really is up in the sky/risen. Finally they go to the Rabbi. Rabbi thinks about it and prays about it, and finally says, “when you can look into the eyes of all others and know they are your sister/brother, then you know the sun has risen.”
Then you know the sun has risen! Then you know the Son is Risen! Then we are Easter people. Amen.