Sermon for Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 2, 2021
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
Acts 8:26–40 | 1 John 4:7–21 | John 15:1–8
This vine imagery in John gives us a chance just to sink really deeply into our imagination. While we are LESS likely than people in First Century Judea to regularly see grapevines—although I did see from a distance the one in my parents backyard that covers the fence between them and the neighbors yesterday!— picture this: A woody and gnarled central trunk of a vine dividing into main branches that spread along some kind of support and sprout smaller branches. The surface of the vine tends to have a kind of fuzzy texture. If the vines are being tended, they are pruned to prevent the spread of disease and infestations. They may even require—like with my parents—hand-removing new invasive insects like the stinkbug. In the growing season, the vines sprout vibrant green large-ish, heart-shaped leaves with multiple lobes and serrated ends. The clusters of purple fruit have long been highly valued for their sweetness eaten as-is, in cooking, and for making wine. Even the leaves were used in cooking when the grapes were harvested. This important plant is estimated to have been cultivated for at least 7,000 years—growing well in the landscape of the Bible.
As we bring the grapevine to mind, we think about how Jesus offers it up as a metaphor for understanding how we are in relative position to Jesus and to God: What that feels like. How it works. Some things came to mind for me:
First, the reasons that you are here—worshiping or even just by virtue of being born—is because OF the vine. You didn’t come into being out of nothing: It’s because of that trunk, that vine below you. When you feel disconnected, you can rest back into this knowledge. To quote Fr. Keating, “All you have to do is relax, and you are in the middle of God.” It’s actually quite NATURAL to abide in Jesus.
Second, to be part of the vine is a reminder of worth: Again, Fr. Keating: “We ourselves are respected and honored by God as being created by God.” Although it is often hid by the human condition, beauty is a thing inherently a part of us. Starting from here gives us the strength and resilience to let go—as Fr. Keating names the primary sources of our suffering- of over-identification with groups and roles, along with our programs for happiness that try to extract ultimate value out of things like esteem, security and control. (We have all that we need.)
Third, the branch of a vine doesn’t live out there on its own without the trunk and roots bringing nourishment. The best way we can to keep the juices flowing is like with any relationship to a person or thing: By paying attention to it. We do this as Christians through the words from God in scripture, sacrament (communion) what else? and prayer—which is really just relationship with God and with Jesus. It’s sitting down and Being connected so that love, peace, understanding from God can flow into us. God is beyond our ability to comprehend and so we just ARE. In this kind of being with God, we let go of our expectations, our ordinary way of looking at things—and just let God be God in us. Whatever needs to be pruned away, IS. We “get to take a vacation from ourselves” and sinking into our connection to the vine heals us in body, mind and spirit. And fruits begin to emerge: Like peace, charity, joy, love, gentleness, patience, goodness, self-control.
So finally, as branches on the vine that is Jesus, and tended by the vinegrower; the things that hinder us are slowing stripped away: We are freed and we are given a new way of relating to reality: That is, we too can love. We look around and begin to see that our connection in the vine to the other branches isn’t optional either; we are connected to one another, whether we like it or not. But with our rest in God, it makes sense that the other branches are there, too. It makes sense that we are part of the system that connects people TO Jesus—and also connects us to one another! As since God is all about love—expressed fully in Jesus—then we are all about love. I John 4: Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” THIS is the essence of the nourishment that flows to us and through us. It is the essence of the Gardener: And it it brings life: Things like actual sustenance, actual resources—things that people can live on. It means seeing our own worth and therefore the worth of others, too. It’s our common humanity, rooted in the abundance of God—which is never ending. What now, shall we do? Thanks be to God. Amen.