Saturday, April 28, 2018

5 Easter Yr B April 29 2018



5 Easter Yr B April 29 2018 Audio

We have had one long winter haven’t we? Our grass is finally turning green, and the roses are coming to life in our garden. I await with baited breath and wild anticipation for the lilacs delighting the senses, we may actually celebrate this rite of spring. All winter long I yearn for the warmth and the smell of the dirt as we dig and play in it. All winter long we give thanks for the moisture that comes our way, knowing that it's falling from the sky results in new growth. Even when spring comes late, we are out planting, hoping against hope that there is no more frost to bring our work to naught, but secretly thinking it really doesn't matter because it's just a wonderful excuse to be outside and not inside. 

Before us today is a passage we all know well. I'll read it again in Eugene Peterson's translation, The Message. "I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken. Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me. I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples." 

The gospel of John is rich with metaphor, ripe with meaning. At the very least, this is a passage about growth and grapes, but it also tells us something of how to live, and it is very much about following Jesus. In our collection of readings this morning it is coupled with 1 John, God is love, and we, followers of Jesus, must love our brothers and our sisters. Eugene Peterson translates, live in me, make your home in me, which I find very helpful. Other translations use abide in me, and remain in me. All of these invoke intimacy and connection. God, the farmer, God the vine-grower, God the gardener, wants us, each one of us and all of us to remain connected to our source, to our creator, and in doing so, we not only grow but we bear fruit. The image is to remain connected to the vine, it doesn't say, in any of the translations, that we are to connect ourselves to the vine. Our organic and natural state is connection. 

The vines that fall away are gathered together and thrown into the bonfire. Apart from the vine, our lives result in disconnection, disorientation, disintegration. It's a beautiful image, the farmer caring for the vine and the grapes, a pastoral image that maybe some can't imagine in this time of immediacy, in this age of instant results. I was wondering about an image that could possibly be similar today, and I think of your computer, or my iPad, devices that give us instant communication and fast results, but that don't work unless sometimes we connect them into the power source to be re-enlivened. They really would just be typewriters on steroids without the Internet and the world wide web that connects us to people and information all over the known world. Even Facebook and all the other social media portals would be nothing if it were not for all the others we get connected to. Are they life giving? That question remains to be answered, but for matters of metaphor they'll do. 

And to what end are we given this illustration, this tangly vine metaphor that John uses? It is about being disciples, it is about following Jesus, it is about loving our brothers and our sisters. The point is to bear fruit, and in bearing fruit, God is glorified and we are disciples. To be a disciple is to follow Jesus. It really is as simple as that; we try to make it so much harder. We get so caught up in semantics sometimes, you and I sometimes even bristle at the word Christian, because it means one thing to some, and another thing to others. You and I and all of us together follow Jesus. That is what we are to do, as we follow Jesus we bear fruit, and we glorify God. 

So what does this call to bearing fruit look like? Picture a vine laden with grapes, so heavy it pulls itself to the ground if not held up by some sort of trellis. So heavy with grapes they can't help but spill over onto the ground, so colorful that they can't help but make the hands of the picker all blue and purple. Our call to bearing fruit causes our love to overflow like those heavy-laden grape vines. 

And our call to bearing fruit is very clear in the passage in first John, it is to love our brothers and sisters. These are the brothers and sisters who make us crazy, these are the ones you can't live with, and you can't live without. These are the brothers and sisters you wish would call more often and who talk too much on the phone. These are the brothers and sisters you fight with and who you sit down to dinner with. These are the brothers and sisters who drink too much, tell dirty jokes, and die much too early. These are the brothers and sisters who take care of your parents just like you do. These are the brothers and sisters who produce your nieces and nephews. These are the brothers and sisters who won't pick up their toys, who hit you in the back seat of the car, who want to watch a stupid movie when you're trying to watch your own stupid movie, these are the brothers and sisters you love no matter what. It's a good thing Love wins, because there are those days when loving your brothers and sisters is absolutely impossible. 

We don't pick our brothers and our sisters. There are those we wish were are brothers and our sisters, the ones we like, the ones we get along with, the ones we invite over for sleepovers, the ones who love us just the way we are. I'm really thankful for them, I call them friends. And, we count ourselves lucky when our brothers and our sisters are also our friends. But still, that's not what fruit bearing and following Jesus are really all about. Following Jesus is about what we do not only when it's easy and convenient, but what we do when it is not easy or convenient. Of course loving our brothers and sisters is about loving our brothers and sisters, but it is so much bigger than that. It is also about loving our brothers and sisters who live on this giant rock with us, because we are all related. 

Loving our brothers and sisters has everything to do with those we are related to by blood, and those we are related to by brokenness. And maybe that’s where we go so terribly wrong sometimes. Our forgetfulness gets the best of us. We forget that the state of humanity is brokenness; we forget that it is our vulnerability, our wounds, our scars, being made in God’s image, is what is at the core of our relatedness. We come here to remember, we come here to break bread, drink this wine from the grapes picked from the vine, we come here to be healed, we come here to be sent, we come here to love.

Following Jesus is about that relationship. Following Jesus is about gratefully acknowledging our creator God's relationship to us each and every day. Following Jesus is about gratefully acknowledging our connection to one another every day. Following Jesus is about finding the relationship between people, finding the connection between us and the other, finding the way to acknowledge one another's dignity and worth, even when that seems impossible. Following Jesus is being connected to this vine that gives us life. Because it is Love that wins, after all.   

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