May 2, 2021 Fifth Sunday of Easter The text is John 15:1-8.
[Jesus said:] 1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the readings this morning we encounter a phenomenon that doesn’t happen all that frequently. The Gospel lesson is from St. John and the Second Reading is the letter from 1 John. As is the case in a great majority of Scripture, we’re not really sure who the writers were of each of these texts. But it is thought that 1 John, the letter may have been the product of a single writer or group effort from the members of a faith community who were striving to foster a greater understanding of the Gospel of St. John. The letter seems to be an attempt to reinforce the theological themes found in the gospel.
The many references to John’s gospel and the intent to highlight and support the testimony found in it leads most theologians to conclude that there is strong connection between the gospel and the letter. In both, the main theme is the reassurance that we are loved by God; and loved by, and connected to, Jesus. And, also that this understanding of these divine connections with us extends to all the world; we cannot love God without loving our neighbors.
And one of the words most often found in both gospel and letter is, “abide”. The Greek word for abide is, “meno”, and it translates as several different English words; to live in, to dwell, remain, to last, to endure. This word for “abide” appears 116 times in the Bible; 60 of those are in the Gospel of John. While Jesus speaks in the gospel to the relationship he has with us in the metaphor of the vine and the branches, the letter of 1 John expands this to the love that God has for the Son, and for us. Jesus states rather simply that he abides in us and we in him. (We live in Christ and Christ lives in us). 1 John wants to be certain that the readers of the gospel are fully immersed in the deeper meaning of this rather straightforward allegory. The concept of vine and branches that Jesus espouses seems fairly clear-cut; we cannot flourish if we are disconnected from Jesus, if we allow ourselves to be pruned from the central vine.
This metaphor of Jesus as vine and people as the branches which thrive by being joined to him is part of a larger speech that Jesus is giving to his disciples. It’s a portion of his “Final Discourse”, the address he gives them as he prepares to depart from them, as he makes his way to Jerusalem and the cross. It’s a bit strange that this reading is selected for the Easter season, since we are in the midst of celebrating the resurrection. But, it’s also part of that we need to remember about our relationship with Christ. And Jesus felt it was essential that the disciples grasped this concept of “abiding” in him, and he in them; so much so, that he tells them that apart from him they are unable to accomplish anything. And as we’ve discovered, the writer of 1 John found it necessary to drive the point home for those to whom the letter was penned; and ultimately, this notion of all-around abiding is meant for us to comprehend.
It’s only by our “abiding in”, that is, our living in intertwined relationship with God and Christ are we able to experience fully abundant lives. These are a few verses from both the letter and the gospel: “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them”. “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you”.
If we weren’t sure that it was important for us to abide in God and God in us; for Christ to abide in us and we in him; between the letter and the gospel, the message is driven home pretty hard. So, we ought to ask ourselves, are we fully immersed in, do we live in, do we abide in Jesus, and he in us? Let’s take a look at this question from a secular perspective, from the way we behave in the world. What are many of us devoted to? What defines us? What do we live for? What do we truly allow to abide in us? We’ve all seen sports fanatics paint their faces with their team’s colors. Binge-watching a TV series has become the newest thing. People become so devoted to the acquisition of wealth that their jobs become all-important; often to the point where they lose touch with their spouse and kids. There is now a psychological disorder known as “social-media addiction”. These are a few of the things the world finds itself abiding in, to its detriment.
None of these, if they were taken from us would have real effect on our lives; we may be upset at being cut-off from them, but when all is said and done, we would be fine. But what would happen if we allowed ourselves to be disconnected from Jesus, if we found ourselves as branches pruned off the vine? For the vine that is Jesus is what provides our roots; through abiding in Christ, we derive our meaning, our purpose. The team, job, Netflix, and Twitter may fade away, but the love of Christ is eternal.
Over the last year-and-a-half we have endured a forced pruning of sorts; we haven’t shared coffee fellowship, there has been no hand-shaking during the sharing of the Peace, and we miss seeing the smiling faces of our siblings in Christ, hidden behind masks. All this begs the question; as the pandemic eases and the world emerges from the long, dark winter of the virus, what form will the vine and branches take? What will “church” look like? Will God’s people yearn to come together as agents of the gospel? Will we rush to find more and better ways to serve others as Christ’s hands and feet? Will the longing to be attached to the vine that is the love of God be what builds up the body of Christ? Will we all find that what we hold in common far outweighs that which divides us? Will the vineyard thrive? Will those who abide in Jesus remain connected, will those branches indeed bear abundant fruit?
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and Holy God, abide in us, your children. Comfort us with the knowledge that your love for us is unending, and help us to love others in response to your love for us. And we pray these things in the name of the risen Jesus, the vine to which we are eternally grafted. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.