5th Sunday of Easter
May 3, 2015
Click on the link above to read the Scripture passage from Oremus Bible Browser.
A dear friend on the Gulf Coast, lost her 30-year old son to suicide this week, only a few weeks shy of the first anniversary of her mother’s death. It’s devastating, and her faith is shattered. I find myself at a loss for words, assuring her that I will be glad to carry her in prayer and in my own faith until she is strong enough to pick her faith up again. It’s just more bad news. Edna Hopkins’ dear little body is giving out, and her family is gathered at her side, reminding themselves of all the promises of God that have held them steady all these years. Baltimore has been ablaze and we are once again confronted with the difficulty of bringing justice into a situation so complicated that it’s hard to know who’s right and who’s wrong. The earthquake in Nepal has nearly destroyed another country with buildings not strong enough to survive such a tremor and a landscape that adds to the chaos of bringing aid quickly.
I wanted God’s Kingdom to come this week. I wanted that vision of God coming to be with us, the river of life streaming from God’s throne and the tree of life with the leaves for the healing of the nations to burst into my overloaded reality and broken heart and make all things new again. I wanted it to be now. But it didn’t happen. The healing I’m looking for seems to be destined to come a different way.
It’s possible that the pruning Jesus talks about feels like this, but I don’t think that’s where he’s going in this reading. A couple of key words in this reading make me think that this is about something much more hopeful and maybe even more challenging. The word ‘abide’ is a key word in John’s Gospel. It shows up everywhere, from the very beginning where it says that the Word dwelt among us to these chapters at the end of the Gospel in which Jesus promises not to leave his followers orphaned and that he is going to prepare a place for them. Even though the word is translated differently, it is the same word in the Greek.
Jesus’ last words to his disciples fill these late chapters of John, beginning here with the last of Jesus’ I AM sayings: I am the vine and you are the branches. Jesus centers himself as the vine that God has planted in the world – fruitful and carefully tended. It has been pruned and labored over so that every cluster of fruit has enough sun, enough shade to thrive and bear. Then he tells his followers that they have been pruned and tended in the same way through Jesus’ teaching and preparation for their future. “You are already cleansed. Abide in me, as I abide in you.” But the key is to remain grounded in the vine, Jesus himself, God’s great, fruitful gift to the world. “Apart from me you can do nothing.”
Rather than seeing this as an opportunity to decide who is being pruned and who is still abiding in Jesus so that they can thrive, I see this as containing marvelous promises for us and for the world we live in. We have been cleansed, pruned for greater abundance, we are connected organically to the Vine of God, Jesus himself. We are promised that whatever we ask for as we dwell in Jesus, God will provide, and that God is glorified by our thriving.
So here’s the point. It’s not that Jesus won us for God by dying on the cross. It’s that God already loved us so much that God came to live with us. The cross is the most powerful evidence that God would give anything to show how much we are loved. So now we know that God already knows the worst injustice and physical suffering. We know that God already knows the abandonment of friends and family. God already knows the loss of our most dearly beloved to cruel death. Poverty, illness, lack of opportunity – God knows it all and has healed it all, in Jesus. That is the fruit of God’s gift of grace to humanity: that no one ever has to suffer alone, thinking that no one understands. Because God can still embrace and encourage each person, and bring life from death, over and over and over again.
And now the gift of hope in God’s vine is passed on to us, the branches. Our invitation to be the branches of Jesus the Vine is not just to have our own wishes and desires met and answered, it is to be the message to the world of God’s love and healing for all people. We are Jesus now. We see the stories of the disciples as they go out into the world, illustrated by today’s magical story of Philip and the African. We can have the same magic, being in the right place at the right time to bear witness to God’s work in our lives. We can have the same magic when we care enough for the world to fight poverty, work for health, teach the next generation, serve and preside and participate in creating a better world.
I want to tell my friend that God knows her pain, I want to send helping hands to Nepal, I want to work for justice in my own community so that the kind of divisions that come from losing your own humanity and failing to appreciate the humanity of others doesn’t happen here. I want to put aside my own sadness, and be the fruit of hope. And I want to pray that God will keep me grounded in the love shown in Jesus, so that I can be part of Jesus’ unfinished work. Amen.