5th Sunday of Easter
May 6, 2012
John 15: 1-8
“It’s the community,” they say. When I ask people why they have come to worship with us, they give me plenty of reasons. Often, they have been thinking about coming back to church after a long absence. Sometimes, there is a liturgical tradition in their background. But always there is our sense of community on their list. They have been greeted and welcomed, they have felt invited to participate at some level that made them at home in this worshipping community.
Now, I don’t want you to get a swelled head and start congratulating yourself on how wonderfully out-going and welcoming you are. Reaching out with the Good News is always on-going work, and you know that the smiles and welcomes that you offer is because you find yourself lifted up by the Good News yourself. And you also know the power of the Gospel to touch the hearts of those God has called to come to worship and that anything you do is merely part of that call – and part of your own call to be God’s people in this place.
It’s that connection to Jesus that we live out here, however imperfectly, that we find in our Gospel lesson this week. Remember that this teaching of Jesus happens in his final time with his disciples. It takes place after he washes their feet and shares a final meal with them. He begins to prepare them to continue his work without him.
If you are a gardener, or have ever nurtured growing things, you know that certain conditions are necessary. Good soil, sunshine, continuous water – not too much, but never too little, either – and proper tending. You have to know how much to trim or discipline, and how much encouragement is needed to get the best results. Jesus envisions the connections for his people that he has with his own Father. Eugene Peterson, in his translation of The Message puts these words in Jesus mouth: “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.” That ‘abiding’ in Jesus as he abides in us, and as the Father abides in him is the key to the conditions that make things happen. “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”
If you ever tended a vine, you will notice that it’s hard to separate each branch from the others. They weave and interweave together. That is the vision of community Jesus imagines. Each of us is individually connected to Christ, but each of us in deeply embedded in a community with embodies Jesus presence in the world. Paul talks about the individuality of the gifts of believers when he envisions the community as the body of Christ: one an ear, one a hand or foot or eye, but all working together to create a complete manifestation of Christ. Jesus rather sees individuals woven into one thriving whole. The only distinction is the pruning and discipline of the vine-grower to accomplish a bountiful harvest. Some branches will be cut back, some will be lifted into the sun, some will be bound to the supports to provide a good foundation for the rest.
Every gardener, every parent, every manager knows that training and discipline and pruning are necessary for successful results. I never thought about the feelings of my plants when I deadhead the first flowers to make the bush fill out. But I have heard the whining and sense of deprivation when I had to tell a child NO, or deliver the consequences of their poor choices.
Listen to the writer of Hebrews on discipline: “Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart…and you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children – ‘my child do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him, for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts’….now discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
I do not believe that God makes bad things happen to us to teach us a lesson, and I am offended when well-meaning friends offer this kind of explanation for a tragedy of hope or for some great loss in my life. But I do believe that God is always at work training, saving, redeeming the circumstances of our lives to accomplish something good for us and for the world when bad things happen to us.
Here is love for us. That God came in person, the person of Jesus Christ, to share our humanity with us, to overcome the evil that obstructs vibrant life for us, to rise from death to new life for us, the first fruit of God’s intention for our lives, too. We do nothing to deserve this love, and so nothing we do will ever take it away from us. God’s love is constant and powerful and forgiving and the source of peace for all people. We have only to live in it to know its joy and freedom. Hear the promise of this love: “if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” So you are free now to be that loving community that greets and welcomes all who come to find the joy and peace we share here. Let this be the beginning of the fruit we bear as God’s own vine.
Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.