The Sunday Sermon: The Fifth Sunday after Easter
+In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus said “I am the Vine, my Father is the vine grower.” And again he said, “I am the Vine, you are the branches.”
Like last week, when Jesus taught us the Good News using the images of the Good Shepherd and his Sheep, we again find our Lord using analogy and metaphor to describe his relationship to us his followers. And again, he uses an image that the everyday folk of Palestine could understand.
In his day, Jesus could take for granted that his listeners knew about vines and vineyards. In our day, though, there are a few things which it might be helpful to point out.
- The branches receive their nourishment from the vine.
Jesus tells us that we need to be and remain connected to him in order to have life. Getting connected to Jesus and staying connected to him is perhaps the most important thing we can go in our lives. Through him we receive grace upon grace to carry us through this life and to bring us to the salvation which he offers us. We can never underestimate the love and the power that God wants to pour into us in our times of trouble. His grace is sufficient to overcome all the negative powers of fear and anxiety and hurt, pain and suffering that come against us to snatch us away. Over and over again, indeed, we read in scripture, that God allows these times of trouble, not creates them but allows them, to test and to purify our faith in him. But the only way we can tap into that grace is by remaining connected to Jesus the vine, through whom we receive that Grace infused to us by the awesome power of the Holy Spirit.
And how do we get connected? Well, first off, through baptism. In our first lesson, we read of St. Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. In this little vignette, Philip approaches the chariot of the Eunuch who is reading through the Scriptures. And he asks Philip about the meaning of the passage he is reading – the Fourth Suffering Servant Song in Isaiah 53. Philip in answer to the eunuch inquisitive spirit, gives him the Good News of Salvation in Christ. And when Philip is done the eunuch asks to be baptized. He asks to be made part of the vine of Christ and an inheritor of the Kingdom of God. And so Philip baptizes him – making him with you and me a child of the Kingdom of God.
And so in the first place, our baptism in Christ connects us to the vine. But how do we remain in the vine?
First, we must have a desire to remain connected. Our hearts, inspired by the Holy Spirit, must want to be connected to Christ.
Secondly, the Church offers the space to worship God in spirit and truth through the hearing of his Word read and proclaimed and the receiving of the sacraments– outward and visible signs of God’s promise of Grace – and sure and certain means by which he gives us that grace into our hearts.
But we must approach and receive these sacraments rightly – we must receive them with hearts that seek the grace of God, so that we may bear fruit and give glory to him.
- The Second thing we need to remember about vines and branches is that the branches are only good to the gardener is they bear fruit.
So, if we receive these gifts from God’s altar any other reason than bearing fruit for the Kingdom so that we may give glory to God and remain connected to him, then in a real sense we fail to take heed to Saint Paul’s warning to discern the Body before we receive the Blessed Sacrament.
God’s purpose for us is that we bear fruit – and if I may expand a little on Jesus’ metaphor, the bread which we break and the cup which we share here today, are spiritual means keeping us connected to the vine and the food which nourishes us to produce good fruit.
But there is another process in the bearing of fruit- and that process happens in our day to day lives as we go out from this place fed and nourished by God’s Word and Sacraments. And that process is the process of pruning the branches. That process happens to us out in the world. It is the process of God removing from us all that is not of him: Pride, arrogance, hypocrisy, envy, hatred, malice. All those negative parts of our lives, those negative attitudes and behaviors which are not the way which God wishes us to live our lives.
Sometimes that process of pruning can hurt a little. As our Lord told Saint Paul when he began pruning him on the road to Damascus: it hurts to kick against the Goads.
Each of us can probably think of times in our lives when we were straying from God’s will and God trimmed us back a bit. Maybe it was a taste of humble pie. Maybe it was an even more emotionally tumultuous event. But I’m sure if we look back on some of those events, maybe not all, but at least some, in hindsight we can see how God was pruning away some of the branches so that the Good Fruit bearing parts of our lives could grow and flourish.
Jesus said- Those who abide in me bear much fruit. In his letter to the Galatians – Paul tells us what those fruits are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
May we turn our hearts to him in worship today, seeking to be grafted in and remain branches of the vine, producing the fruits of the Kingdom of God. Amen.