Sermon Easter 5B

May 10, 2009 at 4:46 pm Leave a comment

What’s a metaphor?

It’s for cows to graze in.

It’s an oldie, but a goodie.

The Gospel of John uses a variety of metaphors for Jesus

and to describe the relationship between Jesus and his disciples.

“I am the bread of life,”

“I am the way, the truth, and the life,”
“I am the gate for the sheep,”

“I am the good shepherd,”

and today we hear another,

“I am the vine, you are the branches.”

This metaphor, this figure of speech, this self-designation

is particularly important for us,

as we consider what Christ desires of us, his disciples, his followers.

But using this metaphor of vine and branches,

what is it really that we are supposed to do?

It seems a static image,

a metaphor which gives us a picture of life

but not an example to follow.

What does a branch do, after all?

Not much.

A good branch hangs on to the vine from which it receives its life.

And that’s what we’re supposed to do, too.

“Abide in me,” says Jesus,

“Live in me, stay connected to me.”

It looks static, but the dynamism is hidden.

When you were in your mother’s womb,

you had a cord which connected you to her,

a cord through which flowed life-giving oxygen

and vital nutrients

so that you might live without breathing or eating.

When you were born,

that umbilical cord was cut,

but your navel is silent witness that you were utterly dependent upon another creature.

And even when that cord was cut,

we still were dependent, to be washed, to be fed, to be taught.

No matter who our mothers were or are,

through them God nourished us and gave us life,

and because of this he commands that they be honored.

The term “navel-gazing” is usually used in a negative fashion,

a criticism of those who are always looking inward.

It is meant to be a put-down indicating that those who look inward

are self-focused rather than God-focused.

But I’d like to suggest a different kind of navel-gazing today,

one which highlights our dependence not only in the womb,

but outside of it as well.

Many of us will go to dinner today to celebrate Mother’s Day.

Or perhaps you will go home and prepare a meal.

When you do, don’t just thank God for the food,

thank him for the people.

Think of how dependent we still are,

upon those who planted the seeds or picked the fruit or tended the livestock,

upon those who transported it and those who prepared it

and those who brought it to us.

The simple fact of the matter is that without these people doing their jobs,

we don’t eat.

Without God’s gift to us of these people,

we starve to death.

It is something to believe that God gives us life, love, and nourishment;

it is something more to believe that it is through other people

God gives us life, love, and nourishment,

and that those other people,

whether they be mothers or fathers or strangers,

deserve our thanksgiving and love and care as we would give to God

were he standing before us.

To navel-gaze in this fashion,

or to let one’s belly button serve as a reminder

that as once we were connected to and dependent upon our mothers

for life and nourishment,

so too we are connected to and dependent upon others still,

even while we stand on our own two feet,

may also serve to remind us that as disciples of Christ,

we are connected to and dependent upon him.

On Thursday and Friday I was in Wellsboro for the annual bishop’s retreat.

The speaker’s topic was on the spiritual life of pastors.

He encouraged pastors to have a spiritual life.

Actually praying, not just a long list of needs and wants,

but actually praying and experiencing God’s love for them through prayer.

It was a good presentation, and I’m very glad we had it.

But how did we get to this point in the Church

where pastors who have been through years of theological study

and have years and even decades of parish experience

have to be led through the basic steps of having a prayer life?

It is as if at a chef’s convention they taught them how to eat.

Or offering a course to adults called “Breathing 101,”

how to get life-giving oxygen from the very air which surrounds you.

How did we get to this point in the life of the Church

where the people who are supposed to be teaching people how to pray

are being encouraged to take the drastic step of taking time for prayer?

I think it is because we have absorbed so uncritically the message of our culture

that we are justified by what we do and how much we do

that we have to be reminded to pray.

And I think it is because we have forgotten that in all things

we are dependent upon God and our neighbor

that so many Christians, not just pastors, but Christians, burn out.

What does a branch do?

Not much.

It hangs on for dear life to the vine,

upon which it depends for nourishment.

The storms come and the winds blow,

as they did last night,

and the dead branches splinter and fall,

but the living branches hang on to the vine

and stay connected.

“Abide in me, as I abide in you,” Jesus says,

and this command is also a promise

that in his own time and in his own way

the living Christ indeed will produce his own fruit in those who abide.

One of the things which our presenter mentioned during our sessions

was a study he had either read somewhere or conducted himself.

Those people who reported that they were very satisfied with their spiritual lives

generally had four things in common.

They worshiped regularly in a community,

they read the Scriptures regularly, whether privately or with a study group,

they had regular times of prayer,

and they practiced generous giving.

God is gracious to everyone,

God is loving to everyone,

but the people who understood that,

who realized that he was gracious and loving not to people in general

but to them specifically,

were people who saw their main task as a Christian

as hanging on to and living in Christ,

as a branch hangs on to and lives in its vine.

Why come to church?  You don’t accomplish anything here –

why read the Bible?  It’s not a how-to book.

why pray?  It’s not a sure-fire way to get what you need or want

why give?  You can’t control where the money’s going.

But all of these acts are acts of dependence, of trust.

Jesus says, “Abide in me, as I abide in you.”

“I am the vine, you are the branches.”

“Without me, you can do nothing.”

“Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”

We all have long to-do lists,

but what we might need most of all is a to-be list:

Be a branch, connected to the vine,

abide in Christ, live in Christ.

Receive his nourishment,

shelter in his protection,

and indeed he will produce his fruit in his time for his glory.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!


Entry filed under: Sermons. Tags: .

Sermon 4 Lent – March 22, 2009 Sunday Worship – It’s Not About Us!

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