Sermon Easter 5B – ‘Abide in Me’

May 6, 2012 at 8:30 am Leave a comment

Sermon Easter 5B

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Ralph Milton, a gardener and blogger, wrote this story about his orchard;
a story very appropriate for today.
He writes,

“I’ll not soon forget the day Sax Koyoma pruned my fruit trees.
He lost patience with me and my timid pruning.
When he finished, my half-dozen trees looked desperately naked. And there were prunings all over my little orchard.

I was convinced my trees would never recover. But that summer they produced the best,
the sweetest, the largest, the most fruit ever.

“Sadly, Sax died in a tragic accident soon after that.
And I could never be quite as aggressive or as skilled when I did the pruning. When we’re thinking of the pruning metaphor in (the Gospel) passage,
it’s not a bit of timid snipping the writer is talking about.
The pruning that produces good fruit is aggressive and comprehensive. Every branch is pruned and pruned hard.

“I find it quite uncomfortable to think what that implies for me. For my church.”

When we think of images of Jesus,
‘the true vine’ does not leap instantly to mind.
‘The Good Shepherd’ is far more popular,
with its evocations of green pasture, still waters, being led.
If we took a poll whether we’d rather be a sheep in Jesus’ sheepfold
or a branch of Jesus the Vine,
I don’t doubt which we’d choose.
Jesus tells his disciples that every branch that is in him
(and pruned hard!) by his Father,
that a branch that does not remain in him is burned in the fire,
and that the branches are to produce good fruit.
There is something less comforting, more intense about being a branch of Jesus’ vine, then being a sheep in Jesus sheepfold.

And yet, we must remember that the images of Jesus’ relationship to us
are not mutually exclusive.
It is not that we are either the sheep of the good shepherd or the branches of the vine, We cannot be a sheep of the shepherd without being a branch of the vine,
and vice versa.
Both images speak to the power and will of our Lord Jesus.

 

The image of the shepherd speaks to the power and will of Jesus to keep us through every trial. The image of the vine speaks to the power and will of Jesus to accomplish his work through us.

The image of the vine and the branches evokes an understanding of an organic unity between us and Jesus.
Where does the vine end and the branch begin?
They are inseparable.

If they become separated, then the branch is no longer a branch, no longer able to drink deeply from the roots,
no longer able to blossom and bear the fruit of the vine.
In order for us to become the disciples we were created to be, we are called to abide in Jesus, to live in Jesus,

for our lives to be so closely intertwined with Jesus’ life that it is hard to say where his life ends and ours begins.

When we moved to Williamsport,
we had a tree along the street in front of our house.
When it bloomed in the spring,
horribly ugly ‘suckers’ appeared on the trunk of the tree.
The city had to come and cut it down,
and we had to have it replaced.
What I was told was that the tree had become infected,
and by the time the ‘suckers’ appeared, it was too late to prune it. The tree was useless and could not be saved.

The image of the vine and the vinegrower
helps us to understand that life in Jesus involves the pruning away
of everything that would sap the life-giving Spirit of Jesus in our lives.
The great comfort is that it is our loving Father who is the vinegrower.
If our lives are in need of painful pruning,
he does so not with an eye to destruction
but with the intent to purge us of whatever would keep us from abiding in the vine, whatever would keep us from producing the fruit of the kingdom.

Our world is full of messages:
avoid pain, embrace pleasure.
Avoid hard work, find the way of ease.
The image of the vine, the branches, and the vinegrower makes it clear that the Gospel of ease is a false Gospel. We will be challenged in our life of faith;
challenged by events over which we have no control, challenged to do things that we have never done,
to forgive people we do not wish to forgive,
to speak truth when a half-truth would be easier,

 

to endure suffering and yet believe.
We as Christians must and will go through difficult times,
times when it seems like we are stripped bare of any goodness,
when it seems as if we will never recover.
When these things happen,
God is not abandoning us,
rather let us remember that the loving Father prunes the branches he loves in order that they may flourish and bear fruit.

To bear fruit.
The image of the vine and the branches
calls us to the understanding that we are not simply sheep,
living a life of ease in a pasture full of grass.
Our lives are full of purpose.
And yet, the image also reminds us that the works we do are not ours, but Christ’s. He supplies all that is necessary for us.
Our lives are intertwined with Jesus’ life,
so that it is not we who act, but Jesus in us.
It is not our worth or lack of worth in the eyes of the world that is important,
but our worth in God’s eyes, as branches of his vine.
We do not focus our attention on what we do,
we focus our attention on Jesus, the True Vine,
whose Word has cleansed us,
who calls us to abide in the relationship he has created with us,
who will produce fruit from us that is perhaps invisible to our eyes.

Pastors have this experience, but lay Christians do as well:
those times when a person you don’t remember says,
‘Those words you said, that kindness you showed, that arm around my shoulder made such a difference.’
You don’t remember what you said or did –
you may not even remember the person.
All you know is that you were trying to live in Christ – to abide in him –
as he called you to do.
It made a difference.
Some of us get a glimpse of the fruit we bear in this life.
Some of us never do.
We believe Christ’s promise:
Those who abide in him bear much fruit.

Jesus says, ‘The branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine.’
I want to conclude this sermon with a story about an unfruitful branch separated from the vine, who yet by God’s grace bore fruit and flourished.
The Ethiopian eunuch had just come from Jerusalem, where he had been worshiping God.

 

He was a Gentile, and as such was an outsider, but even had he wished to convert to Judaism, the Old Testament law
regarding the uncleanness of men

with mutiliated or crushed genitals
prevented him from doing so.
He was unfruitful – in every sense of the word.
But through the preaching of Philip,
this as-good-as-dead man was brought to faith
that in Christ even he might become a branch of the True Vine,
receiving life from the One who is life itself.
If a branch can become separate from the Vine that gives life,
and in so doing become unfruitful,
it is also true that a dead branch may be grafted into the Vine that gives life,
and abiding in that Vine might produce the fruit of praise and thanksgiving.
It says ‘The eunuch went on his way rejoicing.’
We are tempted to think only of ‘helping others’ as bearing fruit.
Cannot simply rejoicing in God’s love in Christ be also the fruit that gives glory to him?

In your baptism, you, like that dead and unfruitful man,
have been grafted, like a branch, into the Vine that gives life. Abide in him, as he abides in you,
Let your life be a participation in his life,
so that your every word and deed
praises and honors him.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

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Review: In Constant Prayer Sermon Easter 6B

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