2018-04-29/Easter 5-B/Community Lutheran/Rev. Joseph Vought
Jesus uses the symbol of the vine to speak of his life. He speaks these words to his disciples at the Last Supper, the night before he is cut down. But those who cut him down on Good Friday did not know the hidden power of the Vine. But God, the Vinegrower knows. Jesus, cut down on Good Friday has risen up to new life in the Garden of Easter. When the disciple’s lives had withered from fear and the sting of death this Vine named Jesus came to life and called them to life. The New Vine named Jesus is for the Greening of Disciples, the Growing of New Branches and for fruit to be born.
We know Vines will not bear fruit without pruning. Dead wood is taken away to keep the plant healthy and even healthy branches are cut so fruit may come. If God the Vinegrower can let his Vine be cut for new life, shall we not then trust the Vinegrower when pruning and discipline come into our lives? You know what I’m talking about. The pain that comes into our lives, takes our breath away, confronts us with the loss of loved ones, the inevitable changes that come with life. But we who live in the Vine have a power that all the cuttings and losses and will never overcome.
What we learn over time is that this life we think is our own, is not our own, it is a gift from God. Because we are rooted in Jesus, His death is our death. Because we are grafted into Him, His new life is our life. What we come to discover is that even through our losses, God, the Vinegrower, can help us grow again and bear fruit.
While visiting a public housing complex in Rome, Pope Francis visited with the neighborhood’s children. When Francis invited the children to ask questions, it was Emanuele’s turn. The young boy smiled as he approached, but then froze. “I can’t do it,” “Come to me, Emanuele,” the pope said. “Come and whisper it in my ear.” Emanuele was sobbing and Pope Francis enveloped him in a big embrace. With their heads touching, the pope and the boy spoke privately to each other before Emanuele returned to his seat. “If only we could cry like Emanuele when we have an ache in our hearts.” Pope Francis asked Emanuele if he could share his story with the others and he agreed. “‘A little while ago my father died. He was a nonbeliever, but had all his children baptized. He was a good man. Is my dad in heaven?'” Francis said, “What a beautiful witness of a son who inherited the strength of his father and the courage to cry in front of us. While he did not have the gift of faith, he had his children baptized. He had a good heart,” Pope Francis said. “God is the one who says who goes to heaven,” The next step in answering Emanuele’s question would be to think about what God is like. “What do you think? God has the heart of a loving father. Do you think God would cast him away? No, not at all, we are all God’s children.”
Good Pope Francis helped Emanuelle in his grief and sadness to believe again in God’s love. Jesus tells us true life is to be connected to the faith of a people and the story of a God who abides with us through all of the changes. Theologian Woody Allen said, “90% of life is just showing up.” This is what abiding in Christ means, it means being faithful and showing up. Jesus is asking us to abide and bear fruit, not just in the good times but in the hard times.
This past week a brave group of members from CLC who recently lost their spouses shared a meal and listened to each other. They shared their grief and pain, the pruning and loss that came upon them, they cared for each other with grace, even laughter as they kept the faith. Then another person shared with me their sadness of watching their children growing-up to leave the nest. Then this person looked at me and said, “So Pr. Joe I need you and Pr. Annabelle to help me find another ministry where I can share and bless others.” To be rooted in Christ is to show up and be faithful, to keep telling the story of Jesus and grow so that we may bear the fruit of justice, love and mercy not just here at CLC but in all the places we are planted. How can we pray and support each other through seasons of growth and pruning? How might we celebrate and rejoice together when we bear fruit?
So we stay connected to God and each other for as long as we live together. We are called to abide in Christ and love each other, to weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice. We are called to bear fruit in this place, to be a redemptive and healing presence not only CLC, but to love this community, to bless and share Christ’s love in ever widening circles It is to make our lives a banquet of praise and a harvest of thanksgiving for God and for the life and healing of the world. Amen