The Fifth Sunday of Easter (5/10/2009)
Lessons: Acts 8:26-40 Psalm 22:25-31 1 John 4:7-21 St. John 15:1-8
Prayer of the Day: O God, you give us your Son as the vine apart from whom we cannot live. Nourish our life in his resurrection, that we may bear the fruit of love and know the fullness of your joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
15:1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
St. Mark 15:1-8 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
The people of Jesus' day knew what a vineyard was all about. Vineyards were scattered around Palestine - clearly visible to anyone who was out and about in those days. Small vineyards were located near the outlying villages; larger operations were run near major towns by wealthier landowners. But in each of the vineyards the same care and attention was given to the vines. Those branches that were well connected to the main vine, and that produced the desired fruit, were pruned in order to produce even more fruit. Branches that didn't produce - branches whose stems were empty, or held fruit unacceptable to the wine makers - those branches were cut off of the vine, discarded in a pile to dry out, and eventually destroyed by fire.
To the people of Jesus' day, the point was clear. Every branch of a vine is intended to bear fruit, and to support the purpose of its owner. Key to success was being connected to the vine. A strong and vibrant connection led to a healthy and productive branch, and the kind of fruit that pleased the owner. A weak and ineffective connection led to a dying or unproductive branch, resulting in the displeasure of the owner and the eventual death of that branch.
So too with our human family. Those among us with a strong and vibrant connection to our source of life, the God who is made known to us in Jesus Christ, live in ways that are healthy and productive (and faithful), and are a pleasure to the One who created us. Those among of us with a weak and ineffective connection to God live in ways that are far less faithful than what God expects of us, and lead to death: even the death of our souls.
What is the difference between these two types of branches? Between these two types of humans? The word Jesus uses is "remain" - or, in the Greek, "meino." This is one of St. John's favorite words. Of the 112 times it is used in the Bible, 66 of those instances are in St. John's Gospel. He makes it clear that for those branches and humans who "remain" connected with their source of life, there is a richness and a depth and a faithfulness in living that is experienced in no other way.
Perhaps that is why God commands us to practice the ancient and sacred discipline of Sabbath. Perhaps that is why it comes to us not as a suggestion, but as a strict demand (and with great consequences for those who break it - if you don't believe me, check out Exodus 31:14). Perhaps that is why the church, throughout the ages, has challenged its participants to be regular in the discipleship habits of worship, prayer, Bible study, and meditation. These are the means by which we nurture our connection to the life source we know as Jesus Christ. These are the means by which we keep our spirits strong, our hope alive, and our commitment to discipleship sure. These are the gifts of God that welcome us into the life of the spirit, and we ignore these gifts to our own peril.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week's Gospel:
- Why was God's expectation that ancient Israel spend time in Sabbath so intense?
- What were the implications when ancient Israel was unfaithful? When they were faithful?
- How does Jesus' image of the vine and the branch help us better understand the need to stay well connected with God?
Connecting with This Week's Gospel:
- How has Sabbath time been part of the weekly (or daily) rhythm of my life?
- How will I use the increased flexibility of the summer months to find more Sabbath time?
- How might I invite others (my family, my friends, my colleagues) to join me in Sabbath time?