Christ the Vine

Grace be unto you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Today we hear in the Gospel of John, that Jesus is the true Vine, which if I understand it, means he’s the place where you can post video clips of the totes righteous sandwiches you are eating right now to share with your friends. For those of you that aren’t tech savvy, Vine is a web-service and phone app that is like twitter but with video instead of text. You get six seconds to tell your short video tale to the world! And you can share with all your friends, and you can even do stop motion tricks, and… And so what we learn today is, Jesus is the true place to send your video snippets??

OK, so maybe Jesus is not talking about the Vine App on your phone, he’s talking about vine that is a plant, grows grapes, and twirls beautifully around a trellis … I am not sure yet of all the theological implications if Jesus were really saying I AM the true video clip sharing service, but the association was too good to pass up.

Today’s gospel opens at a strange place in the narrative of Jesus’ life for an Easter day like this one. It is tempting to think the revised common lectionary made a random cultural association, like I just did, that really has no bearing on the rest of the sermon. This story, that we read on the Fifth Sunday of Easter occurs just before John’s passion narrative. This is when Jesus is saying his goodbyes to his disciples before his death! We already did Lent, and we’ve heard already about Jesus dying. Why are we reading this story now? Didn’t we get past that bit? But, there is some wisdom, I think, in hearing this story from an Easter perspective. Easter is the fulfillment of these words from John in our very hearing. Because Jesus’s metaphor about the vine and the branches is all about the promise that, even though Jesus dies, is risen, and ascends into heaven, we will not be left alone. This lenten goodbye discourse, is all about the abiding presence of Easter already breaking into our lives.

Listen again to these words of comfort: “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. 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. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

Wait, what? Did you say withering branches, that are thrown away into fire and burned? Vicar, you lied to me, you said this was going to be comforting! What if I don’t abide in the vine? That sounds terrible, I don’t want to be burned. I don’t want to wither and be thrown away! How’s this about Easter promises? I don’t know how to abide in a vine, or if I’m abiding enough, or if my friends in Baltimore are abiding or anywhere close to a vine. And now I’m thinking about burning things, and withering. And what’s the deal?

But now, it is important to remember again when it is that Jesus is saying these words. These are goodbye words. These are “I will always be with you” words. These are words like when ET’s finger glows and he touches Elliot’s heart and says “I’ll …be…. right… here.” These words can’t be words of judgement see, because they are words spoken to comfort those that you are leaving behind. They are meant to confront our fears of being alone, and to assure us that we won’t be. Just three verses past where our Gospel today ends, Jesus himself reminds us why he is saying these words: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be completed.” These ARE words of comfort, and they are words meant to bring us joy.

So what does Jesus mean then, by talking about withering branches and burning the castoffs with fire? My friends, these are not words of judgement, but practical words that describe the reality of life: we cannot do it on our own. Life doesn’t happen without a life source like a vine.

None of us are alone! None of us will be cast into the fire. We are all of us, baptized into the vine, the life-giving stem of Christ. And we can, and do depend on that stem for every good thing. What he means is, God doesn’t make an independent person, god makes people. There is no such thing as a grape that pulled itself up by its bootstraps and popped into existence without any vine or branches or soil or nothin’. Grapes only happen on vines. So, there is no such thing as a person apart from Christ. People only happen in community.

We all grow up dependent on God’s vineyard. The fact of abiding is, we depend on one another, and on Christ. And so do not be afraid to live, do not be afraid to rely on others! For this is the very freedom Christ gives: the freedom from having to worry about becoming grapes on our own. We no longer have to worry about the withering and self-sufficiency that our culture demands of us, because life is given to us freely! We do not need to find the strength within us to go on, after Christ’s death, because Christ abundantly gives us life on the vine with one another.

That’s what baptism is all about: God calls us each by name, and promises to tend us like a vine in God’s vineyard for all of our days. Today we celebrate the baptisms of Aubrey Lillian and Tobias Elijah and we will make a promise to them that they will not be alone. That we will walk with them in faith, that they are a part of this vine planted by God. And we will nurture them and share fruit with them. We will teach them the Lord’s prayer and the Ten commandments. We are not alone, we are the branches of a large family of God.

And so, when we look at the world and become afraid that Jesus is departing from us. When we see turmoil like the earthquake in Nepal and the unrest in Baltimore. When we are fearful, and feel alone. God promises to be there, nurturing us, tending to us, pruning us and making our joy complete. God will not abandon us, even and especially in the places that God seems most absent: God is there, in a gruesome death on a cross, God is there Nepal, and Baltimore. We have already been cleansed by the word Jesus spoke to us in our baptisms. And we abide in him, and he in us. This is the good news of the Lord: we are not alone.

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