This Week’s Sermon:
January 29, 2023: “Fourth Sunday after Epiphany”
From The Pastor
April 28, 2021, Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Easter
Today is April 28, Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Easter. My reflection today is on John 15:1-8, the Gospel text for this coming Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Easter. The other readings appointed by the lectionary for the Fifth Sunday of Easter are: Acts 8:26-40, Psalm 22:25-31, and 1 John 4:7-21. I will be preaching on the epistle reading from 1 John on Sunday, but intend today, Thursday, and Friday to give some attention to the other readings.
Scripture: John 15:1-8
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 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. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation “He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.”
You have probably noticed that today’s Scripture is the same one as last time. That is intentional. This is such an important reading that it bears a second look, and a third, and a fourth. I want to take a different angle on the reading today and ponder Jesus’ word set in highlight above. I invite you, along with me, to give it renewed attention.
This is a great time of the year when trees are beginning to bud, plants are flowering and grass is starting to turn green. The rebirth of nature gives us the lift we all need. After winter, our mood begins to change as we feel a new energy and juice within. This is the time of year when people put a great deal of work into their yards and gardens, raking out what is left of last year’s fallen leaves and dead twigs, bundling it all for the trash. Everything that is dead is removed to make way for new planting and fresh growth.
Is it possible that we who are now children of God will someday find ourselves like those broken branches or crumpled leaves that people put into bags? It is possible if we let ourselves be separated from Christ. Just as branches get separated from trees, we can become separated from the Lord. Jesus says that He is the true vine. A person who does not live in Him is like a withered branch ready for the fire.
Those leaves and branches that were once the glory of nature, the thrill of spring a while ago, are now an eyesore. They became separated from the source of life and died. When we become detached from our source of life, Jesus Christ, we die spiritually.
How do people become detached from the Lord? Seldom is it one dramatic moment when people turn from Christ. Usually, it is gradual as people begin to give way on small things, discarding what seem to be insignificant practices that then lead to the abandonment of more important ones. Then comes a moment when someone is coming to church, saying the words and singing the hymns with words that no longer speak from their heart. It is like singing a foreign national anthem. The words are alien and fail to invigorate. They express a faith that is no longer in our heart and is no longer a part of us. We have become cut off from the vine.
We need to stay in contact with the living Lord.
We do so through the community of the Church. Taking part in the life of the Church helps settle our personal spirituality, helps keep in check our spiritual individualism by hearing and dialoguing with others about what the living Lord is saying. It keeps us balanced.
We also stay in contact with the living Lord by nurturing our prayer life. We all need a personal prayer life. We call can have a personal prayer life. Worship on Sunday morning does not exhaust the spiritual life of a Christian. Corporate worship is our center but it should radiate into a daily routine of personal prayer.
A third way that we stay in contact with the living Lord is through the expression of our faith in works of charity toward others. This is how our faith influences our relationships, our work, and the causes in which we believe.
What about a person who has no contact with the Church, who seldom prays and whose claimed faith has absolutely nothing to do with how he or she lives life? Is such a person a dead branch?
If during this Easter season you have been somehow moved to pray more often, there is still life within you. If during this Easter season your conscience has spoken to you about changing your way of life, there is still life within you. If during this Easter season you have had the desire to set things right with the Church and others, there is still life within you. If during this Easter season there is an injustice in our world that you feel moved to address, there is still life within you. If during this Easter season you want to come closer to God, there is still life within you. If you want to begin again with the Lord, then you are not yet a dead branch. You are still connected, however tenuously, to the Vine.
Today’s Gospel is very much a Gospel of hope. This is a good time to learn from nature. Out of winter comes spring. Out of the winter of our soul, by God’s grace new life can begin to bud. And if we stay connected to the vine, we will bear much fruit, more than we ever imagine.
Living Lord, there is something in me that feels “cut off.” I don’t’ wish it to be so; I desire connection with you. There has been “winter” in my soul. I pray that by the Vine-Grower’s grace, I may be pruned for continuing health, begin to bud again in this place and time, and bear good fruit. . . .
“Ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”