A sermon for 3 May 2015 – 5th Sunday of Easter

John 15:1-8  (NRSV scripture included below.)

On this fifth Sunday of Eastertide, we’re again in a part of the gospel that comes before Jesus’ death and resurrection. In fact, this is a part of his infamous monologue spoken during that last supper together, after he has washed their feet and given his disciples the new command that they love one another as he has loved us. Judas already has left them to do the deed he was up to and the rest remain – a bit puzzled and perhaps frightened as Jesus talks of going away from them. Certainly he was trying to comfort them and even give them direction for the days yet to come. . . . Listen for God’s word to us in a reading of John 15:1-8.

“’I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 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.’”

This is the word of God, for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

Dr. Oz declared it a few months back – at least I think it was him I heard proclaiming one afternoon that no longer is saturated fat our number one enemy. It’s sugar. Sugar. Good thing we don’t have fellowship coffee after worship today with all the yummy sweets that tempt us from that table. It was confirmed for me again this past week as I read a book on women’s health that stated: “It’s cellular breakdown that produces the physical changes we associate with aging, from wrinkles to minor aches and ailments.” The book stated: “The physical deterioration occurs in large part because of the accumulation of toxins, which results in cellular deterioration and damage along with tissue and organ breakdown.” It was explained that: in addition to the toxins released in our system when under too much stress, sugar is the number one cause of such toxins so that: “the candy bar, cupcake, or glass of wine (we often mindlessly grab) can spike (our) insulin, and . . . cause damage to LDL (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol) . . . (until) it ends up glued to the walls (of our blood vessels), forming plaques that create restrictions and, eventually, increased risk for Alzheimer’s, diabetes, arthritis, heart attack, and stroke” (Goddesses Never Age, Christiane Northrup, p. 29-30, 32-33). One way to prevent such a fate is to cut out – or at least cut down – the refined sugar and increase the consumption of fruit. Luscious strawberries. Juicy apples. Packed-with-potassium bananas. Peaches and pineapples and the one that’s really good for us: kiwi. Imagine how it would be if the next time your sweet tooth kicks in you seek to drown your sorrows by indulging in a bowl-full of freshly picked blueberries. Fruit. And not the kind that comes from a can. But plucked right out of your own backyard or fresh from the produce section at the market. Fruit does our bodies o so very good!

Jesus knew too the importance of fruit. At least according to this reading from the gospel of John. He’s speaking primarily to those from the fertile soil of Galilee where all sorts of wonderful fruits grow: figs, melons, and the favorite: grapes. Grapes from the vine are one of the top fruits of Galilee so that Jesus easily can use the metaphor of a vineyard to get across his point. In fact, one source claims: “Mentioned more than any other plant in the entire Bible, the grape vine was very important culturally and economically in biblical times.” Grape vines were so central in everyday life that the ancient prophets often spoke of the fruitful vine as obedient Israel and the empty vine as a symbol of Israel’s unfaithfulness (www.bibleplaces.com/grapevines-vineyards.htm). It should come as no surprise that any vinegrower would want sumptuous, prolific grapes. Huge clusters of them, like the ones the Hebrew spies first saw in the land of Canaan – so big that the abundant fruit had to be carried back during that scouting expedition on a stick between two men (Ibid.). Fruit – fresh from the vine. Jesus is telling his disciples about the process of production they know so very well. The one he expects – especially now before his crucifixion when he will be going away from them. The seamless connection from vine to branch to fruit that brings great delight every time the vinegrower sees such abundance. It takes cutting back the branches to keep them producing – pruning so that more and more and more fruit comes. Pruned branches that remain on the vine will give forth a hundred-fold. Such marvelous fruit!

Jesus is making it very clear that as his own, we’re here in this world to produce fruit. Luscious, wonderful, life-giving fruit! . . . Now, it’s obvious that literal grapes aren’t the fruit that are supposed to come forth from our lives. Rather, the fruit that does the world o so very good is love. Like the kind of love he sums up in the new command he gives that mirrors the way he abides in the love of God – so we likewise are to abide in the love of the Risen Christ. Looking to the Apostle Paul in Galatians, we get a bit more of the texture of this fruit, love, which we are to bear. The fruits of the Spirit, which abound when we dwell in Christ and Christ dwells in us: “joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). All are particular aspects of the fruit of love. . . . I saw a glimmer of such fruit in a scene from Baltimore this week. Believe it or not! In the midst of all the other unrest, there’s a picture of a middle-aged African American women walking right up to the police barricade handing bottles of water to those who have to be a little bit tired and maybe even a little bit afraid as they stand there in the midst of the chaos doing their jobs. I don’t know what motivated that woman to carry out such an act of compassionate generosity – such thoughtful gentleness – such love in the midst of such bitter divides – but it certainly looks like a faithful fruit-bearer to me.

Imagine what it would take to make such a stand. To abide so fully in Christ that you would walk right up to a police barricade in the middle of a boiling outbreak of racial conflict. . . . He gives us the answer of how. How to bear the kind of often counter-cultural fruit this world desperately needs. All we need to do is remain in him. To linger long in his love. The epistle from John reminds us well that “God is love and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16b). In other words, remain in love – soaking deeply in it. One sure way to keep ourselves in Christ and thereby ready to be fruit-bearers in this world is to be about the things that fill us with love. Is it reading the beautiful poetry of the Psalms? Or maybe writing your own love poems to God? Is it singing praises in the choir or sitting in quiet prayer? Maybe it’s the kind of things that fill us up with love but far too often have been overlooked as legitimate ways that we dwell in God’s love. Things like spending time with a grandchild or listening to a brilliant symphony. Cooking a delicious meal or connecting on a deep level with friends. Maybe just sitting outside in the beauty of this world or handing out food bags in our Food Bank on Fridays. What is it that fills you up with love from the top of your head to the tip of your toes? Do that – aware that as you do, you are dwelling in God and God in you; for God is love. Joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control will follow. Daily – like a practice we do until it just becomes natural. When we hang out each day in that which we love, God who is love is with us; in us; and will burst forth from us. Our lives will be an abundance of such fruit when we daily immerse ourselves in that which we love. We’ll be branches beautifully connected to the True Vine – producing an outpouring of sustenance for all in this world. Abundant, nutritious, life-giving fruit!

The next time your sweet tooth kick in and you reach instead for that fresh produce; let it be the symbol that reminds you: we’re here to bear fruit!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

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