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Easter 5, Common Lectionary Year B

John 15:1-8

©2014 Rev Elisabeth R. Jones

What a relief it is to come in here this morning,
to find a familiar, welcoming place in the pews,
in this community of faith and welcome,
to chat with church friends,
and to hope that the Scripture, and the preacher
have a healthy dose of Good News for this morning.

What a relief to relish this rich visual metaphor from the lips of Jesus;
“I am the Vine, you the branches,
God the vine-grower!”
If you’ve spent any time in wine growing regions, this image is bucolic!
Sun-drenched rows of vines,
gnarly root stock pushing from parched ground
and producing unimaginably lush leaves,
and hanging heavy beneath,
all this big juicy, fruitful abundance.
What a relief to hear Jesus promise,
“Abide in me, stay grafted to me, the Vine, and all will be well.”

Except, dear Jesus, all is not well.
The bad news is relentless,
with natural disasters,
and social mayhem on every continent,
and the bad news is personal for so many of us.
Fracturing families, job loss,
dwindling pension, aging bodies,
illness, insecurity, meaninglessness,
leaving us unpinned, disconnected,
cut-off, cast aside.

All is not well.
So, is it really “Good News” to imagine ourselves as branches of Christ the Vine?
What difference will this make to the world’s pain, or our own?

Good questions, and we will have to work a bit,
reading not just the words,
but reading the context of them.

I introduced the Gospel text by asking you to imagine the day these words were spoken;
the Last Supper, the night of his arrest.
Now I want to go a step further,
and ask you to imagine not them,
but you, us,
at the table.

(Can I have a couple of disciples, help me make this more graphic?)

Jerusalem is in ferment;
it always is at Passover;
Passover agitates the Zealots
who’d love to oust the government,
the soldiers are heavy handed,
pepper spraying teenagers
and threatening with their anonymous,
face-shielding riot gear.

Notice the pain and sorrow clouding Jesus’ eyes.
He knows he’ll not survive this Passover,
arrest will lead to death.
And here are his friends.
He grew up with some of them;
others became soul-brothers along the way, closer than kin;
these are the women and men who have entwined their lives with his,
grafted themselves along with him
to his particular incarnation of the Dream of God.
He is fearful for them. What will happen to them?
Will they be cut off, left rootless, to wither, or worse, thrown into hellfire?

So he talks.
“Don’t be troubled.” He begins.
(One of those spellbinder talkers was Jesus,
could spin a soul-weaving from earth and sheep,
and widow’s mite, and brothers and mothers,
and potter’s clay.)

“Don’t be troubled.
They’ll kill me, we know that,
but don’t be troubled.”

Don’t be troubled?
Of course we’re troubled!
We have no clue how we’ll carry on,
through the mess of the world,
with only the fading memory of his words,
his ways, his wisdom, his Spirit…
Now, watch as he swills the cup,
drinks and puts it down,
and stares you in the eye,
with a glint and a vision in his own:

“Hey, Simon, John, Batholemew,
Hey Terry, Bob, Hey Angie, Elsa,
I am the Vine!!
You are the branches!
We’re like this,
grafted, entwined, rooted,
knotted, clipped and pruned.
You aren’t branches without me, this rootstock!
And me? There’s no fruit unless you are the branches!”

And God, Abba, Our Father, our Mother,
She is the Vine-grower.
He grafts and prunes and clips and guides,
She tills the soil and clears the weeds,
waters the ground,
all so you can be the branches,
and I can be the vine
and so that together we can grow a harvest of such goodness, sweetness, joyfulness,
abundance, love, healing, care, justice, compassion, that the world will change!”

And for this moment,
this wine-sweet moment,
in an upper room,
with the dogs of hell baying just outside the door,
we believe, we trust..,
we are the branches, Christ is the Vine,
the world will change because of him, because of us.

Thank you (to those who stood and helped).

There’s a second context for this text;
it is the community that wrote and shaped the Gospel of John,
a community of Greek speaking Jews,
living 20 years after the devastation of Jerusalem by Rome.
Again, let’s imagine ‘they’ are ‘us’.
Though born in the faith of Abraham,
we have come to believe in Jesus.
The Incarnate Word, we call him;
God’s Dream in flesh and bone.
We’re sitting in this courtyard,
a welcome sanctuary
from the aching grind of life on the margins as a beleaguered minority,
who because of our faith, are now banished from the synagogue,
cut-off from our families, and even our livelihoods.
We feel like branches cast on the fire!
Some of us wonder if it’s worth it;
if Jesus ended up on a cross, so might we…

Into the gathering an old woman comes,[1]
opens a scroll, clears her throat and says,
“Who will read this story I’ve written, of the night before Jesus died?”

Hand a text and a microphone to voice in front row.

And one of you takes the scroll and reads:

‘After he’d broken bread, and shared the cup,
and told his followers to do this
in remembrance of him,
he looked at them all and said,
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled.
I am the Vine, you the branches,
God is the Vine-grower.
Abide in me, stay grafted in me,
as I abide, always in you,
so that together we can bear the fruit of the Gospel.
Stay true to the Dream of God.”

They did, didn’t they, these beleaguered people?
They stayed true, they lived the Dream,
they walked the Way of Christ,
and they passed on the stories,
generation to generation to generation,
from sanctuary to sanctuary to this one.
We’re here because they stayed grafted in the Vine, and God in Christ abided,
stayed grafted in them.

Now I know that for some of us,
this claim is a big stretch;
a theological claim that matters not a whit
in the real world.
For me it does matter,
more and more each passing year,
as I see so much of the world trying to muddle along with no Dream,
no roots, no vine, no anchor,
no way, no faith, no Story.

Seeing, or believing that Jesus Christ
is God’s love in flesh and bone
is proof enough, for me,
that God’s deep love
is about choosing to abide,
to be joined, grafted,
to the pain and peril of our world, no matter what.[2 ]
When I despair of the world,
when I am feeling cut off, disconnected,
cast down, thrown to the fire,
it is Good News to me to know that
I, we, all of us here,
are branches, that Christ is the Vine,
and that God is the Vine-Grower.
That we


[1] Authorship of the Johannine Gospel was likely male, but given that scholars conclude from layers within the text, that it is a compilation of various materials, I’m ‘midrashing’ a gap to surmise that some women may have been among the compositors of the Gospel.

[2] See David Lose, In the Meantime post for Easter 6B. There has [sic] been countless voices over the centuries that argue that the cross is some kind of mechanism by which God finds a way to forgive us despite how wretched we are. Frankly, I think most of that theologizing is pious bullshit, ….If the cross means anything, I think it means that God chose not to sit back in heaven, removed from the pain and paucity of our mortal, free, and difficult life in this world, but rather came in Christ to be joined to it – the ups and downs, the hopes and disappointments, the frailties and faults of our life in this world – so that we would know of God’s unending commitment to us. The cross was not the instrument that made it possible for God to love us, the cross is evidence and testimony to just how much God already loved us and God’s promise to be with us through all things.

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