1 John 4:7-21
Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
It was the winter of 2001 and I was on the year round staff at Camp Calumet Lutheran up in Freedom, New Hampshire. That Sunday at worship, I was in charge of the sermon. The text was about being connected, so I had this great idea, that I would ‘receive’ a phone call from God, during the sermon and that God would then want to be connected with all those who were with me. So after the ‘phone call’ I called upon someone and threw a ball of yarn to them, as I held on to one end….thus we were connected. Then that person tossed the ball to someone else, and so on and so forth until we were this inter-connected web. It was a fantastic visualization of how we are connected to one another through our baptism in the Body of Christ.
This is what I had hoped it would look like…
But then came the part I hadn’t quite thought out….the sermon was over…and well, becoming untangled was a little more difficult than I had thought it would be. You see, try as we might, there was no simple way to free ourselves from this connection we now had with each other.
In reality, it was much more like this
with people intertwined in the middle.
Eventually we found some scissors, and people were snipped free and able to take a piece of the yarn home with them, as a reminder of their connectedness to one another.
What I like about this image….is that it is similar to that of vines and our gospel lesson we hear this day. Here we have Jesus saying I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower. Sounds simple enough….but vine living is a little more complex than we’d like to admit.
We are society of ‘do-it-yourselfers’. So many times I have laughed and laughed about the girl in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and how she must have the Golden Egg…and how she wants the whole world, and will wrap it up and put it in her pocket….and just like her dad, so much of culture that surrounds us tells us that we can get just what we want, when we want it and how we want it!
Yet in this world of individual needs and desires….we are not alone. We are connected to Jesus, the vine, and tended by God the vine grower.
We are not alone…we are connected to others in the midst of a tangled mess. Yet sometimes as these twisted branches, we will support others, even when we don’t realize it. This community, united in the waters of baptism, is one that loves and supports one another.
Each time we celebrate a baptism, we, as the Body of Christ, promise to raise up, to love, and to nurture the newly baptized boy or girl. That means we, as a congregation, promise to raise them in the faith, to help them stay connected to one another, and to be a safe, loving space for them to learn and grow.
And just as we have made that promise to all those who have come through into the Body of Christ through these waters….others have made that promise for us. There are those in the faith who have gone before us, who made those same promises that we would hear and learn the Scriptures, be brought to the Lord’s Table and raised and nurtured in a faith-filled community. And those who have gone before us, and those who journey with us now, help hold us up when we need that help.
We are connected, we are intertwined…and all that we say and do impacts more than just our individual selves. All that we do, to the glory of God reflects God’s love and grace in our world. And that’s the bigger picture that is easy to lose sight of. We can’t see the forest for the trees….or the vineyard for the vines.
We seem to worry about our own branch….how and where it will grow and how much fruit it will produce, that we forget that it’s not just about us…and try as we might to become more productive, we lose that productivity. We only worry about our own needs and our own growth and that we forget about being bearers of God’s fruit: God’s love and God’s grace.
And, as any gardener knows, a trees and plants need to be pruned to be the most productive they can be. Scary, though isn’t it? To think of being pruned? Being cut back? Losing some of who we are or perhaps what we have….in order to be free to produce better fruit?
While the pruning metaphor may seem scary and harsh, Elaine Emeth says it works for her when she thinks of God as a gardener who grieves while watching a violent storm rip though a prized garden. Afterward, the gardener tenderly prunes the injured plants to guarantee survival and to restore beauty and harmony. Pruning, she says, is clearing away the debris of our messy lives.
Being united in the Body of Christ, through baptism, and reconnecting with one another week after week, in this place, we are able to see the bigger picture. We come together and pray not just for ourselves, but for others. We sing hymns written by those who have gone before us in the faith….we confess a faith we didn’t come up with, we read words we didn’t write, we sing tunes that we didn’t pick and we learn to love people who were once strangers on the street and we learn to serve those whom we may never meet.
This place offers a healthy pruning allowing us to return to the world outside trimmed free some of our self-centered needs, free to see, to reach out to and to serve those in our community around us and around the world.
I’d like us to hear part of this passage again….it’s a literal translation that you may think of as a cowboy or westerner’s translation…but in it you will hear that all the times we hear the word you, it’s not personal….it speaks to us all.
If y'all are remaining in me
and my words (rhema not logos) would remain in y'all,
whatever y'all would be wishing, ask,
and they shall be [or come to be] for y'all.
In this thing my father is glorified:
that y'all would be bearing much fruit
and y'all would be [or come to be] my disciples.
This passage isn’t about me. Or about just you. This passage is about all of us. It’s about a life connected to God, lived out in community….having the word live in us; coming to understandings that benefit the community, not just individuals, the opportunity to pray together and to expect God to be at work through us…for the benefit of the whole world.
As you are sent from this place this day, remember the connectedness that remains with y’all at all times.
And may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, Amen.