Fifth Sunday of Easter 2015

Sermon Title:Fifth Sunday of Easter May 2015

Date: 03/05/2015

Preacher: Rev’d Susanne Chambers

Church Calendar: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Lectionary Reading: Acts 8:26-40, Psalm 22:26-32, 1 John 4:7-21, John 15:1-8

I remember years ago, my mum would be horrified at dad’s pruning methods.  You see, dad didn’t do delicate pruning! The bush was cut back so much that mum thought it would never grow new shoots or it would die!  And much to mum’s surprise, each time it was pruned; it grew back into a healthy bush!

None of us like being pruned.  It hurts.  It shows up gnarly bits in us…even some dead branches that were hidden beneath some other healthy branches.

And I would suggest that fear grabs us that if we are pruned, what will that mean? Will people like me if some things in my life are exposed?  Will I be a different person? Is that a good thing?

It’s also when events happen in life that touch us deeply and in a way feels like we are being pruned because we have to look at life, our life in relation to others and the world and how we respond to whatever presents. Like the devastating earthquake in Nepal with so much destruction and loss of life, or the execution of those two repentant men in Indonesia to name just two events….these and other life tragedies often feels like we are being pruned…and the ground(to use another metaphor)  no longer feels trembles… and  if it’s personal; by an illness, job loss, broken relationship we are left feeling insecure, cut off, lifeless.

What’s life about anyway?  Why do such awful things have to happen?  I want to just put on armour to protect myself from the pain, the senselessness, confusion.  Why can’t we just love one another!

There is no simple answer to those questions and yet it probably needs to start with me and with you.  It’s the simple yet difficult message about loving yourself and loving your neighbour. And of course it’s about knowing we are connected with the source of life; the God of love. “Love the Lord your God…love your neighbour as yourself.”

Today’s reading is part of the Farewell discourse which happened on the evening of Maundy Thursday to the disciples of Jesus.  ‘Jesus is urging his disciples to remain in him and with him.  He knows he is about to go, to leave them behind, first in the event of the cross but even after the resurrection through his ascension. And he wants them to be prepared, to remain in fellowship with each other and to abide in his teaching and example.

So the image of the vine and vine grower is a good example of the mutuality, the connection needed and indeed the dependence on each other for life.  The vine is Jesus. The vine grower is Jesus’ father…Jesus can’t do without the Father and the Father can’t do without the Son.

The vine needs the vine grower for its optimal growth and production, even its abundance. It will produce more fruit, fruit in abundance, if cared for.  The vine grower needs the vine to produce, to make abundance possible for sustenance and life.

‘By the time John’s gospel was written, the disciples have already been scattered, likely thrown out of their synagogue, and have had plenty of reason to feel like they’ve been abandoned. But John writes to assure them that while they have indeed been cut, it is the pruning for more abundant fruit and life.

That must have been so hard for the disciples to grasp as it can be for us when life tears at us with no evidence that it is towards some more fruitful future.  But amid this uncertainty and distress, Jesus still invites us- actually, not just invites but promises us- that he will not abandon us but rather will cling to us like a vine clings to a tree so that we endure, persevere, and even flourish among these present difficulties.’[i]

Actually Jesus doesn’t just cling to us like a vine clings to a tree, does he?  If Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches, we are part of the same!  ‘Abide in me as I abide in you’, said Jesus. To live or reside in a place…abide…live in me; reside, make your home in me.

Jesus did not say ‘if’ you abide in me will he abide in you. He said: ‘as’ I abide in you.

There is no if’s or but’s or abide in me ‘or else’!

“Abide in me as I abide in you.”

Jesus will not abandon us through the difficult situations we face.

Jesus, the true vine allows the pruning to happen so that we may be our true selves in Christ, so that we may produce fruit, so that we may share God’s love to others and remain in this vine…this relationship.

Without connection to a life source, abundant life is not possible. Being our God given true selves is not possible.

Do we get this?  It means we have to be dependent on this life source. Dependent and trusting that amidst the changes and changes of this fleeting world, Jesus the true vine will never abandon us.

I can see many times in my life, when the pruning knife has exposed my failings, my lack of trust and it is only when I return to this Life – Source do I then see a shift in how I see and relate to the world and I grow more into the woman I was born to be and then able to bear fruit.

Do you really believe that Christ is in you?  The living Christ and if you do, how does this manifest itself?  How connected are you to the vine? To the vine grower?

If you stay connected to the vine, others will see what or whom you rely; and in what and in whom you locate your strength.

Is this a crutch? To be dependent on the vine grower and the vine? Sure is.  Will this expose our lack of being self-sufficient?  Yes it will. Will it look like weakness to some people?  Yes it will.

We are not forced to be a part of the vine.  We have a choice and because of our tendency to feel we are totally independent, and our egos think we can manage quite well on our own thank you very much!, we may at times turn our back on the vine and the vine grower and then realise we need to turn back because this is where wholeness, fullness of life dwells.

Yes, being part of the vine and being pruned isn’t easy.  Like my mum thought when dad pruned the bush that it would not grow back or would die, so might be our thoughts and fears.

Jesus invites us to be honest, to be real, acknowledging our failures and our blessings and to know that we are accepted, loved and forgiven and cannot be separated from him…ever.

Next week the passage continues from this one today and it feeds into our interpretation of love.

How do we bear fruit?  How did we show that at the Fair next Saturday?  What will your conversations be like with each other and with those who came to look and buy?

Next week you will hear this: Jesus said ‘this is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you’. For our community of faith this means we are to love others, get to know them. We love because God loves us…this is why we are here in Canterbury… surely.?

So listen out next Saturday, listen, observe.  Do you know these people?

How do they respond to a church fair? What are your conversations about?  How did you feel at the end of the day?

Success isn’t about money.  (We know that in this case it will help our financial situation) but success is about relationships and finding out how we can share our fruit. Each of us has fruit …I don’t believe that you are a branch without fruit! Fruit is to be shared.

So next week, I would like you to share your experiences of the Fair. The people, the conversations.  Did you find that a bit of pruning was needed or was happening for yourself?

Jesus said “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.”

The Lord be with you.

[i]  Working Preacher website: David Lose 2012/2015