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Friday, May 4, 2012

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

"In the promise of an 'abiding' presence God's Easter people find not some abstract speculation about a distant or imaginary Trinity, but an invitation to experience the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a saving and liberating presence in the midst of our day-to-day world."

Commentary, John 15:1-8, James Boyce, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.


Prayer

As a Vinegrower, O God, you have grafted us onto Christ, that we may abide as living branches joined to the true Vine.  Bestow on us the comforting presence of your Holy Spirit, so that, loving one another with a love that is sincere, we may become the first fruits of a humanity made new and bear a rich harvest whose fruits are holiness and peace.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 15:1-8

Last week the church experienced Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This week we are offered a theological reflection on God as vine grower.

God in Christ Jesus is the source of living water, he is the bread of heaven that gives life, and he is also the vine and we are his branches.

This passage comes after Jesus has prophesied his suffering, death and resurrection and has promised to return and to not leave his followers alone.  Our passage, like the good shepherd passage, is a teaching about life in God and in Christ.

The image is of God the vine grower and the gardener. Jesus is the vine and we are branches bearing fruit.  The vine is trimmed and this certainly has eschatological (end time and judgment) implications but this is not the stress nor focus of the teaching.  This image offered to us is about abiding and remaining.  The image of vine grower, vineyard/vine and branches is one about the living Word existing as the life blood of those who belong to Jesus.

Raymond Brown in volume II of his work on John's Gospel, says that this passage is about the disciples remaining in Christ.  In our current culture we talk about following Jesus and that leading to a virtuous life. However, in the abiding language of John's Gospel and in Jesus words that notion of Jesus + me = virtuous life is simply not present.  The abiding leaves a notion of being; not the more modern idea of becoming.  God is, Christ is, we are.  Virtuous life is life lived in God in Christ.  Raymond Brown points out that this is not quite the notion that Matthew's Gospel offers.  Nevertheless, this Sunday we are preaching Jesus and the living Word; we are preaching about abiding.  I don't want to get off track. So I asked myself what is this abiding?

I am reminded of St. Augustine's sermon on the Ascension, wherein he writes: 

Christ, while in heaven, is also with us; and we, while on earth, are also with him.  He is with us in his godhead and his power and his love; and we, though we cannot be with him in godhead as he is with us, can be with him in our love, our love for him. 
He did not leave heaven when he came down to us from heaven; and he did not leave us when he ascended to heaven again.   His own words show that he was in heaven while he was here: 'No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven.' 
He said this because of the unity between us and himself, for he is our head and we are his body.  The words 'no one but he' are true, since we are Christ, in the sense that he is the Son of man because of us, and we are the children of God because of him. 
For this reason Saint Paul says: 'Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is also with Christ.
We abide in God in Christ Jesus.  Unless that is we are abiding in something else.  The life of virtue described by John's gospel gives us a sense of what life abiding in Christ is.  Abiding/remaining in Christ is love and it is life in tune with the commandments of God.

What do we see then if we are abiding in Christ we see a life that forms a world around itself where God is central.  Not the false god's created by our ego desires, but God.  As Episcopalians we might describe this abiding life this way.  We would say (as we do in our Book of Common Prayer) that an abiding life is one where:

We trust our lives in God, and others come to know him by our life.  Nothing is put in the place of God, least of all our ego and our projections of desire.  God is respected in our words and in our actions and in the results of our actions.  Life is lived out in a an ever flowing experience of worship, prayer and study.  As we abide in God we abide in our true selves and in the thin space between heaven and our soul.

To the other we are faithful as well – treating neighbors with love as we experience God's love for us and love ourselves; to love, honor, and help our parents and family; those in authority are honored, and we meet their just demands.  We as Episcopalians believe that life that is abiding in Christ is one that shows forth respect for the life God gives us; work and prayers for peace are always present; malice, prejudice, or hatred is not born our hearts; and kindness is shared with all the creatures of God.

Life abiding in Christ is a life where bodily desires are not used to fulfill our ego needs but rather are lived out as God intended for the mutual building up of the family of God.

We live lives that are honest and fair in our dealings; to seek justice, freedom, and the necessities of life for and with all people; and we use our talents and possessions as people in relationship with God.  We speak truth, and do not mislead others by our silence.

Life abiding in Christ resists temptations to envy, greed, and jealousy; and rejoices in other people's gifts and graces.  We share in our fellowship together as we all abide in Christ and therefore, as St. Augustine points out, with others and with God and the saints who are in heaven.

Abiding in Christ is in some very real way accepting our true nature as sinful creatures and then living in, remaining in, Christ; being Christ's own forever - as our baptismal liturgy tells us.  Accepting our chosenness by Christ (despite our behaviors) and abiding in love which then abides with others.  And, giving up our ego's desire for control and rather we live life that is birthed in grace.


A Little Bit for Everyone





John 15:1-8
15”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.4Abide 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.5I 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.6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.