Homily: Rooted in Love

         Acts 9:26-31    1 John 3:18-24   John 15:1-8    The Message

In this week’s reading, John uses the image of a vine and its branches, to help and to challenge the early believing community, and our believing community today, to appreciate our close relationship with Jesus. In Jesus’ time, people would have been familiar with the vine metaphor. Most of us have seen a grapevine at one time or another. Looking closely, we see the many entwined branches, winding their way around one another in intricate patterns of tight curls that make it impossible to tell where one branch starts or another one ends. This is not just intricate; it’s intimate, and the vine shares with its branches the nutrients that sustain it, the life force of the whole plant. Even closer than the shepherd there on the hillside, this vine is one with its branches.

Intimate, and anonymous. In fact, the ‘anonymity’ is stark. John isn’t interested in distinctions in appearance, character, or gifts from one believer to another. The many voices of the writings of the New Testament give us a fuller, richer picture than one voice might have provided, Instead of highlighting our individual gifts and roles, John challenges contemporary Western love of personality, individualism, and self-expression. The mark of the faithful community is how it loves, not who are its members.

We hear that word, ‘love’, often in John’s writings. Love is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Love is the measure of faithfulness. Our readings this month linger on this line of thought, The word ‘abide’ almost jumps off the page in John’s Gospel. Eugene Peterson translates ’abide’ a little differently, but with the same meaning.

Just as we need the air to breathe, we need food and nourishment to live. We need shelter and community; we need a home. The early Christians, who had in a very real sense lost their spiritual homes in the synagogue and perhaps, along with them, their family ties and their physical homes, were undoubtedly comforted by this thought. We abide in, are ‘rooted’ in Jesus. We dwell in Christ, and words like connectedness, permanency, vitality, flesh it out and make it real. I love the image of green plants for church vitality. The very image of ‘bearing fruit’ suggests other associations such as growth, usefulness, and nourishment. It also emphasizes the communal nature of this life, a model of social interrelationship and corporate accountability that challenges our unceasing attempts to stand out from, and rise up over one another. Because bearing fruit does not make us disciples as much as it reveals whether we are disciples already.

When we find ourselves speaking and acting a word contrary to the ‘comfortable’ within us and around us, when we face together, not alone, the forces arrayed against justice and mercy, then we know we are a part of the vine and the branches. The question for the Church today and for every individual church community is, what would happen if our own congregation  spent less time talking and worrying and working about our own survival and more time bearing fruit, putting ourselves in the line of fire, as did St. Paul, St. Francis, Edith Stein, and the rest of those ‘fruit-bearing’ saints throughout the centuries did?

But the significance of our common connections in the intertwined vine is not the only way to see this passage and this symbol Jesus so lovingly gives us. We also see in the vine the personal relationship each of us has with Jesus, the vine. What about this notion of ‘bearing fruit’? You will always find the best grapes close in to the vine, And ‘abiding with him’ really means ‘making a home’. It describes the peace that we long for in our hearts. This kind of abiding is the way God sustains us and showers us with Shalom, the peace which encompasses wholeness, completeness, and health. Here, close to the vine, immersed in Shalom, total contentment ane peace, we find not only nourishment but also hope and joy, And we let God’s wonderful word find a home in us through faithful devotion. There, close to the vine, we find peace about all the things that we face, and all the things that we pray for, because what we want will be what God wants, and it will surely come to pass. Even a painful pruning is redemptive. All that’s extraneous is carefully and lovingly removed. What remains is centered and focused on God’s word.

So, the real question is, how do we bring these two streams together — or, to be closer to today’s image — how do we graft them together, the personal and the communal? Jesus does just that himself. He is warning his followers in every age and every setting not to go it alone, trusting in their own strength. On their own they would be cut off from their life source. They would bear no fruit.

This is really good news for us, no matter how much it flies in the face of everything we’re told about success and measuring up. It’s not up to us to dig deep down inside and make happen what needs to happen.

If we stay close to Jesus, we have in the Vine a source for all the grace and strength we need in our lives, and the result will be joy. The result will be fruit that will last, that blesses the world and reveals us as the followers of the Risn One, a community of love. Together, we are so much more powerful than any of us can be on our own.

However, this ‘togetherness’ isn’t out there, on our own even as a community, because our life force flows from the vine with which we are one.  There is an African proverb that embodies the community that Jesus calls for in us as the Vine and the branches: “Because we are, I am”

Kathryn Matthews Huey

 

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