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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Easter - May 14, 2006

Often when I preach on texts from John I mention the fact that John is different from the other gospels.  It’s different in a number of ways and in a sermon I don’t really have time to get into why that is the case; but one of the things that is quite noticeable is the way that Jesus’ teaching is presented.  In the other gospels Jesus is more of a story teller, using short stories, parables and such to present what he calls the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven.  In John he tends to use longer discourses not so much to tell stories as to create images, images of what he calls life, abundant life, eternal life.  It’s in John that you get images of things like light and darkness, the Good Shepherd, the gate to the sheepfold, bread, living water and this week vines and branches and fruit.

All of these images invite reflection.  They all say something about Jesus, about his relationship with the Father, about us and our relationship with Jesus, with God, with the Father, what it means to be in that relationship, what it means to be the church.  But the images are open ended, intentionally so I would say, so as to help you not to find closed, fixed answers to all your questions, but to grow in faith, to grow in relationship as you explore the richness of the image.  My intent this morning is to perhaps give you some aids to that kind of reflection; some things to think about and maybe come back to as you go through the week ahead.        

“I am the vine, you are the branches…Abide in me as I abide in you…If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  In this passage there is a lot of abiding.  Abide though, is not a word we use much in everyday conversation.  Yet even though it’s not a real familiar word it still conveys a sense of closeness, an intimacy that is appropriate to the vine imagery. 

Last week’s text had Jesus as the Good Shepherd which is also a close, comforting image.  But with that image there is a separation between the sheep and the shepherd, Jesus and us.  The vine and the branches, on the other hand, are part of each other to the point where, in a mature plant, they are almost indistinguishable from each other; it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.  And of course the branches can’t exist without the vine, but the vine also doesn’t serve much purpose without the branches and the fruit they ultimately bear.

I am the vine, you are the branches describes a relationship where Christ is part of us and we are part of him.  I could stop right there and just say, “Let’s take a few minutes and think about what that means.”  On some levels it’s comforting.  On other levels, it’s a little frightening, maybe more frightening than God as the all powerful, holy other, which is another dimension and image of God.    But actually being part of the life of Christ, the life of God, that removes the distance; nice in some ways, daunting in others.

Christianity is a religion of being.  There are those who view Christianity as primarily a moralistic system of things you have to do or not do, ways you have to live in order to be a good person.  But before Christianity is a religion of doing, it’s a religion of being.  You have to know who you are, and the vine/branch image tells you that you are part of Christ and Christ is part of you.  What you do comes out of that identity.

What you do in this text is bear fruit.  What does that mean?  Today’s gospel text doesn’t give us a whole lot on that.  But…we don’t have to stray too far from this text to conclude that bearing fruit has something to do with love.  In chapter 13 of John Jesus gives his disciples the Maundy Thursday commandment to love one another.  “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  Next week’s gospel, which is the verses from John that immediately following today’s reiterates this command that “you love one another as I have loved you.”

Then there is today’s second lesson from the first letter of John.  It can’t be said for certain, but there certainly is evidence that these letters were written by the same John that wrote the gospel.  Today’s passage is a good example.  It is full of abiding, which is gospel of John language, and it is also full of love with the term being used much as it is in the gospel.  There are similarities here.  If I counted correctly though, some form of the word love is used 28 times in this 1st John passage.  So it would seem that the author was trying to make a point (and that he wasn’t real subtle about it.)  Bearing fruit is about love.  The kind of love that John describes is stated nicely in the little bulletin intro to today’s 1 John text.  “Love gives itself away in service to others.”

It is merely coincidence that this 5th Sunday of Easter text about love happens to fall on Mother’s Day; the liturgical calendar of the church doesn’t include Mother’s Day.  Whether the church acknowledges it or not though doesn’t really matter.  It is Mother’s Day and because of that I can’t help but think of the love of a mother as a pretty good example of bearing fruit, of love giving itself away in service to others.  And of course this includes more than just biological mothers; as one of the prayer petitions we will use later says, it’s all who show care and devotion to others which would include those in many different roles, male and female. 

But it is Mother’s Day and many of us can reflect on the fact that we have been blessed by the love of a mother, the love of parents, the love of others, love which has been given away to us.  The Bible doesn’t comment a whole lot on this, but I think, at its best, the love a mother gives to her child is perhaps the most concrete example we will ever know of the kind of love Jesus talks about, the kind of love he gives us.

In the context of that love, a mother may also give us one of the more concrete examples we will ever know of pruning.  That is another facet of the vine imagery.  Jesus does also talk about removing branches that bear no fruit, branches being thrown away into the fire to be burned.  I get frustrated sometimes though with how much people seem to want to dwell on these passages of judgment.  Yes they are there, but I don’t find dwelling on them very fruitful (pardon the pun) because they tend to distract us from what we ought to be about which is bearing fruit, and pruning. 

Even the good branches need pruning, and the love of a mother shows us that too.  I found a quote a few years ago from Erma Bombeck.  She’s been dead for ten years but some of you probably remember her newspaper column of folksy, motherly humor.  Anyway, she offers a pretty good example of a mother’s pruning love. 

She wrote that someday, when they were mature enough to understand, she would tell her children how much she loved them.  She would say, “I loved you enough to bug you about where you were going, with whom and what time you would get home.  I loved you enough to make you return a Milky Way with a bite out of it to the drugstore and confess, ‘I stole this.’  I loved you enough to stand over you for two hours while you cleaned your room, a job that I could have done more easily myself and  would have taken me no more than 15 minutes.  I loved you enough not to make excuses for your lack of respect or bad manners, enough to let you stumble, fall and fail, so you could learn to stand alone.

“But most of all, I loved you enough to say ‘No’ when I knew you would hate me for it.”  That’s pruning, and we all need someone who loves us enough to prune us once in awhile.  It would be good if we could do it ourselves, if we could look more honestly at the things we do that don’t reflect the love of Jesus, love giving itself away to others.  It would be good if we could prune away the selfish, self serving things we do, prune away the times when our pettiness or hurt feelings keep us from doing what we know we should, prune away the times we choose to judge others rather than welcome them, prune away the times when we resist the pruning of someone who loves us enough to care.  I would be good if we could do it ourselves; but often we need a little loving help.

There’s a lot in this image of vine and branches.  Spend some time with it this week; abide in the image.  It will draw you closer to the Risen Christ, the Good Shepherd, the vine that we continue to celebrate in this Easter season.

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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