Easter 5 B - Vine and Branches



Readings
First Reading: Acts 9: 26-31
Second Reading: 1 John 3: 18-24
Gospel: John 15: 1-8


Anecdotes



1)Jesus nut: The “Jesus nut, also called the “Jesus pin,” is the nut that holds the main rotor to the mast of some helicopters, such as the UH-1 Iroquois helicopter. The long and strongmetallic fans of the helicopter are fitted to the main rotor of the mast. The“Jesus nut” is a slang term first coined by American soldiers in Vietnam; the technical term is MRRN or mainrotor retaining nut. The origin of the term comes from the ideathat, if the “Jesus nut” were to fail in flight, the helicopter would detachfrom the rotors and the only thing left for the crew to do would be to pray to Jesusbefore the helicopter crashed. Today’s gospel explains why Jesus must bethe pivotal point in our lives, through the little parable of the vine and thebranches.
2) No water: In the late 1980s a fire destroyed a building on the lower Eastside of Manhattan. An alarm was sounded and the trucks and personnel arrived inplenty of time to fight the fire. The exit doors worked properly. The stepswere clear. The people got out of the building quickly and in order. However,the fire burned out of control and the building had to be demolished. When thefiremen arrived, the hoses on the wall were installed properly. There werehoses hundreds of feet in length--clearly sufficient to put the fire out. Itwas discovered too late, however, that the city water line had never beenconnected to this part of the system. It was a deadly oversight. To live ahuman life disconnected from the living God is tragic as well. Jesus did morethan come to live among us. He is the life giving vine and we are the braches.
3) Shadow of the Hawk: There isa scene in the movie Shadow of the Hawk where a youngcouple is climbing a mountain with the help of their Indian guide in adesperate attempt to flee from evil people. At one point the young woman slumps to the ground and says, “I can’ttake another step.” The young man liftsher to her feet and says, “But darling, we must go on. We have no other choice!” She shakes her headand says, “I can’t go on! I can’t go on!” Then the Indian guide advises the young man, “Hold her close to yourheart. Let your strength and yourcourage flow out of your body into hers. “The young man does this and in a fewminutes the woman smiles and says, “Now I can go on! Now I can do it!” By telling us the parable of the vine andbranches in today’s gospel, Jesus wants to share his divine strength with us. The parable reminds us that united with Jesuswe can do anything, but separated fromhim we are good for nothing.


Introduction


Today’s scripture selections emphasize the need for Christians toabide in Christ as a condition for producing fruits of kindness, mercy, charityand holiness. The first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, testifies to theabundance of spiritual fruits yielded by the apostles because of their closebond with the risen Lord. The readingtells us how the Lord pruned the former Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, the fanaticwho had persecuted the Church, to produce a fruit-bearing branch called Paul,the zealous Apostle to the Gentiles, entirely dedicated to the proclamation ofthe gospel. Even Paul’s forced return to Tarsus for a brief period is anexample of God’s pruning of the vine to bring forth a greater harvest, namely,the mission to the Gentiles. In today’s second reading, John, in his first letter to the Church,explains that only if we remain united to Christ by putting our faith in himand drawing our spiritual strength from him, will we be able to obey God’scommandments, especially the commandment of love. In the gospel, taken from the Last Supperdiscourse, Jesus uses his favorite image of the vine and branches to help hisdisciples understand the closeness of their relationship with him and thenecessity of maintaining it. They arenot simply rabbi and disciples. Theirlives are mutually dependent - as close as a vine and its branches. In fact, in using this image, Jesus is explaining to them and to uswhat our relationship with him should be like.
First reading, Acts 9:26-31:Today’s first reading from Acts concentrates on one apostle in particular, namely Paul, who was pruned like a vine to be an apostle "by the will of God" (1 Cor 1:1). The story of Paul’s conversion and call to become the Apostle to the Gentiles is narrated three times in Acts, in Chapters9, 22 and 26. Today’s reading, from Acts 9, describes the aftermath of his transformation from enemy of the early Christian movement to God-choseninstrument in bringing the Gospel to non-Jews. Jesus himself pruned away theformer Saul, the Saul who had persecuted the Church, to make Paul, a man whoselife was entirely dedicated to the proclamation of the gospel. But when Paul came to Jerusalem afterpreaching in Damascus for “a long time,” the disciples in Jerusalem were afraidof him. Finally they recognized the transforming power of the Spirit of Godoperating in Paul and gave their full support to him. Because Paul had become avigorous witness for Christ, the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews), tried tokill him. When Paul’s life wasthreatened, the other apostles helped him to leave Jerusalem and return toTarsus. But even this setback in Paul'smissionary work turned out to be just one more example of God’s pruning of Paul- the vine-branch - to bring forth a greater harvest: the mission to theGentiles.

Second Reading, 1 John 3:18-24: The New American Bible states that some members of John’s early Christiancommunity were advocating false doctrines, by refusing to accept the fulldivinity and full humanity of Jesus, by disregarding the commandment of love ofneighbor, by refusing to accept faith in Christ as the source of sanctificationand by denying the redemptive value of Jesus' death. Hence, John says in the opening sentence intoday’s reading, “Little children, let uslove in deed and in truth and not merely talk about it." John is criticizing pious Christians who arecomfortable with their petty hatreds and uncaring indifference, as though suchattitudes were acceptable behavior for those saved by Christ. The next sentence, "His commandment is this: We are to believe in the name of His Son,Jesus Christ, and are to love one another as He commanded us,"summarizes best the essence of Christianity and disapproves extreme ideologicalpositions like those threatening theChurch today, namely, (1) dogmatic conservatism, which makes creedal orthodoxythe only criterion, (2) fideism in which all that matters is"accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior," and (3) liberalism,which reduces Christianity to living peacefully with others. The concluding advice, "keep (God's) commandments," invites us to a transformedlife, flowing from a mutual, intimate relationship between God and each of usindividual believers -- our union in His love. It follows that we must love each other with the same selfless, sacrificial,forgiving love with which Jesus Christ loved us; indeed, that is His command tous. John also teaches us that personalassurance of salvation doesn't depend on intense religious experience (being"born again"), or dramatic charismatic expressions among believers(like speaking in tongues, healing, or handling poisonous snakes). Rather, weare saved because we are members of Christ – of His Church, the communitygifted with God's "Spirit," in which the Spirit's presence iscorroborated by the members’ genuine, loving concern for each other.


Exegesis


The context: Today’sgospel text is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse during his Last Supper withhis disciples, as found in John 13–17. Jesus explains to his apostles how theyand their disciples can carry on when he is no longer bodily or physicallypresent. Jesus assures them, using theparable of the vine and branches, that the life-giving Spirit Whom Jesus willsend them, will be present and active within and among his disciples and theirsuccessors.
Israel as God’s vine and vineyard: There are numerous Old Testament passages whichrefer to Israel as a vine: Ps80:8-16, Is 5:1-7, Jer 2:21, Ezek 15:1-8, 17:5-10, 19:10-14, and Hos 10:1. "Thevineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel,” sings the prophet Isaiah inhis song of the Vineyard (Is 5:1-7). "YetI planted you a choice vine" is God's message to Israel throughJeremiah (Jer 2:21). "Israel is a luxuriant vine," saysHosea (Hos 10:1). The vine is part andparcel of Jewish imagery and the very symbol of Israel, serving as an emblem onthe coins of the Maccabees. One of theglories of the Temple was the great golden vine upon the front of the HolyPlace. But the symbol of the vine isnever used in the Old Testament apart from the idea of degeneration andinfidelity deserving of Yahweh’s severe punishment. That is why Ezekiel says that it shouldbe burned in the fire (Ez 15).
Jesus claimsthat he is the true vine: Since Israel has become adegenerate vine producing wild and bitter grapes, Jesus makes the unique claim that he is the true and ideal vine andhis disciples are the living and fruit-producing branches. He clarifies his statement, explaining that his heavenly Father is the vine-grower (v. 1), he (Christ) is the vine(v. 5), his disciples are branches (v. 5) and those who do not abide in him areuseless branches, suitable only to be cut away and thrown into the fire (v. 6).Jesus is the true vine, because the old vine, theoriginal chosen people, was succeeded by the new vine, the Church, whose headis Christ (cf. 1 Cor 3:9). To befruitful, one must be joined to the new, true vine, Christ. It is living the life of Christ, the life ofgrace, which gives the believer the nourishment which enables him or her toyield the fruits of eternal life. Thisimage of the vine also helps us to understand the unity of the Church. St. Paulexplains that we are Christ's mystical body, in which all the members areintimately united with the head and united to one another (1 Cor 12:12-26;Romans 12:4-5; Ephesians 4: 15-16).
Pruning an essential part of growing fruit-producing branches: Inthe vineyards in Palestine, pruning was done in late fall or early winter because pruning inspring or summer caused excessive bleeding that weakened the vine. Dead branches were cut away to save the vine. Other branches were pruned so that they wouldbear more grapes than leaves in the next growing season. John describes God as the Vine-grower who hasplanted a vine, Jesus. The Father removes every branch that bears nofruit and prunes the other branches so they may bear more fruit. Jesus tells his apostles that they havealready been pruned by the words he has spoken to them. He refers to theannouncement that he will soon be leaving them by his death on the cross. The apostles will not feel the full impact of this "pruning" untilJesus is actually taken away from them in death. Eventually, they will bepruned of all attachment to the things of this world so that they may be readyto attach themselves to the things of heaven. It is a sorry sight to see that some of us just come to church Sunday afterSunday in search of spiritual "handouts" or just to "fulfillour Sunday obligation," but give little or nothing back to thecommunity. They are like fruitless,leafy branches draining life from the trunk without giving anything in return.
Abidingin Jesus as condition for fertility: Even awell-pruned branch cannot bear grapes unless it abides in the vine, drawing water and minerals fromthe main trunk and transporting food prepared in the leaves to the main trunkand to the roots. Jesus reminds us thatwe can not bear fruit either, unless we abide in him just as he abides inus. Jesus says, “I am thevine, you are the branches.” What Jesus means is that by abiding inhim we will bear much fruit, and that apart from him we can do nothing. Abiding in Christ means that God has to be inside us and we have to be insideGod. We abide in Christ by drawing nearto God and by experiencing His being near to us, or by living every moment ashe has commanded us to do, with the radiant presence of Christ all around us. Thislife of intimate union with Christ in the Church is maintained by the spiritualhelps common to all the faithful, chiefly by active participation in theLiturgy. Those of us who do not abide in Jesus will witherand be thrown away, just as withered branches are thrown into the fire to beburned. Fruit-bearing in Christian life is not just of our ownmaking. It is the sign that Christ isworking in us and through us.


Life messages :


1) We need pruning in our Christian life. Cutting out ofour lives everything that is contrary to the spirit of Jesus and renewing ourcommitment to Christian ideals in our lives every day is the first type ofself-imposed pruning expected of us. A second means of pruning ispracticing self-control over our evil inclinations, sinful addictions andaberrations. Cordial mingling with people of different cultures, races,religions and orientations in our neighborhood and society enables us to pruneour selfish and prejudicial tendencies and to treat others in our society withChristian charity and openness. Jesus prunes, purifies and strengthens us byallowing us to face pain and suffering, contradictions and difficulties withcourage of our Christian convictions.
2) Let us abide in Christ and let Christ abidein us: The four gospels teach us how to become true disciples of Jesus andhow to abide in him as braches abide in the main trunk of the vine drawing itslife from it. Personal andliturgical prayers, frequenting of the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist andReconciliation, daily and meditative reading of the Bible and selfless, loving acts of kindness andmercy and forgiveness enable us to abidein Jesus, the true vine, as fruit-bearing branches.


Additional Anecdotes


1)The vineyard and the gardener:In First Things First,Roger Merrill relates the story of a busy man who decided to landscape hisgrounds. He contacted a talented woman with a doctorate in horticulture andexperience in landscaping and expressed his desire to hire her to set a garden.But he emphasized to her the need to create a maintenance-free garden withautomatic sprinklers and other labor-saving devices because he was too busy tospend much time on upkeep. But she said,“There’s one thing you need to deal with before we go any further. If there’s no gardener, there’s nogarden!” In today’s gospel Jesus assertsthat he is the vine, we are the branches and his heavenly Father is thegardener.
2)Gerald Coffee, a retired navy captain, was a prisoner of war for seven years.His home was a cell that allowed him to take only three steps in any direction.Still, during these years of unbelievable hardship he was able to pray,"God, help me use this time to get better." He took a dismalsituation and used it for a time of mental, emotional and spiritual growth. Inspite of being able to communicate with his fellow POWs only by tapping on thecell walls, he along with other prisoners managed to learn French. He learnedto recite Kipling and Shakespeare. Most amazing of all, Coffee and his fellowprisoners were able to keep their sense of humor. Often he composed poems tokeep himself amused. One that he particularly liked went, "Little weevilin my bread, I think I've just bit off your head." Today Captain Coffeeaddresses major corporations on the subject of keeping your faith (and sense ofhumor) during difficult times. He shares his harrowing experience in order toinspire others. [Allen Klein, The HealingPower of Humor (Los Angeles, California: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1989).]Gerald Coffee's captors could not know he had connections in high places.Gerald Coffee is connected to the vine which is Christ. And that is thedifference in life. Christ is the vine. We draw our life from him. He is theVine. We are the branches. It is He who links us to one another. We not onlyhave connections in high places. We also have connections in low places andplaces in between. We are connected to one another as branches linked to thevine of Christ.
3)Hampton Court vine: Donald GreyBarnhouse tells about a grapevine in Hampton Court near London that is about1,000 years old. It has but one root which is at least two feet thick. Some ofthe branches are 200 feet long. Because of skillful cutting and pruning, thevine produces several tons of grapes each year. Even though some of the smallerbranches are 200 feet from the main stem, they bear much fruit because they arejoined to the vine and allow the life of the vine to flow through them (Sermons Illustrated). If we, thebranches, are not bearing much fruit, it may be that we are not feeding as weought upon the life-giving flow from the vine. The great truth that Jesus istrying to tell us is that if we want life in all its fullness, then we must beconnected to the "true vine," the very source of life. "Abide in me as I abide in you,"Jesus said. We draw our life from him.
4)Power of a squash: You mayremember that fascinating experiment that took place at Amherst College someyears ago in which a squash seed was planted in good soil. When it had produceda squash about the size of a man's head, the researchers put a band of steelabout it with a harness attachment by which they sought to determine thelifting power of the squash as it tried to grow.
They estimated that it might have the power of 500 pounds; which in itselfwould have been amazing. In a month it was pressing the 500 pounds; in twomonths 1,500 pounds, then it went to 2,000 and they had to strengthen thebands. It finally reached a pressure of 5,000 pounds when it broke the bands.They opened the squash and found it full of course fibers that had grown tofight away the obstacle that was hindering its growth. Roots extended out about80,000 feet in all directions, as the squash was reaching out for help tostrengthen the fiber. [Eric Butterworth, Unityof all Life (New York: Harper & Row).] I would hate to think that youand I have less determination than a squash. We have been given minds andbodies and dreams that we might struggle against life and produce fruit worthyof branches connected to the living vine of Jesus.
5) "Presbyterian, butdisconnected." Some years ago in the cityof Belfast in Northern Ireland, the members of one of the large Presbyterianchurches decided to undertake a religious census among some 2000 homes in theirdistrict. When the results were in, the pastor of the church found himselfseated at his desk, confronted with a huge heap of reports, and he began tonote the visitors' findings and especially any comments made by the visitors atthe bottom of the page. One remark that occurred again and again was,"Used to be a Presbyterian; now belong nowhere." Or, "Thechildren go to Sunday School, but the parents aren't interested." And thenhis eyes fell on one unusual comment at the foot of one of the pages whichstartled him. It read simply, "Presbyterian, but disconnected.""Disconnected." That's a fascinating word. It sounds as thoughsomebody had pulled the plug on the poor chap. Or perhaps he had pulled theplug on himself, thereby committing spiritual suicide. No longer was heconnected up with the church in which he was raised, or any other church, forthat matter. This is sad because God created us to be connected up with oneanother. God intended for us to be in communion with God and with one another.The New Testament knows of no such thing as solitary Christianity. To be aChristian at all is to be in relationship with other Christians. Anyone andeveryone who belongs to Jesus Christ automatically belongs to anyone andeveryone else who belongs to Jesus Christ. "Iam the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bearmuch fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
6) Affirm and cultivate awareness of theindwelling Christ. There isan old story about Albert Einstein. He was going around the country fromuniversity to university on the lecture circuit, giving lectures on his theoryof relativity. He traveled by chauffeur-driven limousine. One day, after theyhad been on the road for awhile, Einstein’s chauffeur said to him, “Dr.Einstein, I’ve heard you deliver that lecture on relativity so many times, I’llbet I could deliver it myself.” “Very well,” the good doctor responded. “I’llgive you that opportunity tonight. The people at the university where I am tolecture have never seen me. Before we get there, I’ll put on your cap anduniform and you will introduce me as your chauffeur and yourself as me. Thenyou can give the lecture.” For awhile that evening, everything went accordingto plan. The chauffeur delivered the lecture flawlessly. But as the lectureconcluded, a professor in the audience rose and asked a complex questioninvolving mathematical equations and formulas. The quick-thinking chauffeurreplied, “Sir, the solution to that problem is so simple I’m really surprisedyou’ve asked me to give it to you. Indeed, to prove to you just how simple itis, I’m going to ask my chauffeur to step forward and answer your question.”What I’m asking you to consider is not about anything as complex as the theoryof relativity. It is about our close relationship with Christ the vine,deriving the sap of spiritual life from him, as braches do from the main stemof the vine.
7)Fish on the beach sand:, “Takea fish and place him on a beach. Watch his gills gasp and scales dry. Is hehappy? No! How do you make him happy? Do you cover him with a mountain of cash?Do you get him a beach chair and sunglasses? Do you bring him a Playfish magazine and a martini? Do youwardrobe him in double-breasted fins and people-skinned shoes? Of course not!So, how do you make him happy? You put him back in his element. That’s what youdo. You put him back in the water. He will never be happy on the beach becausehe was not made for the beach. Indeed so, and the same is true for you and me.We will never be happy living apart from the One who made us and saved us. Justlike a fish was made to live in water… we were made to live in close fellowshipwith our Lord… and nothing can take the place of that.” (Max Lucado in his book,When God Whispers Your Name).
8)Stay connected to Christ the vine with servant mentality: In his book, Living on Tiptoe, Cecil Myers reminds us of a timewhen a group of educators in our country wanted to honor Albert Schweitzer… andthey brought him to America. The University of Chicago planned to give him anhonorary degree. When Albert Schweitzer’s train arrived, the university leadersran to greet him warmly and they told him of their joy in having him here inAmerica. But then as they turned to leave the train station, suddenly AlbertSchweitzer was gone. He just disappeared, vanished, slipped away. They lookedeverywhere for him. Finally, they found him. He was carrying a suitcase for anelderly woman. He saw that she was having trouble and rushed over to help her.You see, it was so much a part of his life to be a servant for others that itwas as natural as breathing for him (when he got off the train), to beginimmediately to look for somebody to help. That was his approach to life… and hehad learned that from the Bible… he had learned that in Church… he had learnedthat from Jesus. Albert Schweitzer loved to help other people because he wasstrongly connected to Christ and His servant mentality. The universityofficials said later that when they saw Dr. Schweitzer helping that woman withher suitcase… they were wishing like everything that they could find somebodythey could help… somebody whose suitcase they could carry.
9)Mother Teresa’s servant mentality:Some years ago, Mother Teresa was asked by a reporter one day, “What is yourbiggest problem?” Without a moment of hesitation, Mother Teresa answered withone word: “Professionalism.” She said: “Here are these servants of Jesus whocare for the poorest of the poor. I have one who just went off and came backwith her medical degree. Others have come back with registered nurse degrees.Another with a master’s in social work… and when they came back with theirdegrees… their first question always is, ‘Where is my office?’ Then she said,‘But you know what I do? I send them over to the House of the Dying where theysimply hold the hands of dying people for six months and after that, they’reready to be servants again.’” (Victor D. Pentz, “Take This Job and Love It” Protestant Hour Sermon, 3/14/2005, p.3)This was the greatness of Mother Teresa… her unflinching commitment to stayconnected to Christ’s Servant Mentality.
10)The novel: Brazil: John Updike once more revealed hisremarkably brilliant powers of description in the novel Brazil. Updike shares his uncanny ability to portray the settingand landscape that surround his characters in order to highlight their natureand their roles. However, Updike's greatest gift is the manner in which he isable to crawl inside the characters to reveal their restless and franticstruggles to discover themselves. The principal characters in Brazil are Tristao and Isabel. Theirlove for each other survives a tormented parade of trials forced on them byfamily, nature, society, and the economy. Yet, the end for them is as tragic asfor Tristan and Isolde, whose names and whose roles are so similar. Purposely,the reader is left to wonder a great deal about the significance of suchrelationships and, above all, about the meaning of such lives.
Today the Holy Gospel suggests to us that life lived apart from our Lord JesusChrist is meaningless and without purpose. Jesus himself talks about the needto be attached to him. We can readily appreciate the importance of relationshipin a day when human relations are extremely difficult. What Jesus suggests,however, is that all human relations are dependent upon him.
11)John Kennedy and Martin Luther King:In his book, The Kennedy Imprisonment:A Meditation on Power, Gary Willscontrasts the contributions of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.,through their conception of power. The Camelot that JFK created at the WhiteHouse vanished. On the other hand, King, the pacifist who believed innon-violence and achievements through suffering and patience, made lasting impressionson our society. In like manner, the contrast in styles and understanding ofpower in ordinary people makes for differences in their lives. People who intheir quiet ways draw life from the One who is the Vine discover that they notonly live in him by love and grace, and he in them, but also they are able tolive in one another through love and grace.
12)“Mom, you'll never have to take in washing again.” : Marian Anderson, perhaps the greatestsoprano who ever lived, had such a wonderful relationship with her mother. Itwas said of Mrs. Anderson's life: her music could bring one to tears; her lifecould bring one to his/her knees. She was once being interviewed and she wasasked the most wonderful moment in her most impressive career. She could have mentionedthat time when the great Arturo Toscanini told her that hers was the greatestvoice of the century. She could have mentioned that time when she sang beforethe Roosevelts and the King and Queen of England. She could have said winningit was winning a coveted award for the person who had done the most for herhometown of Philadelphia. There was also the time when she sang before a crowdof 75,000 on Easter Sunday beneath the Lincoln statue. Which of these highmoments would she chose? None of them. “My greatest moment,” she said, “is whenI went home to my mother and said: ‘Mom, you'll never have to take in washingagain.’” If this relationship can exist between a mother and a daughter, thenhow much more can our relationship with Jesus Christ be? “I am the true vine,”he said. “As the Father has loved me, so I love you.” And what happens, when weabide in him and he abides in us? Our joy will be made full.
13)He was buying a get-well card for the bus driver. Shehad been brutally murdered on a neighborhood bus. A young, teenaged girl. Cutdown in the prime of life by a man suddenly gone berserk. The bus driver,struggling with her assailant, was himself injured. The morning after thetragedy, I was in a drugstore when this young lady's father entered. I did notknow him, but was told by the druggist, "That's the girl's father." Iimmediately assumed he was in the store having a prescription filled for asedative of some sort. I could well imagine the effects of this sudden andshocking tragedy on the family. The next day I found out how wrong had been myassumption. Do you know what that father was doing in the drugstore the morningafter his daughter's tragic death? He was buying a get-well card for the busdriver. Such concern is not born in the orchard of a life barren of fruit. Thefather's action was most Christ-like. Even in personal sorrow, he was concernedfor the well-being of another. Where does such gallantry of soul come from? Itcomes when one looks into the heart of God through a living relationship withhis Son, Jesus Christ. In today's gospel, Our Lord, using vivid symbolism,spells out clearly his relationship to us, and our relationship to him. "Iam the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it isthat bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing."
14)“Lady Diana came to the church as a commoner; she departed as royalty.”. Back in 1981, the attention ofthe world was focused on the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Thereporter of a newspaper was describing the arrival of the entourage to theCathedral where the wedding was to take place. He described how all the royalfamily were carried in special royal coaches to the Cathedral while Lady Dianaarrived in the coach of a commoner. Then there was this rather telling sentencein the newspaper account. “Lady Diana came to the church as a commoner; shedeparted as royalty.” This is a vivid description of what grace is all about.We come as sinners, but grace turns us into heirs and joint heirs with Christof all that God wants to give us. It also is a vivid description of thepossibility that comes to each one of us – the possibility of a deeper walkwith Christ. Jesus said to his disciples,“You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” Ponder that awesome truth.We have not chosen God; God has chosen us. In His extravagant grace, He hasgiven us His love, and confronted us with His call. We arrive in his presenceas commoners; we leave as royalty.
15) Story of a branch separated from the vine inthe film La Dolce Vita: The film followsthe exploits of a young scandal-sheet writer named Marcello as he flits frommistress to mistress and from orgy to orgy. Marcello embodies the loneliness,emptiness and boredom of the jet-set crowd with whom he keeps company. Theirdecay is symbolized in the last scene in which Marcello and his friends find ona beach a strange fish rotting in the sun. Across the inlet, an innocent girlcalls to Marcello. Although she reminds him of the good and simple life he onceenjoyed and could recover, he cannot find the courage to react to herinvitation. La Dolce Vita illustrateswhat our Lord meant when he said in today's gospel: “A man who does not live in me is like a withered branch, picked up tobe thrown in the fire and burnt." When Marcello was growing up withhis family in a small town he led a simple but happy life. But now that he hadforsaken their religion and lifestyle for the decadence of the big cities, hefound himself not only unhappy, but also dying intellectually, morally andspiritually. Indeed, Fellini's image of the rotting fish and Christ's metaphorof the withered branch are strong symbols of what happens to us when weseparate ourselves from our Lord, his Church and our family [Albert Cylwicki inHis World Resounds].
16) One-hundred percent American? Today's gospel speaks of our radicaldependence on God for everything. The vine, to be fruitful, has to be cut andpruned, but must remain always attached to the vine or else it dies. "As a branch cannot bear fruit byitself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain inme." Often we do not like to admit our dependence, but the factremains that we are constantly dependent on others for our daily existence."The average person might awaken in a bed built on a pattern whichoriginated in the Near East, to a clock, a medieval European invention. Heslips into soft moccasins invented by American Indians. He showers with soapinvented by the ancient Gauls, and dries himself with a Turkish towel.Returning to the bedroom he dons garments derived from the clothing of nomadsof the Asiatic steppes and in ancient Egypt. At his breakfast table, he haspottery invented in China, his knife is made of an alloy first produced insouthern India; his fork is a medieval Italian invention, his spoon aderivative of a Roman original. His food originated in discoveries from allover the world. He reads the news of the day imprinted in characters inventedby the ancient Semites, by a process invented in Germany upon a materialinvented in China. Sometime during the day he may thank a Hebrew God in anIndo-European language that he is one-hundred per cent American." –(Harold Buetow). L/12


Jokes


1) The Usher: An elderly womanwalked into the local country church. The friendly usher greeted her at thedoor and helped her up the flight of steps. "Where would you like tosit?" he asked politely. "The front row please," she answered."You really don't want to do that," the usher said. "The pastoris really boring." "Do you happen to know who I am? I'm the pastor'smother," she declared indignantly. "Do you know who I am?" theusher asked. "No." she said. "Good," he answered.



SYNOPSIS FOR EASTER SUNDAY V (MAY 6, 2012) JN 15: 1-8
Introduction
Today’s scripture selections emphasize the need for Christians to abidein Christ as a condition for producing fruits of kindness, mercy, charity andholiness.
Scripture Lessons


The first reading, fromthe Acts of the Apostles, testifies to the abundance of spiritual fruitsyielded by the apostles because of their close bond with the risen Lord. The reading tells us how the Lord pruned the former Pharisee, Saul ofTarsus, a fanatic who had persecuted the Church, to produce a fruit-bearing branchcalled Paul, the zealous Apostle to the Gentiles, entirely dedicated to theproclamation of the gospel. Even Paul’s forced return to Tarsus for abrief period is an example of God’s pruning of the vine to bring forth agreater harvest, namely, the mission to the Gentiles.
In today’s second reading, John,in his first letter to the Church, explains that only if we remain united toChrist by putting our faith in him and drawing our spiritual strength from him,will we be able to obey God’s commandments, especially the commandment of love.
In the gospel, takenfrom the Last Supper discourse, Jesus uses his favorite image of the vine andbranches to help his disciples understand the closeness of their relationshipwith him and the necessity of maintaining it. They are not simply rabbi and disciples. Their lives are mutually dependent - as close as a vine and itsbranches. In fact, in using this image,Jesus is explaining to them and to us what our relationship with him shouldbe like.


Life Messages


1) We need pruning in our Christian life. Cutting out of our liveseverything that is contrary to the spirit of Jesus and renewing our commitmentto Christian ideals in our lives every day is the first type of self-imposedpruning expected of us. A second means of pruning is topractice self-control over our evil inclinations, sinful addictions andaberrations. Cordial mingling with people of different cultures, races,religions and orientations in our neighborhood and society enable us to pruneour selfish and prejudicial tendencies as we treat others in the society withChristian charity and openness. Jesus prunes, purifies and strengthens us byallowing us to face pain and suffering, contradictions and difficulties withthe courage of our Christian convictions.
2) We need to abide in Christ and let Christ abide in us:The four gospels teach us how to become true disciples of Jesus and how toabide in him as branches abide in the main trunk of the vine drawing their lifefrom it. Personal and liturgicalprayers, frequenting of the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist andReconciliation, daily and meditative reading of the Bible and selfless, loving acts of kindness andmercy and forgiveness enable us to abidein Jesus, the true vine, as fruit-bearing branches.



Sermons for Easter 5

 John 15:1-8 - "I Am the True Vine"

Acts 8:26-40 - "Practicing the Presence" by Leonard Sweet

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 It is fascinating to me that in our Protestant religious culture, such a strong emphases is placed upon literal interpretation. Interestingly, Jesus so often did not speak literally, but figuratively. He spoke in allegories and images. He painted word pictures. Instead of literally coming out and saying what he meant, he so often would tell a story and let people draw their own conclusion. Indeed, these hidden messages of Jesus frequently frustrated his disciples. They wished that he would speak literally and not be quite so subtle.


 This morning we take a look at one of the "I Am" sayings of Jesus. Jesus said: I am the true vine. Now, even the most ardent fundamentalist has to agree that when Jesus spoke these words he was not speaking literally. Obviously, if we are to understand what Jesus was getting at here, we must look beyond the surface and do some exploring. We have to go beyond the actual words and discover Jesus' meaning.

When Jesus spoke about vineyards, the people of Judea knew what he was talking about. It was an industry that had been carefully cultivated throughout the country for centuries. It was crucial because it was a cash crop as opposed to grain, which was raised purely for consumption. In early America the essential crop was corn, but the cash crop was tobacco. It was, therefore, vital to the economy of the land.

 Quite frankly I must admit that I know very little about the particulars of the wine industry. In preparation for this sermon I did some reading in this area and it was really quite fascinating. The vines are a very rugged crop in a way and in another sense it is a very delicate fruit and requires being treated with kid gloves. A young vine is not permitted to bear fruit for the first three years. It is therefore drastically pruned in December and January to preserve its energy. The particular branches that do not bear fruit are cut out to further conserve the energy of the plant. If this constant cutting back was not done, the result would be a crop that was not up to its full potential.

So when Jesus spoke about vineyards certainly the people could identify with that metaphor, even as a person in Iowa would know about corn, or in Mississippi about cotton. It didn't make any difference whether or not you were in that business. You had grown up around it enough that you would still be familiar with it.

 But there is something else that these listeners would most certainly know. A vineyard was the symbol of the nation. In America we might think of amber waves of grain, but in Judea they thought of their nation as a vineyard. It was a kind of national identity. Over and over again in the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard of God.

Isaiah the prophet pictured Israel as the vineyard of God. He said: The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel. In Jeremiah, we read God referring to his chosen people in this way: I planted you as a choice vine. Hosea spoke a word of judgment when he said: Israel has become an empty vine. In the Psalms we read that God compares Israel to a vine that came out of Egypt. Josephus, the Roman historian, informs us that over the Temple in Jerusalem was carved an exquisite, gold leaf grapevine. It stood as a symbol of national unity. Israel itself was, in the eyes of its people, the true vine, whose roots ran all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In Jesus analogy, he likened himself to a vine, while the fruit bearing branches here are the disciples. God the farmer is depicted as the one who cultivates the vineyard. He waters and tends the soil, so that the vine is properly nourished. He takes pride in his crop. But this means that he also prunes the vines and removes the dead wood. The grapes hang on to the branches. What Jesus is saying is clear. The disciples should receive their strength from Jesus. He is the true vine. If they break away from him, they will be like unproductive branches and die and bear no fruit. They then will have to be pruned out.

 What can we make of this analogy in terms of our daily life? What does it mean to be God's vineyard?

 1. First, it means we must bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.
2. Secondly, it means there is such a thing as an unproductive life.
3. Third, it means we must cultivate a relationship with Jesus Christ.


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 "Practice what you preach."

 That old saw is usually trotted out when some high profile "holier-than-thou" type has their wings clipped and their reputation riddled with holes. Or a "sterling" character is revealed to have feet of crumbling clay.

But there is one big problem with "practice what you preach." It all depends on what it is you are "preaching." When some convictions are put into action the results can be catastrophic or cruel, insidious or just plain evil. Mother Teresa practiced what she preached, but so too did Adolph Hitler. Osama bin Laden practiced what he preached, as did the Unabomber.

 If only the church "practiced what it preached," we say, then the community of faith that confesses "Jesus is Lord" would be the #1 purveyor of love and peace in the world. But once again, we need to consider carefully what is being "preached" and who is doing the "preaching." When we get wrapped up in preaching a doctrine or a direction or a divine plan, we end up practicing things like "spiritual laws" or "strategic plans" or "target quotas." But is that the kind of gospel mission and message presented in today's text from Acts?

 The power that "preached" to Philip; the power that "preached" to the Ethiopian eunuch in today's Act's text: that power was neither scripted nor strategic, neither planned nor programmed. It was the power of the Holy Spirit. It was the power of the Spirit of God working through one of Christ's followers in surprising, remarkable, and unexpected ways.

For the first generation of Christians the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ made present within the human heart, was what made "Christianity" a living reality. There was no preconceived idea for "church growth," no specific guidelines for "mission expansion" or "church planting." There was only the openness of disciples to the wonder-working power of the Spirit.

 In other words, the first generation of Jesus' followers did not "practice what they preached." Instead they "preached what they practiced...

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The Orchard of Your Life

 A grapevine is a most productive plant. Spreading out its branches, each is intended to bring forth fruit. No vine grower is foolish enough to invest his time and effort in cultivating vines merely for the foliage on its branches. He looks for results. Fruits! As the branches of Christ in the Kingdom of God, we are expected to produce the fruits of spiritual life. And no, we're not speaking of spiritual apples, grapes, pears, or peaches this morning. We're talking of what's going on in the orchard of your life. What are you producing?

Saint Paul once enumerated in his writings what those fruits of the spirit were. He said, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." How's that for a fruit basket? A good list for the cultivation of life's orchard. With these fruits in mind, what's going on in your orchard?_______________________________________

 In Communion with Christ

 I heard about a little five-year-old boy who fell out of bed. His cry awakened the entire household. After his mother had safely tucked him back under the covers, she said, "Why did you fall out of bed?" Between tears and sobs, he said, "Well, I guess I went to sleep too close to where I got in."

 Far too many Christians make the same mistake. They fall out of the bed of life and go to heaven; yet they slept too close to where they got in. They never learned the difference between union and communion.

 Jesus said in v.5, "I am the vine, you are the branches." When you trust Christ, you become a branch in His vine. That is union. But he goes on to say in v.5, "He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit." Now that is communion. Union is the basis of communion. To abide in Christ is a twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week, fifty-two week a year intimate fellowship with Him, so that you become a fruit-bearing branch.

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Our Fuel

 C.S. Lewis wrote, "God has designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing."

C.S. Lewis
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 The Best Connection

You and I live in the period of history where we have access to more information than ever before. We have so much information that it produces what has been called the "Paralysis of Analysis." It was the poet T. S. Eliot who wrote:

 Where is the wisdom--we have lost in knowledge.

Where is the knowledge--we have lost in information.

The beauty of our faith is that God gave us more than information--he gave us Himself. He gave us more than rules and outward appearances. He gave us a relationship with him. Colossians 2:10, "In Him you have been made complete." Only he can satisfy your deepest longing and bring order to your innermost being. In Jesus Christ, God's word became flesh. He is alive!

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 What You See Is God's Love

Carlyle Marney told about an old man who was asked once, "Have you ever seen God?" He said, "No, but I have known a couple of Jesuses in my lifetime." That is what John is talking about. No one has ever seen God, but what you can see is God's love.

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 The Right Parts and the Right Instructions

 Have you heard the story about the man who ordered a tree house over the internet? When the box arrived, it had printed on the top the words that have become every parent's nightmare: "Some assembly required."

The man began to assemble the tree house (but would you believe it?) as he laid out all the parts on the floor and began reading the instructions, he realized (to his dismay) that the instructions were indeed for a tree house? but the parts were for a sail boat!!

 The next day, he sent an angry e-mail message to the company complaining about the mix-up. Back came the reply:

 "We are truly sorry for the error and the mix-up and the inconvenience. However, it might make you feel better to consider the fascinating possibility that somewhere today there is a man out on a lake trying to sail your tree house."

 The point is clear: To put something together, you have to have the right parts and the right instructions. This is where faith comes in. The only way you can put your life together is through faith. Faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. That's what makes it work.

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 "I Am"


There are seven "I Am" sayings in the gospel of John. I Am the true vine is the last of these sayings.

 I am the bread of life - 6:35

I am the light of the world - 8:12 & 9:5

I am the gate for the sheep - 10:7,9

I am the good shepherd - 10:11,14

I am the resurrection and the life - 11:25

I am the way and the truth and the life - 14:6

I am the true vine - 15:1,5


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From the Vine

 Recently we experienced severe thunderstorms with very high winds. My neighbor had a tree which the winds tore off several large limbs. Because the limbs were large it took him several days to get them cut up and removed. There was one very noticeable thing about the limbs that lie there on the ground tore from the trunk of the tree. They died. This may sound very trite and you may be saying, "well of course they did! A limb cannot live separated from the tree." I too know this fact, but seeing them lying there dying drilled home the reality, "apart from the tree the limb cannot survive." This fact of nature was used by Jesus as a metaphor for the Christian life.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 15:5-6)

 We cannot live the Christian life and be fruitful Christians apart from Christ any more than those limbs could live after being tore off the tree trunk. Every branch draws its identity, its sustenance, it life from the vine. No two branches are alike and yet they are all the same. Paradoxical as it is, it is true. Every Christian is unique and yet every Christian is the same. Our identity is derived from the Vine. We are known by the Vine. We receive our sustenance and life from the Vine.
Gerald Whetstone, Personal but Not Private

 No Good If Detached

 About eighteen months ago the refrigerator at the parsonage had to be replaced. So we went to Reliable Home Supply and got a new one. It was delivered and put into place by two strong fellas. Before they pushed it into the corner I notice a tag which said: "No good if detached." Can you think of any other place this tag should be placed?

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 Source of Our Power

The story is told of a native from a remote mountain village who had the opportunity to visit a large modern city for the first time. He could not bring much home with him, and he had little money. But he was amazed at the electric lights which he saw everywhere.

 So he bought a sack full of electric lights bulbs and sockets with switches so he could turn them off and on.

 Arriving home he hung the light bulbs in front of his home and on his and his neighbor's trees. Everyone watched him with curiosity and asked him what he was doing, but he just smiled and said, "Just wait until dark--you'll see...