A Sermon preached on April 29, Easter V (Family Service), at St. Augustine’s, Wiesbaden
Acts 8:26-40, 1 John 4:7-21, John 15:1-8
In our Gospel reading today, you heard Jesus told his disciples a story to teach them the importance of staying connected to him. Jesus didn't use a lamp to tell his story, one reason being that electricity hadn't even been invented yet.
Instead, Jesus used an example that his disciples and the people of his day would know and understand. He used the example of a vine, presumably a grapevine. It is a plant with a lot of branches growing out from it. We even have one in the church garden. The branches have bunches of grapes on them.
So what did Jesus say about the vine? "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." (John 15:5)
Last week we heard Jesus say “I am the Good Shepherd,” and our preacher Jane Sautter explained that he was telling us that we can trust his devotion, his power, and his knowledge. To say I am the vine is another way of saying, I am what gives you life and I am the source of all that is good within you and all the good that you do. And Jesus wants us to a lot of good. In the picture he uses, he wants us to produce a lot of fruit. Good fruit like being kind, generous, and faithful. Most of all, he wants us to love others as he has loved us.
Can we do that on our own? No way. Just as the lamp must be plugged in before its light can shine, and just as the branches must be connected to the vine before they can produce fruit, you and I must stay connected to Jesus to produce the good fruit that God expects of us. A branch that has been broken off vine will just wither up and die. It can never have any fruit on it again. If we are not connected, if we do not abide in him, then we won’t bear the fruit we’re supposed to either.
What does it mean to stay connected – or plugged in? That means staying in touch with him at a personal level, each one of us: through prayer and personal devotion, through reading the Bible, through participation in worship. That’s how we ensure that we are both cleansed and renewed by his word, how we know what he wants from us, and that he knows just what we want and even more importantly need. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:5)
But we must also stay in touch with him as a group or as a community. There is no such thing as a solitary Christian. I don’t want to overwork Jesus’ picture of a grapevine, but the grapes are not directly or individually attached to the branch. They are attached in bunches, in groups. Why is community important? Jesus himself said that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) We learn better together, because we also learn from one another. As a community we can offer classes and courses, Sunday school and youth groups. A community is a great place to practice loving one another as he loves us. We can practice what are called the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) And yes, even here, in this almost perfect community, we need to practice patience …… And in and as a community, we are much better placed to pool our resources to help those in need. Worship is also much more rewarding and enriching together!
Last and certainly not least, I truly believe that the world needs to be connected to God, who is the ground of all being. And as a Christian I believe that connection is through Jesus, the vine planted and tended by the vinegrower, his Father. A world without God is not fully alive. In a world without God, people and nations are too often self-focussed and selfish – which seems to be coming a trend right now. We are only really and fully human if we are connected not only to God, in whose image we are all made, but with one another.
Jesus’ word picture of the vine is all about being connected, as was much of his teaching. Jesus came to restore connections, or relationships, with the Father through him, and with one another by following his example. If you want to grow, if you want to bear fruit, if you want to glorify the Father, and yes if you want your little light to shine: stay connected!