The Fifth Sunday of Easter
The Rev. George Pejakovich
John 15:9-17

WHEN WATCHING TV IN THE EVENINGS, I OFTEN RECORD THE SHOWS AND WATCH THEM AT A LATER TIME JUST TO AVOID LISTENING TO ALL THE COMMERCIALS ABOUT CELL PHONE NETWORKS. EVERY COMPANY CLAIMS TO OFFER THE BEST SERVICE WITH THE GREATEST CONNECTIVITY. I SUPPOSE THERE IS SOME MERIT IN HAVING A PHONE WITH ALL THE BELLS AND WHISTLES WHICH ALLOWS YOU TO GOOGLE AND HOOK UP TO FACEBOOK WITH A WI FI LINK, BUT ALL THIS SEEMS TO ME TO COME WITH A HIDDEN COST.

EVERYWHERE I LOOK I SEE PEOPLE WALKING ALONG, AND EVEN DRIVING, WITH THEIR HEADS DOWN AND THEIR THUMBS FLYING OVER THE KEYBOARD OF THEIR PHONES. IF DARWIN WAS RIGHT, IN A FEW CENTURIES HUMAN THUMBS WILL BE TRICE THEIR CURRENT LENGTH AND FLEXIBLE LIKE AN OCTOPUS TENTACLE. THE SADDEST THING TO ME IS TO SEE A GROUP OF YOUNG PEOPLE SITTING TOGETHER ALL WITH THEIR HEADS DOWN TEXTING AND NOT TALKING TO EACH OTHER. THIS IS NOT CONNECTIVITY.

REAL CONNECTIVITY IS MUCH MORE THAN A “LIKE” RELATIONSHIP ON FACEBOOK OR THE ANONYMITY OFFERED BY SOME OF THE LESS WHOLESOME SITES. PEOPLE WHO KNOW ME WELL KNOW THAT I DON’T EVEN LIKE TO TALK ON THE PHONE, BECAUSE I DO NOT SOCIALIZE ON THE PHONE, AND IF THEY HAVE SOMETHING TO TELL ME THEY KNOW TO GET RIGHT TO THE POINT. TO ME, A CONNECTION TO ANOTHER HAS TO BE DIRECT, IMMEDIATE, AND PERSONAL; UNMEDIATED PERSON TO PERSON.

THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY IS ALL ABOUT TRUE CONNECTIVITY. THE METAPHOR OF THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES IS A VERY FAMILIAR ONE, BUT THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE METAPHOR MAY NOT BE AS WELL UNDERSTOOD TODAY AS WHEN JESUS TOLD IT TO HIS DISCIPLES. THE IMAGE OF ISRAEL AS THE VINEYARD OF GOD WAS WELL ESTABLISHED IN THE MINDS OF THE PEOPLE. THE GOLDEN GRAPEVINES ON THE FAÇADE OF THE TEMPLE WERE A CLEAR REMAINDER THAT GOD WAS THE VINEGROWER AND THAT ISRAEL WAS TO BE THE FRUIT OF HIS PLANTING. THE GREAT PROPHETS, ESPECIALLY ISAIAH AND EZEKIEL, WARNED THE PEOPLE ABOUT NOT BEARING THE FRUIT GOD WANTED AND OF THE CONSEQUENCES IN NOT DOING SO. GOD WOULD TEAR DOWN THE WALLS PROTECTING THE VINEYARD AND HE WOULD REPLANT HIS VINES ELSEWHERE.

SO WHEN JESUS SAID, “I AM THE TRUE VINE, AND MY FATHER IS THE VINEGROWER,” HE ESTABLISHES THAT THE RELATIONSHIP GOD HAD WITH THE NATION OF ISRAEL IS NOW TO BE FOUND SOLELY IN HIM, AND THAT ONLY BY AN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM IS IT POSSIBLE TO BEAR THE FRUIT WHICH THE FATHER WANTS. HE TOLD THEM THAT THEY HAVE ALREADY BEEN CLEANSED BY THE WORD HE HAD BROUGHT TO THEM, NOW, TO BEAR FRUIT, THEY MUST ABIDE IN HIM AS HE ABIDES IN THEM. THE WORD FOR ABIDE HAS THE SAME ROOT AS THE WORD FOR BELIEVE, OR TRUST. YOU DON’T LIVE WITH SOMEONE YOU DON’T TRUST OR BELIEVE, SO THE ONLY WAY TO BEAR THE FRUIT THAT GOD WANTS IS TO LIVE IN JESUS, TO TRUST IN JESUS, AS HE WILL LIVE AND TRUST IN US.

THE IMAGE OF THE COMMUNITY JESUS IS BUILDING IS ONE OF INTERRELATEDNESS, MUTUALITY, AND INTIMATE CONNECTIVITY. “I AM THE VINE, YOU ARE THE BRANCHES,” HE SAID, AND WHEN YOU LOOK AT A GRAPEVINE YOU CAN’T SEE WHERE ONE BRANCH ENDS AND ANOTHER BEGINS; THEY ARE ALL INTIMATELY INTERTWINED AS THEY GROW OUT OF THE CENTRAL VINE. THE FRUITFULNESS OF EACH INDIVIDUAL BRANCH IS DETERMINED SOLELY BY ITS RELATIONSHIP TO THE VINE, SO THAT THOSE WHICH ARE NOURISHED BY THE VINE BEAR FRUIT, AND THOSE WHICH TO NOT WITHER AND DIE OR ARE PRUNED OFF. I HAVE SAID BEFORE THAT THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A SOLITARY CHRISTIAN (DON’T GET ME STARTED ON MY OPINION OF HERMITS) AND THE IMAGE OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE CHURCH IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN IS THAT OF THE FRUITFULNESS OF THE WHOLE COMMUNITY RATHER THAN THE ACHIEVEMENT OF AN INDIVIDUAL BRANCH.

THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE BRANCHES IS THE FRUITFULNESS, AND WHAT IS CONSIDERED AS FRUITFUL IS DECIDED BY THE VINEGROWER; AND THE FRUIT HE IS LOOKING FOR IS THE LOVE HE HAS FOR US TO GROW ON ALL THE BRANCHES OF THE VINE HE HAS PLANTED IN LOVE.

ALL THE BRANCHES ON THE VINE, EVERY MEMBER OF THE COMMUNITY CALLED THE CHURCH, YOUNG, OLD, MALE, FEMALE, ARE EQUALLY EXPECTED TO BEAR THE FRUIT OF LOVE, AND THAT LOVE ALWAYS IS EXPECTED TO RIPEN AS A PART OF THE COMMUNITY WHERE EACH INDIVIDUAL IS NOURISHED IN HIS OR HER LIFE IN CHRIST.

PEOPLE OFTEN ASK ME WHY, WHEN THEY SAY, “GOOD SERMON, GEORGE,” (I GET THAT A LOT) I REPLY WITH “PRAISE THE LORD,” INSTEAD OF SAYING, “THANK YOU.” THAT IS BECAUSE WHAT I DO AND SAY IS NEVER ABOUT ME, BUT IS JUST SOME OF THE FRUIT THAT GOD EXPECTS OF ME AT THIS POINT IN MY LIFE AS A PART OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE CHURCH. AT A FUTURE TIME, THE FRUIT I CAN BEAR MAY BE AFFECTED BY MY AGE OR HEALTH, BUT WHATEVER I CAN DO TO SHOW THE LOVE OF GOD TO OTHERS WILL STILL BE AS A PART OF THE OTHER BRANCHES OF THE VINE OF CHRIST. WE ARE ALL CALLED TO SHOW THE LOVE OF GOD IN CHRIST TO EACH OTHER AND TO THE WORLD IN WHATEVER WAY WE CAN, NOURISHED BY OUR LIFE IN CHRIST AND SUPPORTED AND STRENGTHENED BY THE BRANCHES WHICH SURROUND US; OR BROTHERS AND SISTERS WHO ALSO ABIDE IN JESUS.

THERE IS AN OLD STORY IN LUTHERAN CICLES ABOUT A PASTOR WHO WENT TO CALL ON ONE OF THE MEMBERS OF HIS PARISH WHO HAD STOPPED COMING TO WORSHIP, AND HAD CUT HIMSELF OFF FROM THE COMMUNITY OF THE CHURCH. WHEN ASKED ABOUT IT BY OTHER MEMBERS, HE SAID, “I CAN WORSHIP AND LOVE GOD JUST FINE BY MYSELF.” WHEN THE PASTOR WENT TO CALL ON HIM, THE MAN GRACIOUSLY WELCOMED HIM, AND THEY SAT DOWN TOGETHER IN FRONT OF THE FIREPLACE. THE MAN WAS DETERMINED TO WAIT OUT THE PASTOR, BECAUSE HE THOUGHT HE WOULD TRY TO MAKE HIM FEEL GUILTY ABOUT NOT COMING TO CHURCH. THEY SAT TOGETHER IN SILENCE FOR A WHILE, UNTIL THE PASTOR REACHED OUT WITH THE FIRETONGS AND TOOK A BURNING COAL FROM THE FIRE AND SET IT ASIDE ON THE FIREPLACE. IT SOON SPUTTERED AND WENT OUT. WHEN IT WAS COOL ENOUGH, THE PASTOR PICKED IT UP WITH HIS FINGERS AND THREW IT BACK ON THE FIRE. IT QUICKLY BURST INTO FLAMES AGAIN. WHEN IT WAS BURNING BRIGHTLY, WITHOUT SAYING A WORD, THE PASTOR GOT UP, PUT ON HIS COAT, AND PREPARED TO LEAVE. THE MAN LOOKED UP AND SAID, “GUESS I’LL SEE YOU IN CHURCH ON SUNDAY; AND, BY THE WAY, THAT WAS ONE OF THE BEST SERMONS YOU EVER GAVE.”

ALONE, WE WITHER AND DIE LIKE A CUT OFF BRANCH.

TOGETHER, WE BURN BRIGHT WITH THE LOVE OF GOD FOR EACH OTHER, AND FOR THE WORLD. THE FRUIT OF THE BRANCHES OF THE VINE OF CHRIST IS THE LOVE OF GOD IN US AND THROUGH US FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS. ONLY BY HIS ABIDING IN US, WE IN HIM, AND WE WITH EACH OTHER IS IT POSSIBLE TO BEAR THE FRUIT OF LOVE.
AMEN

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