May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord our rock and our redeemer.
We are at the 5th Sunday in Easter – how can that be? I am not sure how you all are feeling, but it seems that time is moving both very slowly and very fast at the same time. And I feel both more rooted than ever and more unrooted than ever! How can that be?!
Well maybe its best to just let the Scripture passages do their work in us today and have its time to speak. Except that every time I read these passages something in me stirs. But I can’t always tell if it’s a stirring of anticipation or a stirring of impending doom. What familiar feeling for these days!
Let’s begin with the Gospel of John. Jesus said, I am the Vine, you are the branches.
I read this verse and the fluttering begins. Is it because being the branch, rather than the Vine, we are more susceptible to the conditions around us? If the air around us is too cold we can get brittle and break off, if the sun is too scorching we can wither under its power. If the wind is too strong we can crack. And if we do not have enough moisture, we can shrivel and fade away.
This isn’t bringing any peace! Is there a new way to look at this?. If looked at from this external perspective, the condition of each branch is completely determined by that which is around us. What might happen if we begin to look at that which is within us. All the growth and strength of a branch does not come from the outside or from the branch itself but from the very roots of 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.”
Jesus did not say if you stand beside me, nor if you hide behind me and he certainly did not say if you let me control you by the conditions around you. What He did say was – if you abide in me and I in you. Apart from the source, the branch is at the mercy of the world. But connected, the branch becomes full of life from the inside out. Something shifts if we go deep.
I think the fluttery feeling comes from fear. What might happen if we were to truly abide and let Christ be our Source? What might it be like to truly understand that though we are only one branch, He knows each branch, each one of us, so well to know which are in need of pruning, and which are ready to bear much fruit. Are we ready to ask these questions? Or are we still afraid?
Our reading from 1 John reminds us that “perfect love casts out fear.” But what does that mean when we are often reminded that there is no such thing as perfect. We can all give examples when that it's perfect, he's perfect she's perfect, they're perfect, I’m perfect shine wears off. And the risk of aiming for perfect always seems to end in disappointment. And instead of a reduction in fear it seems the fear gets even greater. And in 1 John we also read that that “there is no fear in love.” Objection! There is a lot of fear in love! Both in loving and in being loved. There are so many risks! The internal fluttering just won’t stop!
But then we remember again where we are. In the vineyard - Christ as the vine and the Father as the Vinegrower. This is where we dwell and this is where we abide in Him and He in us. Even in our pandemic restricted and isolated homes we are in the vineyard. Even in our pandemic created chaos and silence we are in the vineyard. And especially even in those pandemic created moments where we receive or give a gift of love, however small, we are in the vineyard.
So it seems that perfect love is both a description and an action. Jesus who is Perfect Love Himself is both perfecting his love into and within us and He is casting the fear out of us. Is this what it means to be pruned?
In the abiding, our very roots are formed. In the abiding, we are offered nourishment and care. And when it's time for us to bear much, we become that nourishment and care for others. It is from the very deep place of abiding where the Spirit rises up within us and calls out and spurs us into action. This is just as it was for Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in our reading from Acts.
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” And then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over to this chariot and join it." And then “the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away”. Although the Spirit sounds a bit bossy, in the abiding he heard and he responded. And I believe it was the Spirit who nudged the Ethiopian Eunuch to seek out the answers to his questions and to be baptized in joy. There is a restless feeling when the Spirit speaks for there is a gentle insistence to follow the call.
Friends, I am guessing we all are feeling a bit restless these days. Ready for the travelling, the visiting, the in-church worshipping to begin again. But maybe, just maybe, in this particular time in the Vineyard the Spirit is doing its work in new ways. Maybe just maybe the restlessness is in the healing work of abiding. Maybe just maybe the restlessness is the pruning work of perfect loving. And maybe just maybe the restlessness is the Easter resurrection work of Christ appearing.
We are both already and only in the 5th Sunday in Easter so we can prayerfully anticipate that Jesus will continue to appear in ways least expected and in those places where we feel the most restless and the most afraid. Be we are invited to remember where we are, who we are, and Whose we are. So may we go deeper into the abiding. May we go wider into the perfect loving. And may we go higher into the rejoice and the praising both as individuals and as a community of branches who grow right in the center of the heart of God.