Monday, May 15

Sermon Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:25-31
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

“I am the true vine…” Jesus tells us, “Abide in me as I abide in you…. I am the vine you are the branches….” In this extended metaphor and parable we are given an image of the church as a community of persons who are one with Christ. This image of the vine is related to the Old Testament image of the vineyard: the vineyard is Israel and the Landowner /vinedresser is God. Elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus uses the image of the vineyard in some of his critiques of his opponents who claim to be the religious leaders of Israel. Jesus in our Gospel today narrows the focus of the metaphor to articulate the relationship between himself and the People of God. The people of god is reconceived as centered on and constituted by Jesus Christ. This is so because Jesus is the word of God in human flesh, the very wisdom of God. All this though explains the background and the origin of the image Jesus is using but does not begin to touch on what it means to abide in Christ or bear fruit. The actions of Philip and the reflection on love in 1 John can help open up the meaning of the vine and branches. As we explore these passages we find that abiding in Jesus Christ is recognizing the source of our life is god and that bearing fruit is openness to life that is beyond our own life. Taken together this is the life of the church, the life of the Spirit.

In Acts Philip is one of many examples of a life lived by the power of the Spirit. Philip is abiding in Christ and bearing fruit. We see this more fully when we look at the whole story of Philip as presented in Acts. Philip is one of the deacons of the church chosen when controversy over the care of widows erupted in the early church. Shortly after this the deacon Stephen is martyred as the first persecution of the church begins. Because of this persecution in Jerusalem many of the early Christians disperse. Philip goes to Samaria and begins to preach the Gospel there. People respond and they are baptized. Peter and John come to check on this expansion of the church and find that the Spirit had not yet descended on the Samaritans yet and they lay hands on those baptized to receive the Holy Spirit.

Our lectionary text this evening follows upon those events. As we read Philip without asking for an explanation follows the directions of an “angel of the Lord” and heads down a certain highway. Along this road he happens upon the Ethiopian Eunuch and is directed by the Spirit and hears the Eunuch reading from the prophet Isaiah. It is important to note here that according to the law Eunuchs could be part of the people of God and were forbidden to enter the Temple. From this perspective the Ethiopian Eunuch was on the margins of the people of God both because he was a gentile and because he was a Eunuch. But Philip like he was in Samaria was open to the direction of God, and shares the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Eunuch who then after hearing embraces the new life offered in the gospel and is baptized.

Philip in these stories is open to the flow of life that has it source in God. Like the branch of a vine which receiver its sap, its life, from the vine and passes that life on to the fruit, so Philip is open the Spirit knowing the source of his life and know that life is given to him for those beyond himself, even beyond the old boundaries. This was both his special calling as a deacon and simply what it meant to abide in Christ. Because of this openness life is brought to one who use to be kept beyond the people of God and who physically can not help bring new life into the world but who now baptized and in Christ can bring Christ the life of the world to Ethiopia. The fruitfulness of Philip is being open to the witness the truth of the Gospel in unlikely and unpredictable ways. Philips life is an example of the life and love of God flowing through the church giving life to the world. This is abiding in Christ so that there is fruit.

In 1 John abiding in Christ is explicitly spoken of as love. The logic of this passage is the same as the relationship between vine branch and fruit. John begins with identity: to know the God who is love means exhibiting that love oneself. This is so not simply because we are to give to others what we ourselves have received, but because we are joined to the source of love. We know this love not because we have found it in ourselves but because God has shown us love in Jesus Christ. Thus if we are truly abiding in God, God’s life is shown in us by our love for others. Living in Christ is to have that life which is between God and others. We receive from God love, and the love we receive is then directed towards others: ore sisters and brothers. This is fruitfulness.

Fruitfulness is the result of abiding in Christ as our life is lived in love from God and flows through us towards others. The life of the Church, and the life of all of us as members of Christ, comes from God and is for the sake and life and love. Like a fruit bearing brand we receive what we need for ourselves from Jesus Christ, the love of god. Yet this love, which sustains us, is to flow through us bring the life and love of God to others. Like a branch that bears fruit we lose nothing of what we need for our own life by passing on life to the fruit. We loose none of the love we receive from God by allowing God’s love to flow freely through us to the world.

This is the good news for us as members of Christ: apart from Christ we can do nothing! This is good news because the call to love brothers and sisters, neighbors, enemies is not meant by god to be done on our own efforts. The calling of he Church and of each of us as members (branches) of Christ is possible only as we allow ourselves to be fully embraced by the love of god: learning that God cares for us like a vinedresser cares for a vine and its branches, like a mother suckles her infant at her breast. Only as we abide in Christ and God’s love can we find the eternal flow of love and see God’s love and life flow through us to the world. This is so simple and yet so difficult. So often we hear and read these words as demand and expectation. We forget that these words are God’s loving appeal for us to rest in God so that we will never wither and loose our life but rather always have enough life and love for ourselves and the entire world.