Fifth Sunday of Easter
Introduction and Call to Worship
Each of us is part of the life of the vine of God. We come together to worship, to be grafted into God and strengthened for mission here in Thorpe. Let us celebrate God’s life in our lives.
First Reading Acts 8:26-40
The Spirit of Jesus went out with Philip and his understanding drew the Ethiopian towards faith in Jesus.
Second Reading 1 John 4:7-21
God is love. The Son provides loving atonement for us and we are called to live in love.
Gospel John 15:1-8
Jesus, the vine, nurtures and sustains us and we can only bear fruit through connection with him.
HOMILY “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
“I am the vine,” says Jesus, “you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” I know I have said it before but I truly believe that our wonderful Christian faith is all about community – a word which simply means ‘common unity’ – for church is not about us as individuals but actually what we achieve together as the body of Christ. The image of the vine is not about one person’s relationship with Jesus. It is about many people, joined to one another and to Christ.
Now when I was a child our family, including my great grandmother, grandparents etc, would hire several static caravans at Rockley Sands in Poole, Dorset for a week’s Summer Holiday together. They were wonderful times as Rockley was, in those days, an unspoilt resort with beautiful beaches, an Olympic size swimming pool (that was freezing cold!) and of course the evening venue for entertainment. The show at the ‘Palladium’, as it was called, would not be complete without people forming an enormous snake-like procession, linked together, singing ‘The Conga.’ I am cringing just thinking of it now! ‘Do do do, come on and do the conga…’ Oh dear! If people went too fast, or became too excited, the chain would break apart – you couldn’t go off in your own direction, you had to go with the flow; be connected.
In preparation for this sermon I looked up the same holiday park, which is now part of a chain. The ‘Palladium’ has long since gone, replaced by an indoor swimming pool with waterslides. The outside pool has gone too. It seems a shame; it is now memories of the past. Looking back there was something wonderful about almost everyone joining together to form a big chain – a bit like a large vine, dependent upon each other to stay upright. Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel passage is concerned with the same tension between union and separation – and our Lord asks each of us, “Where are you?” Are you attached to the vine – or trying to strike out on your own? The saying “I am the vine, you are the branches” (verse 5) assumes the same relationship of intimate union between Jesus and his disciples (as the pre-fallen Adam and Eve enjoyed with God in the Genesis story – not read today). The challenge to each disciple is to remain attached to the vine, “because apart from me you can do nothing” says Jesus. The language describing the cutting down and burning of the dead branches seems rather brutal and uncompromising, although I would suggest that, rather than representing a threat of punishment, Jesus is simply indicating a natural consequence; one obvious to any vineyard owner, for a branch separated from its sole source of life and nourishment will die and be discarded. For the vine to grow it must be grafted in, fed, watered and yet also pruned.
But the consequences which naturally follow when the branch remains deeply attached to the vine are equally clear: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you” (see verse 7). The vine and its healthy branches cannot do anything other than work in agreement. It is impossible for the branch to “ask” for anything that the vine does not naturally give to it. Friends, being a part of the vine is essential if we are to live for the Gospel in our daily lives. Indeed, biblical faith has always been about community.
Historically, becoming Christians was a community matter with whole households baptised together. Christian life was also lived out in community and many of our festivals today were once community occasions for celebration – just think of Pentecost – Whitsun. How often have you heard people claim to be Christian without going to church? And some advocate that in our time this makes perfect sense. You can live by Christian values without being an active member of the community of faith but, if we listen to the Bible and Jesus’ call for us to be grafted into the vine, that individualistic view is nonsense. Being baptised as a Christian makes each of us a member of the Christian community. We are joined to Christ and to one another. Apart from the community of faith, our faith has little meaning. “Apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus says. Christ draws us into a community of love; in this case the beautiful and wonderful and diverse vine that is St Mary’s Church, Thorpe – bringing our various gifts and talents to the mix. This is a community in which we find companionship, comfort, challenge and strength.
My friends, we live in an individualistic age, a time in which faith is seen as private and charity begins at home. There is pressure for politics and spirituality to be separated out – a theme repeated by the Green Party among others in the last week. But these matters are not distinct, they are essentially bound together. If we desire community we need to engage with matters of faith every day of our lives.
But we also live at a time when the Internet, among other things, has brought us more opportunities than ever before to be connected with others. People have discovered how much better it is to do things together. Taking our strength from the vine, we are capable of producing fruit that lasts. Jesus’ Conga, here we come! Amen.
1. Being connected to other people is essential for life – and even fun!
2. The same is true of biblical faith, which is about the community of the people of God.
3. Jesus’ metaphor of the vine tells us that we are connected to Christ and to all our Christian brothers and sisters.
4. In relationship with Christ and with one another we find comfort, challenge, support and hope.
5. We need other people, we need Jesus and we need the church in Thorpe! Amen!