Sunday, September 23, 2012

the Packers, the True Vine, and Baptism: a sermon on John 15:1-12

John 15:1-12

Jesus said,

”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been pruned by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 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. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”


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Good morning.

If you're new to Light of the World, or you haven't been able to make it to worship in the past couple weeks, we should start off with the fact that I am the brand-new Intern Pastor.  I just started at the beginning of September.  Some of you are familiar faces to me now.  Some of you are terrifying challenges to my ability to remember names.  All of you have shown me a wondrous and gracious welcome, and I am beyond grateful for that.

But I thought, at the start of my internship, that we should probably get something very important about me out in the open.  I don't want there to be questions, or wonderings, or whispers, or anything confusing.  And a couple of you have met my partner, Kristi, and know some of her story.  So I just want to make things clear, right from the get-go, so that especially during this fall which is already shaping up to be highly contentious, there aren't any questions about where I stand.

So just to be very clear, right up front:  I am a Packers fan.

Kristi, my partner of seven years, grew up in Wisconsin, and she first introduced me to the glory of the green and gold.  And Pastor Deb has assured me that this is okay -- that Light of the World is, in her words, "an ecumenical congregation."  She meant specifically that Light of the World is a congregation of Packer backers, Viking fans, and even people who cheer for the Chicago Bears.  But in my first few weeks I’ve come to find that this spirit of openness permeates more than the subject of football-- that there’s an openness to diverse traditions, ideas, and callings.

And into that openness, today's reading from the gospel of John speaks:  We are diverse.  We spread in many directions.  We look similar, and yet can be very different.  And this is okay.  This is more than okay, because as spread out as we are, we are part of the one True Vine.

Jesus is the vine.  We are the branches -- curling tendrils spread out, leaves seeking sun, blossoms opening their faces.  We are tended by God, cared for, worried over, loved and guided with tender hands.  And out of all that feeding and tending and loving, Jesus promises, comes fruit.

If you abide in me, Jesus promises, you will bear much fruit.  "Abide in me", he says.  "Abide in me as I abide in you."  "As the Father has loved me, so I love you; abide in my love."  John quotes Jesus as repeating this over and over:  abide, abide, abide.

The interesting thing about the word "abide" is that it's difficult to translate.  The original Greek word is meno.  Other gospel writers use it here and there, but John's gospel has it all over the place.  And that's because it has so many meanings.  At the beginning of John's gospel, when John the baptist sees Jesus and cries out "Behold, the lamb of God!  I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it rested on him."  "Rested" is that Greek word again - meno.  And throughout John's gospel, when Jesus goes from town to town teaching and preaching, he's invited to stay in certain villages and homes.  And when he stays somewhere, it's the Greek word again -- meno.

So when Jesus says, "Abide in me, abide in me, abide in me," he says:
Abide in me the way the Holy Spirit rested on me by the river Jordan.  Abide in me in power, in grace, in a strength to change the world.
Abide in me the way I lived with people for days and weeks, eating together, talking, working, teaching together.
Abide in me the way a branch clings to the vine that feeds it.
Abide in me.  Stay joined.  Be rested.  Be nourished.  Live.  Feel your hunger filled.  Eugene Peterson translates it as "Make your home."  That is how much Jesus loves us -- that he wants us to feel comfortable enough to grab our own snacks from God's fridge and put our feet up on God's coffee table.  Make your home in me, Jesus says.

Make your home in me -- and then invite others in.  Because the kind of love Jesus calls us to live in is not a love that can exist in a bubble.  "Love one another as I have loved you."  Go into the world.  Meet new people.  Meet people that welcome you into their homes, and stay with them.  Meet people who are hungry for a message of mercy and forgiveness, and give it to them.  Meet people who run you out of their town, and move on from them.  Meet people who need healing, and help them.  Meet people who need to belong, and welcome them.

Go outside your comfort zone.  Meet people your parents taught you to be afraid of.  Meet people who other people say are sinners.  Meet people who ask hard questions, and know that you can ask them right back.  Ask your friends hard questions.  Give meaningful answers.  And through this, discover new things about yourself -- and about your God.

Because abiding in Jesus’ love, being part of the True Vine, also means being pruned.  Being cut back when the growth isn't healthy.  Being turned in a direction that helps the whole vine grow better.  And pruning can hurt.  It's hard work for God, for the farmer, who is charged with knowing where to cut back and where to let flourish.  Where to say, "This blossom is beautiful, but the direction you're growing is dangerous."

And it's hard work to be pruned.  We don't always have the vision God has.  We can't see down the path.  We have habits and thoughts that keep us in the here and now -- which isn't a bad thing, except when we sacrifice the future.  Growing and stretching and producing isn't bad -- except when it comes between us and the True Vine.

Because whatever can't live with Jesus is worthless.  Whatever cuts us off from love is cutting us off from life.

So God wants to cut away all that.  God wants to cut away our sin, our fear, our anxiety, our anger, our sadness, our hatred, our worry, our depression.  Anything that keeps us from abiding in love, from resting in and nourishing ourselves from the True Vine -- that has to go.  And we know this.  And we want to let it go.  But God, it hurts.

And that's the promise of baptism.

Today, we'll make promises during Jack's baptism.  We'll make promises to invite him into God's church, to help him read the Scriptures, to nurture him in faith and prayer.  And we'll welcome him as a new branch in the True Vine.

But the most important promise in baptism is God's promise.

Baptism is not a one-time event.  You will probably only be baptized once, but from that day on, your baptism is a part of every day.  You can remember it every time you wash your hands before a meal, every time your wash your feet after a long day, every time you wash your face before bed.

God's promise in baptism is that we are new every morning.  That no matter what still needs to be cut away from us -- our sin, our anger, our pain -- the one True Vine holds on to us with a grace that will never, ever let go.  God's promise in baptism is that our sins are forgiven, over and over again, and the Spirit will give us new life -- a life that grows fruit.

Because being part of the vine isn't only for us.  What I grow isn't only for me; what you grow isn't only for you.  The fruit that God grows in you is for your neighbor.  The fruit that God grows in us is, literally, for the light of the world.  The fruit that God grows in us is love, and a love that is grown to be shared.

Being part of the True Vine means there is strength in you, strength coming right out of the heart of God and into your little leafy veins, strength that can take you so much farther than you thought you could go on your own, strength that means you can love far more than you ever imagined.

That's the promise of baptism -- that God is working in us that much, every day.  Loving us.  Pruning us.  Helping us grow.  Filling us with the Spirit to produce fruit -- fruit that will feed the world with love.  And keeping us, in all our differences, as parts of the one True Vine.


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