Sermon from Sunday, May 10, 2015

Preached by Rev. Todd Weir

John 15:1-13

 

Jesus’s words “I am the vine and you are the branches” have resonated with me throughout several settings during the week, and I have a little bunch of grapes to share with you, which have grown this week. I have four brief reflections and I will give you a moment after each one to pause and reflect.

 

  1. Alone

Jeanne often tells when she attended 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan that Rev. Kirkland would say, “No one makes it alone in New York.” True words to live by in Northampton as well, and Easthampton, Westhampton and Williamsburg. No one makes it alone at Smith, Amherst, Hampshire College or UMass either. Or Rockridge, Lathrop, or especially at Cooley Dickenson Hospital or the VA. No one makes it alone, so why do we keep acting like that is the thing to do? I could ask for help, but I don’t want to bother anyone, everyone seems so busy. Besides, then I might owe them a favor, and I’m busy too. I guess I’ll do it myself. And Jesus says, “I am the vine and you are the branches, abide in me and I will abide in you.”

Being an individual runs so deep. Augustine said we were all created with a God shaped void inside of us. Its there, somewhere inside the autonomous individual, the responsible self, the self-made man, the only woman in the room, the lone wolf and even the Lone Ranger, a God shaped void…My soul is restless until it rests in thee. No one makes it alone in New York. Jesus says, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

 

****

 

  1. Pruning

 

Freddie Gray was alone in the back of a police van. He died alone and unknown after being in police custody. For a time, we all know his name. Google Fred and he is the top suggestion, ahead of Frederick’s of Hollywood and Fredrick Douglass. Ten-thousand strong turned out to protest his death. No one makes it alone in Baltimore either. Jesus died alone, also after being in police custody. For a time, we all know his name. I am the vine and you are the branches.

How would these deaths be reported by the Washington Post, if this was news from the far away country? What if America were in the Middle East, how would the many deaths of black Americans be covered?

 

An “American Spring” uprising has moved from Ferguson to Baltimore, to protest the violence against ethnic minorities by state security forces. International leaders expressed concern over the rising tide of racism and state violence in America, especially the corruption in state security forces around the country when handling cases of police brutality. In response, countries around the world have advised darker-skinned nationals against non-essential travel to areas noted for state violence against unarmed people of color, especially in recent hot spots such as New York, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and now Maryland.

“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.”  John 15:6-7

What have you asked God to do for you lately? How bold are your demands?

 

  1. Church

Fretting about the church has become a new book genre, lets call it the church help book. Many describe the church as dying on the vine, a blight has overtaken us. They come with statistics of declining worship attendance, 7000 church will close next year. Every year a new cure hits the best seller list. Guitars in worship, rock bands, that will do it. Better marketing strategies, multi-media sound and light shows, shorter sermons, get a pastor with a hipster beard and serve Starbucks coffee in the sanctuary. That will bring the millennial generation into your church. I wonder why we are so surprised when each of these trends spark and then fizzle.

I don’t think people come to church looking for a good time or even for friendship and community. We come because of the God shaped void that is aching for fulfillment. We come with great questions of meaning and morality. We come with deep pain and loss and grief. We come with a desire for authenticity, something that rings true when there are no easy answers. We want a community that gives us courage, strengthens our hope, where we feel like we can give to the world and make a difference.

Don Remick was with us this week sharing his wisdom on what makes healthy churches. He gave the simplest formula ever for being a strong church. Micah 6:8, “Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” It turns out we have already read the church renewal book for this year.

 

****

  1. Jesus

Albert Schweitzer was a scholar who played a big role in what we often call the modern quest for the historical Jesus. He was from the generation of scholars who inspired Marcus Borg and others to use historical tools to study the Bible. After examining everything he could find, Schweitzer said we will never find the historical Jesus. What we have in the Bible is like having a few pieces of broken pottery that only partly fit together. We can only imagine the shape of the whole, or the color and glaze of the surface after it was fired. Schewitzer was wise enough to say that we can never truly find and claim to know Jesus, and that most scholars find a Jesus who remarkably agrees with them. But he thought this was enough for faith, saying, “The only way to truly know Jesus is to follow him.” If you want to know what Jesus was like, then seek to love as he loved.

I am the vine and you are the braches….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.                                              John 15:12-13