Transformed by Grace: Easter 5

Transformed by Grace: Easter 5

Easter 5: May 2, 2021

Year B: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

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This image that we hear of God, as “God’s vineyard”, is a very old one, going back to the Jewish psalms, as well as other places in the Old Testament. Listen to part of Psalm 80: “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.”[1]

And notice that it is God who is doing all the planting here, not us. And think of all the other I AM statements found in the Gospel of John: “I AM the light of the world”;[2] “I AM the door (or the gate)”;[3] “I AM the resurrection and the life;”[4] “I AM the bread of life”.[5] “I AM the vine and you are the branches”.[6]

All these I AM statements in the Gospel of John point to the reality of God’s availability to us, God’s love for us. In today’s gospel, Jesus addresses us twice with the phrase “I AM the vine.”[7]

There is a promise here. “I AM the vine, and you are the branches.” Jesus is asking each of us to simply be with him. This sounds deceptively easy, doesn’t it?

The promise of Jesus is abundant life here and now, not just in some future time. God is doing more in our lives than any of us are aware. God in Jesus is inviting us to take the time to notice. But the trick, of course, is to let God do what God needs to do, and for us to get out of the way. Jesus is very clear on this point when he says: “I AM the vine, you are the branches.” That is what abiding in the power of the Word is all about, not placing impediments in God’s way by trying to do for ourselves what God can do for us and does do for us: and what does God do but reshape our hearts, bodies and minds to receive the forgiveness and the love that God offers to us.

Hopefully, you can hear Jesus’ words as the beautiful invitation it truly is: “Abide in me as I abide in you.”[8]

Remember again those words, “I am the true vine… abide in me as I abide in you.”

This Gospel and our lessons today remind us to whom we belong with a clear visual image. We hear the Gospel of Love again and again throughout our readings. They remind us of who we belong to with a clear, visual image. These lessons call us into a new and wonderful way of living – a way that welcomes the other, that is not done alone, not done individually, but in community – a way that starts with love and through love.

Everyone who loves is born of God. As we continue through this Easter season, to celebrate the glorious resurrection of our Lord, we are called to bear fruit and become disciples because we love – though this isn’t always easy.

How can we do this when we are still hurting from this pandemic? As we continue to see what goes on in the world around us. As we continue to grieve, especially now for the people of India, as they go through this surge. How can we do this when the new around us leaves us spiritually and emotionally drained?

How do we proclaim the Good News about Jesus when we think there is just too much happening around us and in the world? I can say the answer is never the same and it will vary from person to person. Still, the text, the overall message of this Gospel, suggests this simple response: We show up. We show up authentically as ourselves. We love one another. We share the Good News with others. We speak and act in ways that support this message of love.

In our Gospel, Jesus is addressing us. Twice, he says, “I AM,” reminding us that God knows our hearts. There is no need to hide from God, no need to hide those parts of ourselves of which we are ashamed, no need to use those parts as excuses to stay away from God. Instead, this truth, this love, this I AM of Jesus Christ, draws us nearer to God. It allows us to see those parts we think cannot be restored and it instead allows us to run to God, allows us to abide in God.

Our epistle reminds us that if we love one another, God lives in us. God abides in us. There is no secret we can keep from God.

But what is love? We could attempt to define it in many ways, and we could provide examples of how we have experienced love, yet I think sometimes that is not enough. We could look at our relationships and draw from those, but even then, we would not have a certain definition.

But – we could can look to the One who sent Jesus into the world for us, sent Jesus Christ into the world to die for us to create a clear example of love. A different kind of love. This embodied love. A love that liberates. A love that clears our eyes to see the injustices of this world around us and empowers us to act in ways that seek the well-being of all, not just the ones in our own little orbit. A love that makes us curious about systems that oppress.

Now, for some this may be difficult to understand; perhaps a concrete example is needed. Imagine the following: You walk into any nursery or vineyard and there you encounter life. In life we encounter different individuals caring and tending to the needs of every vine. The vine grower tends to them all, making no exceptions. The vine grower is aware of what each vine needs to grow and flourish, to bear fruit. The vine grower loves all the branches. That is what God does in our hearts.

God provides for us and God can also remove those parts of ourselves that bear no fruit. God is tending to us.

If the vine grower worries about all the vines and knows that every branch can bear fruit, then that pruning, that working in our heearts, becomes a necessary a special and necessary part of the growth process. Pruning will change the outcome for the vine, and it will change our outcomes in our lives too when we allow God in to abide in us.

When we abide in God, we invite God into our lives – however messy that may be. When we abide in God, we are empowered to seek our place in this world, loving others, living into the mission of the Church, restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

It is a slow and transformational relationship between the vine grower and the branches. And it takes time. Just think of the growth season that we see in life.

You may ask, “How can I, unless someone guides us?” How many times have we been afraid to ask for help? Or even embarrassed to ask, “Who can guide me?”

If we have learned one thing from this pandemic in the past year, it is that we cannot do this work alone. We have Jesus Christ’s example of love of being in relationship with one another. We are the body of Christ, and we have Jesus’ example of love, of being in relationship with people. We have Philip’s example in our first reading of love – teaching, sharing about God, and baptizing. We have the disciples’ example of love by following Jesus, even amidst their own shortcomings. We have our example, amid our shortcomings, of being disciples of Christ. And our world needs people who are capable of this love because a church that only condemns and only sees sin would not truly be the church. It would not be transformed by grace or mercy that we know in God.

As God transforms us, we transform the world. Look to those around you who know what it means to be transformed by love. When you see them in love, you abide in God. And when we abide in God, God abides in us. God abides in our relationships. God transforms. God will allow us to bear fruit.

And remember that our mission is to lift up love as the hidden key to life. And I want you to know each other boldly, in love, in grace, and in mercy, and know that God is always available to us. Amen.

[1] Psalm 80:8-9, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

[2] John 8:12, John 9:35, NRSV

[3] John 10:9, NRSV

[4] John 11:25, NRSV

[5] John 6:35, NRSV

[6] John 15:5, NRSV

[7] John 15:1, John 15:5, NRSV

[8] John 15:4, NRSV

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