April 28: The Fifth Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for April 28, 2024 was preached in response to John 15:1-8 based on the manuscript below.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“Whoever does not abide in me
is thrown away like a branch and withers;
such branches are gathered,
thrown into the fire,
and burned…”
is not,
despite what 19th and 20th Century
American evangelicals might have us think
the point of this passage.
Jesus is at table with his friends
when we drop in to John’s gospel today.
He’s at table with friends,
the night before he’s handed over
to suffering and death.
This is John’s Farewell Discourse
where Jesus also gives the disciples
the new commandment.
We heard about it on Maundy Thursday:
Love one another
as God has loved us.
Not the way we already try,
but the fullness that God has shown to us
we are to show to one another
and to our neighbors.

This teaching Jesus gives the disciples
both those at table with him
and the early church
reading or hearing John’s gospel
is not about being thrown into the fire.
It’s about being grafted into the fullness of life,
life only available through God in Christ
and staying in that life-giving love.
Jesus’ disciples had walked with him
had learned from him
and he was going away.
So he tells them a parable.
“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…
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.”

It’s important to remember
that when Jesus tells parables
he’s using metaphorical language.
If you needed a reminder
Jesus is not literally a vine
and we are not literally branches.
In the parables,
either with Jesus’ I AM statements
or “The realm of God is like…”
in the synoptics
they can’t be broken down
for one-to-one correlations.
That bit I opened with
about throwing branches into the fire?
Biblical scholars are pretty sure
that’s more John continuing the metaphor
than predictive of what happens
to those who fall away from Jesus.
The point of this passage
isn’t fire, burning, and punishment.
The point of this passage
is the necessity of relying
on Jesus the resurrected Christ
the firstborn of all creation
the first fruits of those who sleep
the head of the church
and the author of our salvation.
“Apart from me,
you can do nothing.”

Following Jesus is being grafted into his life,
grafted into his resurrection.
For those at table with him as he tells his parable,
they’ve lived and worked among him.
For the first audiences for this gospel,
they’ve been joined to Jesus
through the waters of baptism.
Two thousand years later,
that’s where we find ourselves:
joined to Jesus
through the waters of baptism
seeking to abide in him.
We renew that connection
when we come to the table ourselves
and feed on Jesus’ flesh and blood.
Even when Jesus says,
“If you abide in me,
and my words abide in you,
ask for whatever you wish,
and it will be done for you,”
Jesus is inviting us to be a part
of this living organism
the church of which he’s head.

When we abide in Jesus
we know that he’s not a genie
granting wishes
like Robin Williams in Aladdin.
Praying in Jesus’ name
is letting ourselves continue
to be drawn in to the fullness
of life that comes through him.
Praying in Jesus’ name
is remembering
that we’ve come through the water
and been splashed by it again today.
We’re not alone
but are instead a part of a whole.
As part of the whole,
as branches grafted in to Jesus the vine,
we abide in Jesus
by loving one another,
by following Jesus’ directions.

The school of John
elaborates on this clearly
in today’s epistle lesson.
Bearing fruit,
using this viticulture metaphor
is showing the love that God has shown us
as we love our neighbors
with that same free intensity.
We hear in First John,
“Beloved, let us love one another,
because love is from God;
everyone who loves
is born of God and knows God.”
“Everyone who loves
is born of God
and knows God.”
“Apart from me,
you can do nothing.”
Before we start making lists
of who’s going to be bundled up
and thrown into the fire
or concerned with that mean God
looking to throw the “wrong” people
into the fire
we should remember these words.
Apart from Jesus we can do nothing,
and everyone who loves is born of God
and knows God.
This epistle minces no words.
“Those who say,
‘I love God,’
and hate their brothers or sisters,
are liars;
for those who do not love
a brother or sister
whom they have seen,
cannot love God
whom they have not seen.”

As we continue through this Eastertide,
we have this admonition and invitation:
Love one another.
When you come to the table today
ask God to grow your love.
When you leave the parking lot today,
ask God to grow your love.
When you get hit with water next week again
ask God to grow your love.
As we abide in Jesus,
we are fed for the work
we’ve been given to do.
As we abide in Jesus
his body the church
is strengthened and grows
through how we contribute
to our community
inside and outside these walls.
As we abide in Jesus,
God’s love for the whole creation
will be made known in our lives.
let us love one another,
because love is from God;
everyone who loves
is born of God
and knows God.” Amen.

Leave a Comment