Sermon – May 3, 2015
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
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. John 15:5
Please be seated.
Today we’re observing Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage month. As I thought about our Gospel and our observance, I thought about Babu Rangasamy. I can’t remember, now, when Babu came to Harrisburg with his wife, Mani. I think it was the late 90s. They were a young couple from India. Babu was in computers and was in great demand for his skill. They lived across the street from the church and found it convenient to attend.
Gradually we all got to know each other and one day in an adult forum, everyone was talking about how we came to Christianity. When it came to Babu, he told us that someone, possibly a roommate, had left a Bible in the room. Babu picked it up and read the entire thing and immediately became a Christian.
Our group was astounded and I’ve never forgotten this. Most of us had grown up going to church, going to Sunday School, learning the stories and the faith. But most of us – this was a Lutheran congregation – couldn’t say we’d read the Bible cover to cover! I can’t tell you how many times I picked up the Bible while I was growing up and tried to make sense of it. I was so grateful for the version, Good News for Modern Man, a version I found easier to understand.
Babu’s witness was astounding to me then and still is, especially since professing and practicing Christianity in his native India was not necessarily like it is here in our region, where there are Christian churches and communities all over town. Yet, the power of the Gospel…the power of the Good News…the power of Jesus comes through, no matter the language or the culture. Babu and his wife, Mani and their son have become active members at the church, where Babu serves on the Vestry.
For Babu, as for us, Jesus is the vine. That’s the metaphor Jesus uses in our Gospel today. “I am the vine,” he says. And we are the branches. We are going to plant some grape vines in our garden and so I looked up some information about grape vines.
Grape vines are vigorous growers and lend drama to a garden. Properly taken care of, meaning proper pruning, they readily produce much fruit for as long as 30 years!
There are a number of things to note in growing grapes, which are guides to practicing our Christian faith.
- Vines should not be allowed to produce grapes for the first two to three years, so the root system can become strong enough to support the weight of the grapes. Jesus is our root system and we know it’s strong. However, we as Christians also go through a process of strengthening our roots. Reading the Bible, especially using Forward Day by Day or some other commentary materials, is one way to do this. Participating in Adult Forum discussions and daily prayer time, maybe with some prayer beads is another possibility. We offer confirmation classes and the Book of Common Prayer has lots to offer, too. Participating in a faith community like St. John’s is also important, allowing us to learn from each other and grow in faith together. Think about how we are strengthening our root system with Jesus personally and collectively.
- Pruning is extremely important. In fact, pruning up to 90% of the previous year’s growth is recommended! It’s absolutely necessary to prune, so the energy of the vine goes into the fruit. And just so does our faith prune us. Left to our own devices, we become unruly and unproductive. We forget the path Jesus guides us on. We get easily distracted. So we need to be pruned to keep strengthening our roots and our connection to Jesus, the vine. In the pruning, we are shaped and guided into lives that bear much fruit…into lives that allow us to bring the Kingdom of God here on earth.
- You don’t get much fruit if the vine has only one branch. So often we think of our individual lives. We fail to understand how we are all connected. We don’t take time to fully consider how our individual actions ripple out from us and affect so many others. The image of the grape vine is helpful in this regard. The vine, Jesus, connects many, many branches. We are a community in Christ, branches connected to strong roots.
And finally and most importantly, we hear Jesus teach us and tell us the importance of our being connected to the vine… without our connection to the vine, we can do nothing…we can do nothing! Ponder that claim of Jesus!
Jesus says when we stay connected to him, the vine, we bear much fruit. Jesus says when we stay connected to him, the vine, we can do God’s Will. Jesus says when we stay connected to him, the vine, he abides in us.
Prepare yourself. Be surprised by the pruning. Be part of the community connected to the vine. And your fruit will be sweet and plentiful.