Monday, April 30, 2018

Easter 5B

John 15:1-8

1"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide 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. 5I 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. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Abiding and obeying!

Today is the 29th day of Easter! Easter is 50 days!

This is very shorthand, but also broadly accurate.

The gospel account we have from the community gathered around the beloved disciple John conveys a different worldview from the synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

In contrast to John, despite each of them conveying at least some unique content and a particular perspective, you could say the synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke all bring us law and gospel – God's holy demands and God's mercy-filled, loving grace. We roughly can place the synoptics in the tradition of the first two parts of the Old Testament, Torah / Pentateuch and Prophets.

With its emphasis on God's ongoing presence and on the commandments, especially encapsulated with the charge to love, John's community offers ways to live faithfully and fruitfully with speech and action, rather than the articulation of law and gospel we find in the synoptics and in the apostle Paul's undisputed epistles. It emphasizes abiding and obeying; more than once John has been called the gospel of abiding presence.

The Revised Common Lectionary that provides our weekly scripture readings emphasizes in turn the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Every year it intersperses sections of John, but with Mark being shorter than Matthew or Luke, we get more John during Mark's [current] year B than during Matthew's year A, or Luke year C.

Today is the 29the day of Easter, so we still can wish people "Happy Easter," yet as the church's year of grace eases into the Season of Pentecost, "Time of the Church," this scripture passage is from Jesus' farewell discourse on Maundy Thursday, after he washed the disciples' feet, before his death and resurrection.

Today we hear one of Jesus' I am declarations in which he places himself in the tradition of the Old Testament declarations from YHWH as I Am, as pure being. unmediated presence. Jesus lived and served in an agricultural, somewhat agrarian setting, so he used many images and parallels to farming practices in his talks and conversations. Today? Grapevines! Most Californians get the vineyard / grape / harvest concept. In addition, grape vines are one of the seven forms of produce God promises the people will find in the promised land. We find that people of God as branches of the vine in the Old Testament scriptures, too.

In this trinitarian passage, Jesus brings us God the Father as vine planter and grower, Jesus the Son as the vine itself, the people of God in the power of the Holy Spirit as branches of the vine, Jesus charges us to abide in him in order to bear fruit. How do we abide? By obeying, by keeping the commandments, especially the commandment to love God, neighbor, and self.

Do we always abide in Jesus, or do we sometimes abide in church traditions, practices, customs, habits? That can be a tough discernment, because as people of history and people with histories, we need to stay connected and in continuity with our own individual pasts, with the histories and practices of the communities and groups we belong to.

But what do we make most important? For a major example, Jesus commanded us to take, bless, break, and give bread, bless and share the cup of the fruit of the vine(!), and baptize. But do we insist on a particular type of bread, brand of wine or grape juice? Does the baptismal venue need to be the same every time?

For other instances, can the format for typing out minutes from a meeting vary? What about flower varieties at Easter? Some churches no longer use lilies because of human allergies and because of toxicity to pets that can be a major problem if people take their lilies home with them after services. Does Strawberry Festival always need to be on the Second Sunday in June? Etc.

We briefly discussed how the lectionary pairs this vine and branches reflection with Acts 8:26-40 account of Philip, the Ethiopian eunuch, water, and baptism. I mentioned the importance of the question, "what is to prevent," and also remarked that two millennia later, we'd have concerns about suddenly popping up with what appears to be an unauthorized sacrament. Pastor Peg observed that for us as branches of Jesus the Vine, as we abide in our baptisms, the Holy Spirit gives us water and other necessary nutrients. She observed how different trees (other plants, too), take in water in different ways.

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