Filed under: Sermons, Uncategorized | Tags: Baptism, branches, confirmation, i am the vine, Jesus, life, vine
We have entered the season of growth. Finally, flowers are in bloom, budding leaves are opening, and the seemingly dead stumps of perennials are coming back to life. The world around us echos the gospel of this season: God brings life.
We hear from the Gospel of John this morning, a teaching from Jesus. Jesus declares, “I am the true vine” (15:1). Jesus and his friends lived in an area of the world in which vines produced one of their major crops: grapes. Not many people around here grow grapes, although I think I may have seen a few vines around town. So we have to think a little to get our minds away from single stalks of corn and wheat, and on to vines.
Vines have a base that descends into the ground, anchoring the plant, drawing in life-giving nutrients and water. Out from the vine come branches. Branches may stretch far, reaching for the bright sun, establishing their own place, but they can never exist without the vine that gives them what they need to live. When the branches are well supported by the vine, they are able to do what they are meant to do: produce fruit.
Jesus uses what was for his friends a familiar image to explain his relationship to them. We find ourselves in this verdant image. Jesus is your vine. You are Jesus’ branches.
Jesus is the rooted vine who grounds you in the source of life. God brought all life into being. God resurrected Jesus, giving life where there was only death. Every breath you breathe is given to you by the life-giving power of God. When you die, you will be held in the life-giving power of God through Jesus, and you will receive life again. Through Jesus, you are given this everlasting life.
There’s a vineyard near my parents’ home. Every spring, the vinegrowers trim back the plants, to encourage new growth. Those trimmings are available for anyone who wants them. Sometimes they can be encouraged to grow roots of their own. Mostly, I think people take them and graft them in to their own plants.
Different varieties of grape branches can be grafted onto different vines. I’m not an expert on grapes, but from what I understand, people graft branches of different varieties onto established rooted vines so that the new branches will benefit from the strength of the vine, producing a good crop earlier than if it was planted on its own. Sometimes new branches combine with the vine to produce a special blended variety, creating a new flavor or a more hardy plant.
We are united with Jesus through baptism. The Apostle Paul uses the language of a new variety being grafted into the vine, when he talks about us finding our roots in God through Jesus. We are among those who are grafted in, because God first had a special relationship with the people of Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob, the Jewish people. Jesus welcomes people of all nations into this special relationship with God. So we, who are not Jewish, are welcomed into the vine. Grafted in are people from Asia and Africa and the Americas and Europe and Australia: diverse peoples from every land are brought together as one organism through Jesus.
Today, Tucker is going to be baptized. All along, he has received life from God. Something new is going to take place in this sacrament of baptism. He’ll no longer be a little branch all on his own. As God promises, in this water, God is going to welcome Tucker and unite him with Jesus. Tucker will receive all that Jesus has: holiness, perfection, victory over sin and death, relationship with God, relationship with all creation, and resurrected life: life for today and forever. Tucker will be connected in to Jesus’ vine. There he’ll find that he’s no longer alone, and he’s not in relationship with Jesus alone, he joins all the baptized of every time and place. He is joined into a great community of saints. As he grows in his baptized and rooted life, you all will be the fellow branches he’ll know best. You are called to live your life in relationship with God and with this newly welcomed branch, so that he knows that he belongs to God and to the whole community of Jesus-rooted people.
When you are grafted onto Jesus’ vine, you are changed. You become like the one you are connected to. On your own, you’re just another branch, a dead twig good for nothing but the fire. On your own, you are fearful, selfish, and captive to sin and death. But in Jesus, grafted on to that life-giving, life-changing vine, you are alive, restored, freed from the powers of evil, and plugged in to the source of joy and life. God has grafted you in. You belong to this life-giving vine, and you will not be cut off.
Drawing life from the vine, you also draw your identity and purpose from Jesus. You are nourished by that vine, to be like Jesus. Jesus gave up power, comfort, and prestige to come to those who were outcast, sick, and suffering. Jesus not only spoke about healing, forgiveness, and welcome, he embodied it. Jesus touched the unclean lepers and bleeding woman, and healed them. Jesus shared meals with shunned sinners. The Holy Spirit within you gives you the power to be working with Jesus, as Jesus worked, to bring healing and life to the world.
You are the branches, who extend out from the source of life, to bear fruit for the sake of the world. You are each capable of bearing fruit that shows God’s love. Wherever you find yourself, however you spend each day, with whatever skills and passions and gifts you have, it is in and through those things that you are called to bear fruit. Do what you do with love and with the intention to serve and give life to others.
The young people being confirmed this spring spent the year exploring what it looks like to bear fruit for the sake of the world. We considered our communities, and the assets and needs of this place. We gave thanks for each person’s gifts and passions. We explored God’s call to each of us, to live in service, with justice and love. Then each student brought together all these things to write a plan and complete a faith project. These projects are meant to help the students understand that they have the gifts and the call to serve God. These projects are the beginning of much fruit born from a life of faith. We are all called to use our gifts, listen to God’s call, and do something about the needs of our world.
Today, Andrea is affirming her baptism. She is saying “yes” to the promises to live as a baptized Christian. She is taking responsibility for putting herself in places where her faith can flourish. She is promising to be a part of Christian community, to be active in church, where she will hear the Word of God and experience the sacrament of Holy Communion, and she is promising to bear the fruit of service and justice. Confirmation is our flowering, our continuing to bear fruit. Andrea is declaring her intention to live a life of faithful growth.
Even as we rejoice that Andrea is taking this step of faith today, we celebrate all the more that our baptism is a gift of God that does not depend on our faithfulness or our ability to fulfill the promises that Andrea will take on today. God has claimed Andrea, God will claim Tucker, God has claimed all the baptized, through Jesus Christ. You have been united with Jesus for life forever. God will never go back on that promise. Not if you ignore the baptismal promises, not if you welcome the forces of evil, not if you cease to believe as we confess with the Apostles’ Creed. Jesus will always be faithful to you, and will always nourish you for a whole and healed life.
Everything that lives receives its life from God. You have the joy of being aware of that gift. You have the joy of knowing that Jesus gives you life. Jesus promises, “I am the vine” and you are each nourished by this life-giving vine.
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