Worship Service, May 2, 2021 “Making the Connection”
Join Holy Trinity church members and Pastor Erik for worship on May 2, 2021 via YouTube.
The message “Making the Connection” by Pastor Erik can be heard during HTLC Virtual Worship Service.
“Making the Connection”
GOSPEL READING: JOHN 15:1-8[Jesus said:] 1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. 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.”
Those of us who live in southern California have an advantage when it comes to reading the Gospel lesson today. We have an advantage because many of us have probably seen grapevines. One of my favorite parts of California to drive through in the springtime is highway 101 between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.
I love it when the grass is still green on the rolling hillsides and the ancient oak trees dot the landscape. I also love seeing the ribbons of vineyards stretched out over the countryside in neat rows just beginning to bloom again.
Jesus uses this imagery of a grapevine to talk about our relationship with him. If the grapes are going to grow on the branch, then that branch has to make the connection to the vine. If the branch isn’t connected, then it simply is not going to produce any fruit. Jesus uses this example to indicate how important it is to stay connected to him. He is the source of our strength and our life. But Jesus knows that we cannot make the connection to the vine on our own. This is why he adds another image to his description of the life of faith for his followers. He says that God the Father is the vine grower. God is the farmer who connects people to the vine of Christ so they can grow and flourish.
There is an interesting process that farmers can use to put new branches onto a grapevine. It is called grafting. The way it works is that during the winter months, smaller, younger shoots are cut off certain vines and then stored in a cool, dry place until the spring. At that time, a small cut is made into the rootstock or the mature vine that is in the ground. The end of the new shoot is then carved in a V-shape to insert into the cut of the mature vine. The shoot is then bound together with the rootstock after it has been inserted. Over time the new shoot grows onto the mature rootstock and becomes a part of that vine.
As Christians, we believe baptism is kind of like this process of grafting. When we are baptized, God connects us to the way of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. We become a new creation just as the branch in grafting becomes a part of a new vine.
In talking about what the community of the baptized looks like, the author Gale O’Day picks up on this picture of the grapevine and suggests that, “In a vine, branches are almost completely indistinguishable from one another; it is impossible to determine where one branch stops and another branch starts. All run together as they grow out of the central vine.” This is a vision of the church where branches all belong to the same vine and are tended by the same vine grower. Therefore, there is no special status, everyone is equal, everyone is responsible for bearing fruit. The only condition is to love each other as Jesus loved us.
This vision of the church is also one where new branches can become a part of the community. One of the reasons farmers do grafting in their vineyard is to add new varieties to existing vines. One of the lessons learned by the apostles of the early church was that through the Holy Spirit, God was going to be adding new varieties of people onto the vine of Christ in ways that they had not expected.
We see this in the first reading today in Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip was an early follower of Christ who was helping the disciples in the daily distribution of food to those in need. But then one day he gets a message from an angel where he is supposed to go south to Gaza, and the Scripture wants to make sure that we know this is a wilderness road. Philip is going out to a place beyond his comfort zone. It’s possibly a place he has never been before, and he is not told what he is going to do once he is there. He only knows he is supposed to go.
Once on the road, he encounters a man from Africa who works for the Queen of Ethiopia. He is a man of some status because he is in charge of all the treasury. He is riding in his chariot and reading from the book of Isaiah but isn’t sure what it means.
The Holy Spirit nudges Philip to go and talk to the Ethiopian. It is then that Philip finds out that the official needs help interpreting the Scripture. He asks Philip about whom he thinks Isaiah is referring to. This opens the door to talk about Jesus as the one who fulfills the prophecies of the Bible. The Ethiopian could read the Scripture, but he needed help in order to make the connection to Christ.
This connection makes the official so excited that he asks Philip if he could be baptized. They have come across some source of water like a small stream, perhaps or little spring, and the Ethiopian sees this as an opportunity to be a part of what God is doing through Jesus.
You might say that in that moment Philip becomes like a farmer who grafts a new branch onto a mature vine. In helping the Ethiopian make a connection in the Scripture, he also helps to connect him to the vine of Christ.
That wilderness road was not a place Philip expected to be. The Ethiopian was not someone Philip expected to meet, and he certainly wasn’t someone that Philip expected to baptize, but the Holy Spirit reveals to him that God wants all varieties of people to be grafted onto the vine of Christ.
Have you ever had someone help you make a connection in the Scripture? Have you ever met someone along your life’s journey who helped show you more about Jesus? For me it was parents who brought me to church and who lived out their faith. It was a friend who talked me into going to church camp with them. It was an invitation to walk to church with another student to church during college. It was professors who helped me dig into history and into the Bible. It was pastors who invited me to retreats, and studies, and spent time engaging my questions.
Who has been like Philip to you and helped you connect more deeply with Christ?
The encounter between the Ethiopian and Philip reveals that not only is God like the vine grower, but God invites those who follow Christ to be a part of the vine growing process as well. God invites us to be farming partners ready to go into the fields to help graft others onto the vine of Jesus, to help others make the connection to Christ. We are invited to listen to the Spirit even if it calls us out onto wilderness roads we didn’t expect to travel on with people we didn’t expect to meet. We are to be open to those opportunities to help make the connection to the vine of Christ with those we encounter in our lives.
Part of being able to do this has to do with staying connected ourselves. Jesus says that we need to abide in him if we are to bear fruit. To abide in Christ means to continue on with him. The Greek word for ‘abide’ means to remain or stay, or to keep on with something. Early in the book of John, a couple of John’s students are interested in getting to know more about Jesus and they ask him “Where are you staying?” The word is the same as for ‘abide’. In the book of Luke this word shows up on the walk to Emmaus when Jesus has revealed himself in the breaking of the bread and the two disciples ask him to stay with them. When we look to abide with Christ we are looking to stay with him or to reside with him on his path.
This leads to the question then, of how do we abide in Christ? How do we stay connected to the fruit-bearing vine? I like how Pastor Brian Hedges puts it. He says, “We abide in Jesus by letting his words abide in us and by abiding in his love.” To put it simply, abiding in Jesus doesn’t require advancing to some kind of higher level. It doesn’t demand a crisis decision or a mystical experience. It just means keeping the words of Jesus in our hearts and minds, so that they are renewing and reviving us, shaping and sanctifying us, filling and forming us. And it means keeping ourselves in his infinite, enduring, sin-forgiving, heart-conquering, life-giving love. Amen.
-Pastor Erik Goehner