Fr. Bill Carroll – The Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 2, 2021

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.”  Some of us may hear these words and worry we need to be pruned.  A few of us may even worry we’ll get thrown away and burned.

We all need pruning.  That’s because we sin in thought, word, and deed.  In addition to the things we do, there are many, many things we fail to do—or are done on our behalf.  We are thrown into a world of sin, before we’re able to choose any of it.  And eventually, we all choose to participate.

Few of us are consistently friendly, let alone laying down our lives for other people.  We are willing to settle for the world as we find it, even when our hearts tell us to strive for Jesus and the Kingdom.  Perhaps we should worry a little more—at least as long as that worry leads to repentance, rather than getting us stuck in fear and shame.  This much is certain:  No branch of the true vine fails to bear fruit.

And yet, sometimes vines are also pruned, not because they fail to produce, but because they are bearing fruit in too many directions.  None of the fruit can ripen, because the vine’s resources are scattered and wasted.

Here too, we need to deepen our relationship with Jesus.  We are called to abide in the true vine.  We must root our lives completely in him.  For Jesus is calling us into union with himself.  He is calling us to be living members of his Body, so that he may dwell in us, and we in him.  This union is more intimate than any other relationship we have.  We need to nurture and cultivate it.

But how do we nurture a living relationship with Jesus?  Here at Trinity, we recently adopted the first draft of a “rule of life” that lays out some basic “touchstones for our spiritual growth.”  There are many other important lists like this, both in the Scriptures and in the Prayer Book.  (And I’m thinking especially of our Baptismal Covenant, as well as some lists we find in Paul.)  The basics, though, are clear enough—and they are usually about the same.

In order to nurture our living relationship with Jesus, we need to spend time in weekly public worship and daily private prayer.  We need to spend time in study, especially Bible study.  We need to seek and serve Christ in our neighbors—and create more authentic relationships.  We need to seek greater love and accountability with each other, staying open to the Holy Spirit.  We need to practice holy rest and let God renew us in his love.  And we need to work, pray, and give to advance the mission of Jesus.  Some of these disciplines involve bearing fruit more directly than the others.  But all of them are needed, so that we can stay connected with God and each other.  

Jesus Christ is the one thing that really, really matters.  He is the source of our life.  He is our Redeemer.  He is the true vine that feeds us with the Holy Spirit—with God’s living fire of love.  If we want to bear fruit, we will root and ground ourselves in Jesus.

And then, whenever we do stumble or fall, whenever our hearts accuse us and make us afraid, we will turn back to him.  We will renew our trust in his love.  For Jesus has given us his love and made us members of his Body, so that we might live in him.

We remember the words spoken to the Virgin Mary, words often found on the lips of Jesus himself.  He says them, when he comes to us walking on the waves.  He says them, when he shows us his wounds on Easter Day.  “Fear not,” he tells us, “Do not be afraid.”  And then he fills us with his “perfect love that casts out all fear.”  

This is the love Paul is talking about when he says that the “love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that is given to us.”  It is the very same love that John is talking about in today’s Epistle.  “God is love,” he tells us.  God is love—boundless and free.  God is love—merciful and mighty.  Even the best love we know (the kind we find in the best human families and friendships) is feeble compared with God’s great love for us.  

That love burns in the heart of Jesus.  And, by his grace, it can find a home in our hearts too.  For us, there is no more fear of God.  We fear neither his pruning knife nor his cleansing fire.  For that fire is the Spirit of love.  It is the refiner’s fire that makes us holy.  In the presence of Jesus, only those things that harm and diminish us are burned away—resentments, lusts, and violence—greed, self-destruction, and false pride.  These are the things the fire burns away.

The love of Jesus is the sap that flows through the vine, causing us to bear fruit for the Kingdom.  The true vine is also the Tree of Life.  It is Jesus Crucified, with his arms wide open to embrace us all.  And “the leaves of this tree are for the healing of the nations.”  Jesus is the spring of the living water that changes our dry places into the Paradise of God.

He unites us with God.  He unites us with each other.  He seals us with the Spirit and marks us as his very own.  Listen again to the words of John:  “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit…God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.”

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.  You are already cleansed by the word I have spoken to you.”  May his Word and his Spirit draw us ever deeper into him.  And may he always prune us and make us fruitful for God.