April 29, 2018 – Easter 5 B
[Jesus said:] 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.”
I’ve been really blessed to be able to travel quite a bit in my life. Traveling has opened up my eyes to see that the world is a lot bigger and a lot smaller than I would ever have imagined. I’ve mentioned my trips to Namibia before and how they’ve impacted me, but the most pointed moment I can point to talk about this phenomenon of travel is when I was in Brazil for a choir tour in college. I was traveling and I caught some sort of cold, which always seems to happen when you’ve got the most going on. So we arrive on our bus to a city in Brazil, and I’m ashamed to say I forget which city, and we are assigned our host families. We stayed with local families because it gave us a better understanding of the local culture and it also saved us some money. I was given my assigned family, who were kind enough to have some medicine to give me. The rest of the group went out for dinner but, being sick, I took the chance to stay put and speak with my host family. I found out that they were from the United States themselves and were there working with a missionary organization. I asked them where they were from and they replied “Wisconsin.” As someone who grew up in WI, my ears perked up. So I asked them what town, and it turned out that they were from a small town called Owen, about 20 miles from where I grew up in Loyal. To say that we were both stunned would be a huge understatement.
I travelled hours and hours by bus and plane, covering thousands of miles across continents and the Gulf of Mexico, only to find a reminder of where I grew up, where I come from. This is what a life of faith is like. The world is both big and small. And God is the same. God is big – the Creator, the three-in-one who holds all things – and small – present in each detail and situation. There is no place you can go where God’s presence has not already been. There is no situation in which you are blazing your own trail ahead of your creator. We are always connected, even across miles and languages and time, with our Creator and Redeemer.
This is what Christ must have been talking about when he is describing himself as the true vine. Christ is what connects us with God and Christ is who we find in each and every moment, in each and every situation, struggle, and joy. Through the Holy Spirit, we can begin to see that throughout the entirety of our lives, we are never without the love and grace of God. They will continue to find us and they will continue to be wherever we are when we arrive.
As we prepare to present and welcome 9 wonderful students who are affirming their baptisms this weekend, I want us to recognize that. We all change. We travel, work, grow, and learn. We struggle and achieve. We rejoice and grieve and rage. But in each and every moment, we are branches in Christ’s vine, connected to the God who loves, sustains, and supports us. Through the Holy Spirit, we are joined to the very source of our lives and all of creation. And this vine keeps growing. The branch can never outgrow the vine, sisters and brothers, and we can never outgrow our faith. Our faith will change, it will shift and refocus, but we will never outgrow it. In the waters of baptism, you have been grafted into the vine, Christ Jesus, and the life-giving energy and grace you need is given to you.
And Christ, this vine, will continue to grow, giving more room for more branches, until all the world is united and sustained by God’s love, grace, and work.
This is a big picture of God, but in this big picture, each and every person is united together. This is a big way of thinking and, yet, in it we will find God in the smallest things; in water, in bread and wine, in the stirring of our souls, in the smile of a friend, in the new growth of springtime and the planting of fields. And as you journey, whether the journey brings you back here or brings you to places you don’t even know exist yet, you will find that you’re connected to the vine of Christ in and through all things. Amen.