This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached at the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 9, 2021. We are grateful to Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Worth, for offering the use of their beautiful St. Mary’s Chapel for the service.
(Scripture for reference)
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.
9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Good Morning you beautiful ‘friends of Jesus’!
And how do I know you are friends of Jesus? Because I read the Good News in the Gospel of John that told me so. Jesus’ own words say, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” This is Jesus’ command, “that you love one another.” And you have dared to follow this command – this command to love – even though the cost is steep. Jesus connects this sacrificial way of love to the experience of joy, and not just a little joy, but ‘joy that is complete’.
In this diocese we have been dancing around with the concept of joy for the past few months. Our focus through the season of Lent was “Joy in the Wilderness” which was inspired prior to the bad news we received in February that the US Supreme Court denied hearing our case, throwing us into a wilderness experience that left us reeling and struggling to find something other than disbelief, anger and sadness. Next, Bishop Mayer invited us to embrace Louis Crew Clay’s moniker, “Joy anyway.” Many of us signed off on FaceBook, emails and other communiques with “Joy anyway.”
As days turned into weeks, I read variations including, “Joy always,” “Joy somehow,” and “Joy again.” My ears have been tuned to “joy” the whole of this year so when I read today’s gospel, my eyes were naturally drawn to the word. Jesus tells us if we abide in love, his joy will be in us and our joy will be complete. But how do we abide? What does it mean to abide in Christ’s love?
Taking a glimpse back at the verses from last week about the vine-grower and branches might give us a running start to understanding this concept of abiding – abiding in the vine, abiding in Christ. You recall the passage about God being the vine-grower and we are the branches – the passage where Jesus talks about pruning, withering, burning and fruit bearing – about the importance of the branches being connected to the vine and drawing life from the vine – abiding in the vine. Now, “abide” is not a word we hear very often in the current vernacular, so let’s take a look at what Merriam-Webster has to say about it:
- to accept without objection; “I will abide the court order.”
- to remain stable or fixed; “a love that abided all her days.”
Synonyms for abide include:
Therefore, if we hang around with Jesus as Jesus hangs around with us, we will bear much fruit, give and receive abundant love and experience joy that is complete.
It is a vulnerable thing to abide, to ‘accept without objection’. For we know injustices as well as our own frailties and faults. We know the things we wish to be pruned and removed; things we wish to be different. It is a delicate matter to abide with Christ, to allow ourselves to be fixed in Christ, warts and all – frustrations, regrets and all. But God knows what we need, who we are and whose we are. God is the vine, inviting us to dwell, to remain fixed, to hang around and glean all we can from that abiding.
I re-watched a movie earlier this week, Sideways, from 2004. It is a rather profane movie, but there are some wonderful lines about vineyards, vines and the process of growing grapes for fine wines. As I listened to the brief monologue by Miles, played by Paul Giamatti, I wondered about God’s particular love for each of us, knowing who we are, what we need to grow and become all we are created to be, all we need to thrive and experience joy. For example, God knows if you are a Riesling or Chardonnay, a Cabernet, or Pinot – which is Miles favorite:
“It’s a hard grape to grow.
As you know. It’s thin-skinned,
temperamental, ripens early. It’s
not a survivor like Cabernet that
can grow anywhere and thrive even
when neglected. Pinot needs constant
care and attention and in fact can
only grow in specific little tucked-
away corners of the world. And only
the most patient and nurturing growers
can do it really, can tap into Pinot’s
most fragile, delicate qualities.
Only when someone has taken the time
to truly understand its potential
can Pinot be coaxed into its fullest
expression. And when that happens,
its flavors are the most haunting
and brilliant and subtle and thrilling
and ancient on the planet.”
The delicate care and attention to detail described by Miles caused me to think differently about the pruning of branches – It is not like a farmer going through a field with a big John Deere tractor, churning everything in its path, though that may be what the past couple of months of packing up and moving churches has felt like. No, the vine-grower has intimate knowledge and understanding of each specific branch and with careful attention invites them into the fullness of life. So maybe you are a Pinot … or a Merlot or even a Gewurztraminer. God knows! And it is in the abiding that the meticulous, careful process helps each branch grow into the fullness of love, into the fullness of joy.
John 15:5, Jesus says, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” To state that in a positive way, “with Jesus, you can do anything.” You can leave a building, as some did 10-12 years ago, and some did in the last few weeks. You can leave familiar, cherished places and continue abiding in Christ. You have sacrificed comfort, familiarity, memories and family traditions for the sake of remaining with Jesus and embodying Jesus’ command to love.
This hits me at a deeply personal level, knowing that because of the sacrifices you have made for Christ’s sake, I get to stand before you and deliver the Good News. Because you chose to “be about loving and leaving the judging to God,” I get to stand with you – a female, LGBT child of God – gets to be a priest in the Jesus Movement of the Episcopal Church.
Thank you for your sacrifices on my behalf and on behalf of countless people like me. Thank you for daring to abide in Christ. Thank you for daring to love – to follow Jesus’ commandment to “love one another.”
Thank you for being instruments of God’s peace, justice, love and joy! Keep loving! Keep abiding! “With Christ, you can do anything!”