This familiar text – in which Jesus declares he is the vines and we are the branches –both encourages and challenges us. We are encouraged to be sure we are connected to the vine of Jesus. I have spoken before about the sap which flows through vine and branches as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit sap keeps us connected to the vine and growing in faith.
The Holy Spirit sap also challenges us to reach out to others with God’s love and forgiveness. God’s love is not ours to cherish and simply hold on to. We are called to give God’s love away. When we share God’s love we produce fruit.
You know what God’s fruit looks like – I often refer to the fruit we produce here – Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, quilts and kits, cash and food donations to feed the hungry, good adult education, lots of lay people involved in ministry and leadership, and so forth.
There are lots of branches connected to the vine of Jesus, and we are connected to those other branches, too. Jesus’ vine spreads and spreads like ivy and Kudzu and wild grapes. At the Synod Assembly this weekend, Russ and Connie and I heard many stories of fruit being produced in Florida and around the world.
At Friday night’s worship service, $7000 was raised for the “Make Malaria History” project. The ELCA and other organizations are working hard to provide immunizations and mosquito netting for people where malaria is a problem. It costs so little, just $10 to provide netting for a family.
Together in Mission is a funding appeal which gives grants to advance mission in the Florida-Bahamas Synod. At one congregation, a grant was used to build a community garden and a prayer labyrinth. In Citrus County, additional money was granted to SOS, the food pantry at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.
A significant portion of Together in Mission funds have gone to Haiti. It’s always a delight to hear from Pastor Livenson Lavaunus about Lutheran ministry in Haiti. Our relationship with the Lutheran Church in Haiti has been strengthened by our cooperative ministry since the earthquake 2 years ago.
Pastor Livenson put it this way. There have been many Non-Governmental Organizations in Haiti attempting to help Haitians. The problem is that the groups come in, set up to do their own programs, and when they leave, they take everything with them. In contrast, when the Lutherans have gone to help, we ask what the Haitians need and seek to provide it.
Haitians said they needed to be empowered to help themselves. For several months after the earthquake, everyone ate rice and beans. But, they knew they needed more variety in their diet. With Lutheran help, they now produce enough eggs to feed themselves and have plenty left over to sell to provide income.
Lutherans sent construction experts to teach Haitians how to build safer homes. Lutherans helped Haitians build a new school so Haitian youth in the area can get an education; and a new church building to replace the one destroyed in the earthquake. A new truck takes needed supplies to hard-to-reach places high in the mountains. With the help of Lutherans and empowered Haitians, Haiti is rising from the rubble. This is good fruit.
There’s even more! Three or four years ago, there were a few hundred Lutherans in Haiti. Seven pastors were ordained by our bishop and mentored by Florida-Bahamas pastors. At Pastor Livenson’s church, the average weekly worship attendance had been 40-50; now, it’s about 400. There are now 7,000 Lutherans in Haiti; there are so many Lutherans now that they fill the church buildings to overflowing, and there are plans developing to have some pastors go to Haiti and teach deacons to help the pastors serve the people. That news brought us to our feet in a standing ovation of enthusiastic support for the way in which God is producing fruit in Haiti through all of us.
Another story: During worship on Friday evening, Eliexer Ramirez was ordained as a Lutheran pastor. He is called to reach out to the people in the Miami area and establish a new congregation. In recognition that this will be a Spanish-speaking congregation, the scriptures were read in Spanish.
It’s customary at an ordination for pastors to lay hands on the ordinand. The program allowed for this as over 100 pastors walked past Eliexer and lay hands on him and said a brief prayer. If hundreds of prayers make a ministry effective, this new mission start will explode in Miami.
... Being connected to the vine of Jesus and bearing fruit means we are constantly being fed by Jesus and seeking to pass on the nourishment to others so the fruit of God’s love can be produced.
How connected to Jesus the vine are you? Do you intentionally take time to refresh your connection, through prayer, worship, Bible study, activities with others who are also connected to the vine? Do you intentionally let the sap of the vine – the Holy Spirit – flow through you to others? Do you give generously so God can bless you and others with your gifts?
Do you greet others with kindness even if you don’t like them or trust them? Do you help others get connected and reconnected to the vine? Do you tell someone who is hurting that Jesus loves them and cares that they hurt? Do you tell them that Hope Lutheran Church has been helping people find hope for 40 years and having a lot of fun doing so?
It’s not up to us to say what fruit Jesus will produce through us, but it is up to us to do our part to make it possible. What will you do this week to stay connected to the vine of Jesus? How will you help someone else get connected or reconnected?
Please pray with me. Jesus we are branches connected to you, the Vine. Help us keep our connection strong so we may produce good fruit in your name. Help us to be as connected to you and as excited about ministry as Pastor Livenson and Pastor Eliexer and the people they serve. Amen