Weekly sermons based on the Revised Common Lectionary, with the intent of helping all find hope.
Sunday, May 2, 2021
Branches of the Vine
Acts 8:26-40; John 15:1-8
While I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago,
I have a long connection with Michigan. My grandmother (Mormor) lived there so my
family was in Michigan often. Then, after college, Jim (my ex) and I settled in
southwest Michigan and raised our boys there. I often describe the area as a
few small cities surrounded by corn fields, orchards, and vineyards.
At harvest time, the vines look like this, lush and green,
loaded with fruit. For some grapes, the leaves are placed over the fruit
clusters to protect them from the sun. Other grapes do best with more sunlight.
But before the new growing season, the vines are all pruned
back. It seems cruel. But it is the best way to care for the vine and to have
an abundant harvest each year. There is a skill to trimming grape vines,
cutting back just enough and not too much. Grape vines grow whether we want
them to or not; but they produce the best fruit if they are trimmed regularly,
This is what Jesus is talking about in today’s
Gospel reading. Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. Jesus wants us to
stay connected to the vine; at the same time, he recognizes there may be times
when we need to be trimmed, pruned, in order for us to be the healthiest
We all have had
experiences that have shaped us. Sometimes these experiences have helped us
grow in faith, sometimes these experiences have turned us away from God. We
have habits and attitudes learned from childhood, some of them good, some of
them harmful to ourselves and others.
For example, one day at seminary in Chicago, I was walking
to the grocery store a couple blocks away. As I looked toward the corner, I
noticed a cluster of young black men in hoodies standing and talking on the
corner. Just to be safe, I crossed the street before I got to the corner.
Was I being safe? Or was
I exhibiting prejudice? This moment plays in my mind regularly to remind me
that I have prejudices, and that I am not always proud of the way they make me
act. I think of it as God’s way of pruning me. God’s pruning helps me remember
that God loves young men in hoodies as much as God loves me.
… The Book of the Acts
of the Apostles could easily, and perhaps more appropriately, be called the
Acts of the Holy Spirit. It’s easy to see evidence of Spirit on every page. Today,
we have the story of Philip and his encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch.
Philip is a deacon, a new order of church workers that arose
when the first disciples learned they were not able to serve all the widows in
town. We are more familiar with the name Stephen, a deacon, and the first
believer to be killed for his faith in Jesus. Philip has been spreading the
good news in Samaria, east and north of Jerusalem.
The eunuch is on his
way from Jerusalem back to Africa, by way of Gaza. We know a few things about
him. We know his body is different, so most people would have seen him as
imperfect, damaged. He is an official – so he has power, despite his lack of
social power as a eunuch in the Roman Empire. He has the use of a chariot, so
he is an important person in Ethiopia. He was in Jerusalem to worship, but he
would have been prevented from entering the Jewish temple because his body was
Here’s where Spirit
enters the story. The eunuch happens to be traveling and reading the scroll of
the Prophet Isaiah. Philip is nearby, thanks to Spirit, and Spirit says to
Philip, go and join the man in the chariot. Philip joins the eunuch in the
chariot and begins the conversation. “What are you reading, and do you
understand it?” “No, I need someone to explain it to me.” So, Philip connects
the dots between the scripture and Jesus and baptism.
They are on a
wilderness road, going through the desert, but Spirit provides water! The
eunuch sees the water and asks to be baptized right that minute. Philip does
the baptism and then disappears, because Spirit needs him in Azotus, a city on
the Mediterranean Sea. The eunuch takes the good news of Jesus’ resurrection
and God’s grace to Africa where many come to believe because of this eunuch.
The book of Acts
demonstrates that Spirit welcomes all people, even those who have traditionally
been left out: women, foreigners, non-Jewish people, people of all ages and
abilities and shapes and colors. It is because of people like the eunuch sharing
the good news that Christianity spread around the world.
Jesus welcomes and loves all people – anyone who chooses to
follow him is welcome. He offers himself to all people by extending a branch of
the vine. All we have to do is grab onto it.
When you came in, you
received a piece of grapevine. Notice that there are tendrils on the vine. They
serve to seek out and maintain a hold on the fence or on other sections of the
vine. These tendrils are so persistent that even detached from the fence, even
though the vine is dead wood, the tendrils are designed to connect with
something. That’s why each piece had to be in a separate bag, otherwise Julia
would have had a challenge handing out just one piece of vine.
I think Jesus may be
just as persistent in trying to keep a connection with us. He will grab on to
us so he can love us and offer us mercy. He will remind us that we are his
Let this piece of vine
be a symbol for you, a reminder that you are connected to Jesus the Vine. Maybe
this piece of vine can be a conversation starter, a way to talk about Jesus
with someone who needs to know Jesus loves all people, no exceptions. It is
through us, the branches, that the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and God’s
grace continue to spread. It is with the tendrils that we make connections with
each other and with God, connections that are quite hard to break. Amen