Easter 5 B - Vine and the Branches

From the Connections:
'Why I Make Sam Go To Church'
Sam is the only kid he knows that goes to church.  But Mom insists.

Mom is writer Anne Lamott, who has chronicled her own search for God in her troubled life in her bestselling books, including Grace Eventually and Plan B.  In

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Mom explains why she wants her poor little Presbyterian church to be part of her son's life:

"I want to give him what I found in the world, a path and a little light to see by.  Most of the people I know who have what I want - which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy - are people with a deep sense of spirituality.  They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith . . . They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle.

"When I was at the end of my rope, the people of St. Andrew tied a knot in it for me and helped me to hold on.  The church became my home - that it's where, when you show up, they have to let you in.  They let me in.  They even said, You come back now. 
"Sam was welcomed and prayed for at St. Andrew's seven months before he was born.  When I announced during worship that I was pregnant, people cheered.  All these old people, raised in Bible-thumping homes in the Deep South, clapped.  Even the women whose grown-up boys had been or were doing time in jails or prisons rejoiced for me . . . Women [who] live pretty close to the bone financially on small Social Security checks . . . routinely sidled up to me and stuffed bills in my pockets - tens and twenties . . . And then almost immediately they set about providing for us.  They brought clothes, they brought me casseroles to keep in the freezer, they brought me assurance that this baby was going to be part of the family.

"I was usually filled with a sense of something like shame until I'd remember that wonderful line of Blake's - that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love - and I would take a long breath and force these words out of my strangled throat:  Thank you."

Today's Gospel calls us to realize the connections between Christ and us and between us and one another.  On the night before he died (the setting of today's Gospel) Jesus reminds his disciples of every time and place that, in his love, we are "grafted" to one another in ways we do not completely realize or understand.  As branches of Christ the vine, we are part of something greater than ourselves, something which transforms and transcends the fragileness of our lives.  May our families, communities and parishes become extended branches for all of us who struggle to realize our own harvests of joy and discovery, of grace and faithfulness.  
From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1)The vineyard and the gardener:
In First Things First, Roger Merrill relates the story of a busy man who decided to landscape his grounds. He contacted a talented woman with a doctorate in horticulture and experience in landscaping and expressed his desire to hire her to set a garden. But he emphasized to her the need to create a maintenance-free garden with automatic sprinklers and other labor-saving devices because he was too busy to spend much time on upkeep. But she said, “There’s one thing you need to deal with before we go any further. If there’s no gardener, there’s no garden!” In today’s gospel Jesus asserts that he is the vine, we are the branches and his heavenly Father is the gardener.

2) Gerald Coffee, a retired navy captain
was a prisoner of war for seven years. His home was a cell that allowed him to take only three steps in any direction. Still, during these years of unbelievable hardship he was able to pray, "God, help me use this time to get better." He took a dismal situation and used it for a time of mental, emotional and spiritual growth. In spite of being able to communicate with his fellow POWs only by tapping on the cell walls, he along with other prisoners managed to learn French. He learned to recite Kipling and Shakespeare. Most amazing of all, Coffee and his fellow prisoners were able to keep their sense of humor. Often he composed poems to keep himself amused. One that he particularly liked went, "Little we evil in my bread, I think I've just bit off your head." Today Captain Coffee addresses major corporations on the subject of keeping your faith (and sense of humor) during difficult times. He shares his harrowing experience in order to inspire others. [Allen Klein, The Healing Power of Humor (Los Angeles, California: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1989).]Gerald Coffee's captors could not know he had connections in high places. Gerald Coffee is connected to the vine which is Christ. And that is the difference in life. Christ is the vine. We draw our life from him. He is the Vine. We are the branches. It is He who links us to one another. We not only have connections in high places. We also have connections in low places and places in between. We are connected to one another as branches linked to the vine of Christ.

3) Hampton Court vine:
Donald Grey Barn house tells about a grapevine in Hampton Court near London that is about1,000 years old. It has but one root which is at least two feet thick. Some of the branches are 200 feet long. Because of skillful cutting and pruning, the vine produces several tons of grapes each year. Even though some of the smaller branches are 200 feet from the main stem, they bear much fruit because they are joined to the vine and allow the life of the vine to flow through them (Sermons Illustrated). If we, the branches, are not bearing much fruit, it may be that we are not feeding as we ought upon the life-giving flow from the vine. The great truth that Jesus is trying to tell us is that if we want life in all its fullness, then we must be connected to the "true vine," the very source of life. "Abide in me as I abide in you, "Jesus said. We draw our life from him. 

4) Power of a squash:
You may remember that fascinating experiment that took place at Amherst College some years ago in which a squash seed was planted in good soil. When it had produced a squash about the size of a man's head, the researchers put a band of steel about it with a harness attachment by which they sought to determine the lifting power of the squash as it tried to grow.

They estimated that it might have the power of 500 pounds; which in itself would have been amazing. In a month it was pressing the 500 pounds; in two months 1,500 pounds, then it went to 2,000 and they had to strengthen the bands. It finally reached a pressure of 5,000 pounds when it broke the bands. They opened the squash and found it full of course fibers that had grown to fight away the obstacle that was hindering its growth. Roots extended out about 80,000 feet in all directions, as the squash was reaching out for help to strengthen the fiber. [Eric Butterworth, Unity of all Life (New York: Harper & Row).] I would hate to think that you and I have less determination than a squash. We have been given minds and bodies and dreams that we might struggle against life and produce fruit worthy of branches connected to the living vine of Jesus.

5) "Presbyterian, but disconnected."
Some years ago in the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland, the members of one of the large Presbyterian churches decided to undertake a religious census among some 2000 homes in their district. When the results were in, the pastor of the church found himself seated at his desk, confronted with a huge heap of reports, and he began to note the visitors' findings and especially any comments made by the visitors at the bottom of the page. One remark that occurred again and again was, "Used to be a Presbyterian; now belong nowhere." Or, "The children go to Sunday School, but the parents aren't interested." And then his eyes fell on one unusual comment at the foot of one of the pages which startled him. It read simply, "Presbyterian, but disconnected." "Disconnected." That's a fascinating word. It sounds as though somebody had pulled the plug on the poor chap. Or perhaps he had pulled the plug on himself, thereby committing spiritual suicide. No longer was he connected up with the church in which he was raised, or any other church, for that matter. This is sad because God created us to be connected up with one another. God intended for us to be in communion with God and with one another. The New Testament knows of no such thing as solitary Christianity. To be a Christian at all is to be in relationship with other Christians. Anyone and everyone who belongs to Jesus Christ automatically belongs to anyone and everyone else who belongs to Jesus Christ. "I 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." (John 15:5)

6)  Affirm and cultivate awareness of the indwelling Christ
There is an old story about Albert Einstein. He was going around the country from university to university on the lecture circuit, giving lectures on his theory of relativity. He traveled by chauffeur-driven limousine. One day, after they had been on the road for a while, Einstein’s chauffeur said to him, “Dr. Einstein, I’ve heard you deliver that lecture on relativity so many times, I’ll bet I could deliver it myself.” “Very well,” the good doctor responded. “I’ll give you that opportunity tonight. The people at the university where I am to lecture have never seen me. Before we get there, I’ll put on your cap and uniform and you will introduce me as your chauffeur and yourself as me. Then you can give the lecture.” For awhile that evening, everything went according to plan. The chauffeur delivered the lecture flawlessly. But as the lecture concluded, a professor in the audience rose and asked a complex question involving mathematical equations and formulas. The quick-thinking chauffeur replied, “Sir, the solution to that problem is so simple I’m really surprised you’ve asked me to give it to you. Indeed, to prove to you just how simple It is, I’m going to ask my chauffeur to step forward and answer your question.” What I’m asking you to consider is not about anything as complex as the theory of relativity. It is about our close relationship with Christ the vine, deriving the sap of spiritual life from him, as braches do from the main stem of the vine.

7) Fish on the beach sand:
“Take a fish and place him on a beach. Watch his gills gasp and scales dry. Is he happy? No! How do you make him happy? Do you cover him with a mountain of cash? Do you get him a beach chair and sunglasses? Do you bring him a Plafish magazine and a martini? Do you wardrobe him in double-breasted fins and people-skinned shoes? Of course not! So, how do you make him happy? You put him back in his element. That’s what you do. You put him back in the water. He will never be happy on the beach because he was not made for the beach. Indeed so, and the same is true for you and me. We will never be happy living apart from the One who made us and saved us. Just like a fish was made to live in water… we were made to live in close fellowship with our Lord… and nothing can take the place of that.” (Max Lucado in his book, When God Whispers Your Name).

8) Stay connected to Christ the vine with servant mentality:
In his book, Living on Tiptoe, Cecil Myers reminds us of a time when a group of educators in our country wanted to honor Albert Schweitzer… and they brought him to America. The University of Chicago planned to give him an honorary degree. When Albert Schweitzer’s train arrived, the university leaders ran to greet him warmly and they told him of their joy in having him here in America. But then as they turned to leave the train station, suddenly Albert Schweitzer was gone. He just disappeared, vanished, slipped away. They looked everywhere for him. Finally, they found him. He was carrying a suitcase for an elderly woman. He saw that she was having trouble and rushed over to help her. You see, it was so much a part of his life to be a servant for others that it was as natural as breathing for him (when he got off the train), to begin immediately to look for somebody to help. That was his approach to life… and he had learned that from the Bible… he had learned that in Church… he had learned that from Jesus. Albert Schweitzer loved to help other people because he was strongly connected to Christ and His servant mentality. The university officials said later that when they saw Dr. Schweitzer helping that woman with her suitcase… they were wishing like everything that they could find somebody they could help… somebody whose suitcase they could carry.

9) Mother Teresa’s servant mentality:
Some years ago, Mother Teresa was asked by a reporter one day, “What is your biggest problem?” Without a moment of hesitation, Mother Teresa answered with one word: “Professionalism.” She said: “Here are these servants of Jesus who care for the poorest of the poor. I have one who just went off and came back with her medical degree. Others have come back with registered nurse degrees. Another with a master’s in social work… and when they came back with their degrees… their first question always is, ‘Where is my office?’ Then she said, ‘But you know what I do? I send them over to the House of the Dying where they simply hold the hands of dying people for six months and after that, they’re ready to be servants again.’” (Victor D. Pentz, “Take This Job and Love It” Protestant Hour Sermon, 3/14/2005, p.3)This was the greatness of Mother Teresa… her unflinching commitment to stay connected to Christ’s Servant Mentality. 

10)The novel: Brazil:
John Updike once more revealed his remarkably brilliant powers of description in the novel Brazil. Updike shares his uncanny ability to portray the setting and landscape that surround his characters in order to highlight their nature and their roles. However, Updike's greatest gift is the manner in which he is able to crawl inside the characters to reveal their restless and frantic struggles to discover themselves. The principal characters in Brazil are Tristao and Isabel. Their love for each other survives a tormented parade of trials forced on them by family, nature, society, and the economy. Yet, the end for them is as tragic as for Tristan and Isolde, whose names and whose roles are so similar. Purposely, the reader is left to wonder a great deal about the significance of such relationships and, above all, about the meaning of such lives.

Today the Holy Gospel suggests to us that life lived apart from our Lord Jesus Christ is meaningless and without purpose. Jesus himself talks about the need to be attached to him. We can readily appreciate the importance of relationship in a day when human relations are extremely difficult. What Jesus suggests, however, is that all human relations are dependent upon him.

11) John Kennedy and Martin Luther King:
In his book, The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power, Gary Wills contrasts the contributions of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., through their conception of power. The Camelot that JFK created at the White House vanished. On the other hand, King, the pacifist who believed in non-violence and achievements through suffering and patience, made lasting impressions on our society. In like manner, the contrast in styles and understanding of power in ordinary people makes for differences in their lives. People who in their quiet ways draw life from the One who is the Vine discover that they not only live in him by love and grace, and he in them, but also they are able to live in one another through love and grace. 

12) “Mom, you'll never have to take in washing again.”
Marian Anderson, perhaps the greatest soprano who ever lived, had such a wonderful relationship with her mother. It was said of Mrs. Anderson's life: her music could bring one to tears; her life could bring one to his/her knees. She was once being interviewed and she was asked the most wonderful moment in her most impressive career. She could have mentioned that time when the great Arturo Toscanini told her that hers was the greatest voice of the century. She could have mentioned that time when she sang before the Roosevelts and the King and Queen of England. She could have said winning it was winning a coveted award for the person who had done the most for her hometown of Philadelphia. There was also the time when she sang before a crowd of 75,000 on Easter Sunday beneath the Lincoln statue. Which of these high moments would she chose? None of them. “My greatest moment,” she said, “is when I went home to my mother and said: ‘Mom, you'll never have to take in washing again.’” If this relationship can exist between a mother and a daughter, then how much more can our relationship with Jesus Christ be? “I am the true vine, ”he said. “As the Father has loved me, so I love you.” And what happens, when we abide in him and he abides in us? Our joy will be made full.

13) He was buying a get-well card for the bus driver
She had been brutally murdered on a neighborhood bus. A young, teenaged girl. Cut down in the prime of life by a man suddenly gone berserk. The bus driver, struggling with her assailant, was himself injured. The morning after the tragedy, I was in a drugstore when this young lady's father entered. I did not know him, but was told by the druggist, "That's the girl's father." I immediately assumed he was in the store having a prescription filled for a sedative of some sort. I could well imagine the effects of this sudden and shocking tragedy on the family. The next day I found out how wrong had been my assumption. Do you know what that father was doing in the drugstore the morning after his daughter's tragic death? He was buying a get-well card for the bus driver. Such concern is not born in the orchard of a life barren of fruit. The father's action was most Christ-like. Even in personal sorrow, he was concerned for the well-being of another. Where does such gallantry of soul come from? It comes when one looks into the heart of God through a living relationship with his Son, Jesus Christ. In today's gospel, Our Lord, using vivid symbolism, spells out clearly his relationship to us, and our relationship to him. "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing."

14) “Lady Diana came to the church as a commoner; she departed as royalty.”
Back in 1981, the attention of the world was focused on the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. The reporter of a newspaper was describing the arrival of the entourage to the Cathedral where the wedding was to take place. He described how all the royal family were carried in special royal coaches to the Cathedral while Lady Diana arrived in the coach of a commoner. Then there was this rather telling sentence in the newspaper account. “Lady Diana came to the church as a commoner; she departed as royalty.” This is a vivid description of what grace is all about. We come as sinners, but grace turns us into heirs and joint heirs with Christ of all that God wants to give us. It also is a vivid description of the possibility that comes to each one of us – the possibility of a deeper walk with Christ. Jesus said to his disciples, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” Ponder that awesome truth. We have not chosen God; God has chosen us. In His extravagant grace, He has given us His love, and confronted us with His call. We arrive in his presence as commoners; we leave as royalty.

15) Story of a branch separated from the vine in the film La Dolce Vita:
The film follows the exploits of a young scandal-sheet writer named Marcello as he flirts from mistress to mistress and from orgy to orgy. Marcello embodies the loneliness, emptiness and boredom of the jet-set crowd with whom he keeps company. Their decay is symbolized in the last scene in which Marcello and his friends find on a beach a strange fish rotting in the sun. Across the inlet, an innocent girl calls to Marcello. Although she reminds him of the good and simple life he once enjoyed and could recover, he cannot find the courage to react to her invitation. La Dolce Vita illustrates what our Lord meant when he said in today's gospel: “A man who does not live in me is like a withered branch, picked up to be thrown in the fire and burnt." When Marcello was growing up with his family in a small town he led a simple but happy life. But now that he had forsaken their religion and lifestyle for the decadence of the big cities, he found himself not only unhappy, but also dying intellectually, morally and spiritually. Indeed, Fellini's image of the rotting fish and Christ's metaphor of the withered branch are strong symbols of what happens to us when we separate ourselves from our Lord, his Church and our family [Albert Cylwicki in His World Resounds].

16) One-hundred percent American?
Today's gospel speaks of our radical dependence on God for everything. The vine, to be fruitful, has to be cut and pruned, but must remain always attached to the vine or else it dies. "As a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me." Often we do not like to admit our dependence, but the fact remains that we are constantly dependent on others for our daily existence." The average person might awaken in a bed built on a pattern which originated in the Near East, to a clock, a medieval European invention. He slips into soft moccasins invented by American Indians. He showers with soap invented by the ancient Gauls, and dries himself with a Turkish towel. Returning to the bedroom he dons garments derived from the clothing of nomads of the Asiatic steppes and in ancient Egypt. At his breakfast table, he has pottery invented in China, his knife is made of an alloy first produced in southern India; his fork is a medieval Italian invention, his spoon a derivative of a Roman original. His food originated in discoveries from all over the world. He reads the news of the day imprinted in characters invented by the ancient Semites, by a process invented in Germany upon a material invented in China. Sometime during the day he may thank a Hebrew God in an Indo-European language that he is one-hundred per cent American." (Harold Buetow). L/12 

17) The Usher:
An elderly woman walked into the local country church. The friendly usher greeted her at the door and helped her up the flight of steps. "Where would you like to sit?" he asked politely. "The front row please," she answered. "You really don't want to do that," the usher said. "The pastor is really boring." "Do you happen to know who I am? I'm the pastor's mother," she declared indignantly. "Do you know who I am?" the usher asked. "No." she said. "Good," he answered.

18 Jesus nut:
The “Jesus nut, also called the “Jesus pin,” is the nut that holds the main rotor to the mast of some helicopters, such as the UH-1 Iroquois helicopter. The long and strong metallic fans of the helicopter are fitted to the main rotor of the mast. The “Jesus nut” is a slang term first coined by American soldiers in Vietnam; the technical term is MRRN or main rotor retaining nut. The origin of the term comes from the idea that, if the “Jesus nut” were to fail in flight, the helicopter would detach from the rotors and the only thing left for the crew to do would be to pray to Jesus before the helicopter crashed. Today’s gospel explains why Jesus must be the pivotal point in our lives, through the little parable of the vine and the branches.  

19)  No water:
In the late 1980s a fire destroyed a building on the lower Eastside of Manhattan. An alarm was sounded and the trucks and personnel arrived in plenty of time to fight the fire. The exit doors worked properly. The steps were clear. The people got out of the building quickly and in order. However, the fire burned out of control and the building had to be demolished. When the firemen arrived, the hoses on the wall were installed properly. There were hoses hundreds of feet in length--clearly sufficient to put the fire out. It was discovered too late, however, that the city water line had never been connected to this part of the system. It was a deadly oversight. To live a human life disconnected from the living God is tragic as well. Jesus did more than come to live among us. He is the life giving vine and we are the braches.  

20) Shadow of the Hawk:
There is a scene in the movie Shadow of the Hawk where a young couple is climbing a mountain with the help of their Indian guide in a desperate attempt to flee from evil people. At one point the young woman slumps to the ground and says, “I can’t take another step.” The young man lifts her to her feet and says, “But darling, we must go on. We have no other choice!” She shakes her head and says, “I can’t go on! I can’t go on!” Then the Indian guide advises the young man, “Hold her close to your heart. Let your strength and your courage flow out of your body into hers. “The young man does this and in a few minutes the woman smiles and says, “Now I can go on! Now I can do it!” By telling us the parable of the vine and branches in today’s gospel, Jesus wants to share his divine strength with us. The parable reminds us that united with Jesus we can do anything, but separated from him we are good for nothing.
From Fr. Jude Botelho:

Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that Paul after his conversion decided to go to Jerusalem and tried to be united to the Christian community there. But the community had heard of Paul’s reputation as a persecutor of the Christians and being afraid of him refused to associate with him. Finally it was left to Barnabas, who was a kind, forgiving and encouraging person, to bring Paul into the community. He pleads Paul’s case, telling his brethren that Paul has met the Lord and that he is no more the person he once was. Paul knows that value of being united with the mother Church and several times in his life he will journey to Jerusalem. Relationships are a gift and not merely an acquisition, and this is even more so with the Lord. It is God who takes the initiative to be one with us and nothing that we do can merit a relationship with him. 

Not connected!
A missionary in Africa lived in his central mission, which had a small electric plant to supply current for his church and small rectory. Some natives from the outlying mission came to visit the padre. They noticed the electric light hanging from the ceiling of his living room. They watched wide-eyed as he turned on the little switch and the light came on. One of the visitors asked if he could have one of those bulbs. The priest thinking he wanted it as a sort of trinket gave him a burned-out bulb. On his next visit to the outlying mission, the priest stopped at the hut of the man who had asked for the bulb. Imagine the priest’s surprise when he saw the bulb hanging from an ordinary string! He had to explain that one had to have electricity power and a wire to bring the current to the bulb. Without a connection there is no power!

Msgr. Arthur Tonne

In the Gospel of John we hear Jesus speaking of this same unity and intimacy, which should be part of our relationship with Jesus and with his Church. He illustrates this with a very earthy metaphor. “I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear even more fruit.” Firstly, we are reminded that the Father is the vine grower. He is the source of life for Jesus and his Church and in the measure we are united with Jesus in that measure we live and grow. No branch can selfishly seek its own good, independent of others. Usually such a branch turns out to be a parasite or sucker, which must be effectively trimmed away. Pruning can be painful, for in the life of the Church; it can mean cutting back on activities and programmes, though good in themselves, which the entire vine cannot sustain. The new growth may be healthy yet preventing fruit from forming on the vine. We all need pruning: correction, direction, discipline so that our lives may be fruitful in His service. This pruning is especially necessary for those who have been successful in their actions. Some experts say that for every hundred people that can handle adversity, there is only one who can handle success. Lest we become proud, to bear abundant fruit we need pruning and trimming to be cut down to size. Only the humble can bear fruit in Christ. Jesus’ secret was his contact with God; ours is contact with God through Jesus. This means dependence. We are dependent on God for everything, right up to life itself. The Easter season celebrates the abiding presence of the risen Christ. Many believers are doers, actors, and we like to quickly translate gospel vision into deeds. The gospel challenges us to stop, to ‘abide’ with Jesus, to realize God’s presence. Are we united? 

I’m the centre!
There was this article about a fondly remembered comic strip ‘Archie.’ The article is about a television show that offers an updated version of the comic strip. In the show, Archie and his friends –Veronica, Reggie, and Jughead return as adults to Riverdale. There have been some changes. Archie is no longer a fine wholesome guy. He’s been talked into the yuppie, consumerist mainstream by his fiancée. Veronica has had at least four or five marriages and is now hunting Archie, trying to get him into bed with her. In the script is this dialogue: “But I have a fiancée,” says Archie, trying to back off Veronica. “Don’t worry, Veronica says unmoved, “I’ve had thirteen.” Jughead is a divorced psychiatrist trying to raise his alienated son, and Reggie is a money-crazed owner of a health club. Times have changed! Archie and his friends are no longer a community. They are examples of our culture of individualism. “I do my thing: run through spouses, children, jobs, relationships. They are all temporary. I’m the one who counts. The world revolves around me. I’m the centre!” ………Or are we the centre?

William J. Bausch

“I loved those boys!”
A college professor had his sociology class go into the Baltimore slums to get case histories of 200 young boys. They were asked to write an evaluation of each boy’s future. In every case the students wrote “He does not have a chance.” Twenty-five years later another sociology professor came across the earlier study. He had his students follow up on the project to see what had happened to these boys. With the exception of twenty boys who had moved away or died, the students learned that 176 of the remaining 180 had achieved more than ordinary success as lawyers, doctors and businessmen. The astounded professor decided to pursue the matter further. Fortunately, all the men were in the area, and he was able to ask each, “How do you account for your success?” In each case the reply came with feeling, “There was a teacher.” The teacher was still alive, so he sought her out and asked the old but still alert lady what magic formula she had used. Her eyes sparkled and her lips broke into a gentle smile. “It is really simple,” she said. “I loved those boys.”

Harold Buetow in ‘God Still Speaks: Listen’ 

United in His name
The lunar module ‘Eagle’ carrying astronauts Aldrin and Armstrong, landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. While Armstrong prepared for his moon walk, Aldrin unpacked bread and wine and put them on the abort system computer. He described what he did next. “I poured the wine into a chalice…In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon and the very first food eaten, were communion elements.” Just before eating and drinking the elements, Aldrin read the passage from the gospel according to John: “I am the vine, and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him will bear much fruit, for you can do nothing without me.” Commenting on his communion experience on the moon, Aldrin says, “I sense especially strongly my unity with our church back home, and everywhere.”

Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’ 

Being His channel of goodness
There is a legend of a saint whose wonderful deeds astonished the angels and they came to learn the secret of his piety. Everywhere the man went he diffused virtue as a flower gives out perfume, without being aware of it. The angels asked that the man be given the gift of miracles, and God consented. They asked the man if he would like by the touch of his hand to heal the sick. “No,” he replied, “I would rather that God should do that.” “Then would you like to convert guilty souls and bring them back to the right path?” “No,” said the saint. “It is the Spirit’s mission to convert, I only pray.” “Would you rather be a model of patience and draw men by your piety?” “No, if men are attracted to me, they might be estranged from God.” “What do you desire?” said the angels. “That God should give me his grace, that I might do a great deal of good without knowing it.” The angels were perplexed. Finally they resolved that whenever the shadow of the saint fell where he could not see it, the shadow could cure disease and comfort sorrow. So it came to pass, as the saint passed along, the hearts of men were cheered wherever he walked.
Anthony B. Castle in ‘More Quotes and Anecdotes’ 

United with Christ
J.C. Penny Stores is the largest chain of dry goods stores in the world. There are more than sixteen hundred of them in every state of the United States. Mr. J.C. Penny, the owner of these stores had a very serious mid-life crisis. He was beset with fatal worries. He was so harassed with worries that he couldn’t sleep and he developed an extremely painful ailment called the shingles – a red rash and skin eruptions. His doctor put him to bed and warned him that he was a very sick man. A rigid treatment was prescribed. But nothing helped. He grew weaker day by day. He was physically and nervously broken, filled with despair. One night the doctor gave him a sedative, but its effects wore off soon, and he awoke with an overwhelming sense of his death. Getting out of his bed, he began to write farewell letters to his wife and to his son saying that he did not expect to see the dawn. When he awoke the next morning, he was surprised to find himself alive. Going downstairs, he heard singing in a little chapel where devotional exercises were held each morning. He heard them singing the beautiful hymn: ‘God will take care of you’. He went to the chapel and listened with a weary heart to the singing, the reading of the Scripture lesson and prayer. Suddenly, something happened which were beyond any explanation. He called it a miracle. In his own words, he said, “I felt as if I was instantly lifted out of the darkness of a dungeon into warm, brilliant sunlight. I felt as if I was transported from hell to paradise. I felt the power of God as I had never felt before. I realized then that I alone was responsible for all my troubles. I knew that God with His love was there to help me. From that day to this, my life has been free from worry. I am seventy-one years old, and the most dramatic and glorious twenty minutes of my life were those I spent in that chapel that morning: ‘God will take care of you.’”
From the

John 15:1-8 - "I Am the True Vine"
Acts 8:26-40 - "Practicing the Presence" by Leonard Sweet


 It is fascinating to me that in our Protestant religious culture, such a strong emphases is placed upon literal interpretation. Interestingly, Jesus so often did not speak literally, but figuratively. He spoke in allegories and images. He painted word pictures. Instead of literally coming out and saying what he meant, he so often would tell a story and let people draw their own conclusion. Indeed, these hidden messages of Jesus frequently frustrated his disciples. They wished that he would speak literally and not be quite so subtle.

 This morning we take a look at one of the "I Am" sayings of Jesus. Jesus said: I am the true vine. Now, even the most ardent fundamentalist has to agree that when Jesus spoke these words he was not speaking literally. Obviously, if we are to understand what Jesus was getting at here, we must look beyond the surface and do some exploring. We have to go beyond the actual words and discover Jesus' meaning.

 When Jesus spoke about vineyards, the people of Judea knew what he was talking about. It was an industry that had been carefully cultivated throughout the country for centuries. It was crucial because it was a cash crop as opposed to grain, which was raised purely for consumption. In early America the essential crop was corn, but the cash crop was tobacco. It was, therefore, vital to the economy of the land. 

 Quite frankly I must admit that I know very little about the particulars of the wine industry. In preparation for this sermon I did some reading in this area and it was really quite fascinating. The vines are a very rugged crop in a way and in another sense it is a very delicate fruit and requires being treated with kid gloves. A young vine is not permitted to bear fruit for the first three years. It is therefore drastically pruned in December and January to preserve its energy. The particular branches that do not bear fruit are cut out to further conserve the energy of the plant. If this constant cutting back was not done, the result would be a crop that was not up to its full potential. 

So when Jesus spoke about vineyards certainly the people could identify with that metaphor, even as a person in Iowa would know about corn, or in Mississippi about cotton. It didn't make any difference whether or not you were in that business. You had grown up around it enough that you would still be familiar with it. 

 But there is something else that these listeners would most certainly know. A vineyard was the symbol of the nation. In America we might think of amber waves of grain, but in Judea they thought of their nation as a vineyard. It was a kind of national identity. Over and over again in the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard of God. 

Isaiah the prophet pictured Israel as the vineyard of God. He said: The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel. In Jeremiah, we read God referring to his chosen people in this way: I planted you as a choice vine. Hosea spoke a word of judgment when he said: Israel has become an empty vine. In the Psalms we read that God compares Israel to a vine that came out of Egypt. Josephus, the Roman historian, informs us that over the Temple in Jerusalem was carved an exquisite, gold leaf grapevine. It stood as a symbol of national unity. Israel itself was, in the eyes of its people, the true vine, whose roots ran all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In Jesus analogy, he likened himself to a vine, while the fruit bearing branches here are the disciples. God the farmer is depicted as the one who cultivates the vineyard. He waters and tends the soil, so that the vine is properly nourished. He takes pride in his crop. But this means that he also prunes the vines and removes the dead wood. The grapes hang on to the branches. What Jesus is saying is clear. The disciples should receive their strength from Jesus. He is the true vine. If they break away from him, they will be like unproductive branches and die and bear no fruit. They then will have to be pruned out.

 What can we make of this analogy in terms of our daily life? What does it mean to be God's vineyard? 

1. First, it means we must bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.
2. Secondly, it means there is such a thing as an unproductive life.
3. Third, it means we must cultivate a relationship with Jesus Christ.
 "Practice what you preach."  

 That old saw is usually trotted out when some high profile "holier-than-thou" type has their wings clipped and their reputation riddled with holes. Or a "sterling" character is revealed to have feet of crumbling clay. 

But there is one big problem with "practice what you preach." It all depends on what it is you are "preaching." When some convictions are put into action the results can be catastrophic or cruel, insidious or just plain evil. Mother Teresa practiced what she preached, but so too did Adolph Hitler. Osama bin Laden practiced what he preached, as did the Unabomber. 

 If only the church "practiced what it preached," we say, then the community of faith that confesses "Jesus is Lord" would be the #1 purveyor of love and peace in the world. But once again, we need to consider carefully what is being "preached" and who is doing the "preaching." When we get wrapped up in preaching a doctrine or a direction or a divine plan, we end up practicing things like "spiritual laws" or "strategic plans" or "target quotas." But is that the kind of gospel mission and message presented in today's text from Acts?

 The power that "preached" to Philip; the power that "preached" to the Ethiopian eunuch in today's Act's text: that power was neither scripted nor strategic, neither planned nor programmed. It was the power of the Holy Spirit. It was the power of the Spirit of God working through one of Christ's followers in surprising, remarkable, and unexpected ways.
For the first generation of Christians the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ made present within the human heart, was what made "Christianity" a living reality. There was no preconceived idea for "church growth," no specific guidelines for "mission expansion" or "church planting." There was only the openness of disciples to the wonder-working power of the Spirit.

 In other words, the first generation of Jesus' followers did not "practice what they preached." Instead they "preached what they practiced... 


The Orchard of Your Life 

 A grapevine is a most productive plant. Spreading out its branches, each is intended to bring forth fruit. No vine grower is foolish enough to invest his time and effort in cultivating vines merely for the foliage on its branches. He looks for results. Fruits! As the branches of Christ in the Kingdom of God, we are expected to produce the fruits of spiritual life. And no, we're not speaking of spiritual apples, grapes, pears, or peaches this morning. We're talking of what's going on in the orchard of your life. What are you producing?

Saint Paul once enumerated in his writings what those fruits of the spirit were. He said, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." How's that for a fruit basket? A good list for the cultivation of life's orchard. With these fruits in mind, what's going on in your orchard?_______________________________________

  In Communion with Christ 

 I heard about a little five-year-old boy who fell out of bed. His cry awakened the entire household. After his mother had safely tucked him back under the covers, she said, "Why did you fall out of bed?" Between tears and sobs, he said, "Well, I guess I went to sleep too close to where I got in."  

 Far too many Christians make the same mistake. They fall out of the bed of life and go to heaven; yet they slept too close to where they got in. They never learned the difference between union and communion. 

 Jesus said in v.5, "I am the vine, you are the branches." When you trust Christ, you become a branch in His vine. That is union. But he goes on to say in v.5, "He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit." Now that is communion. Union is the basis of communion. To abide in Christ is a twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week, fifty-two week a year intimate fellowship with Him, so that you become a fruit-bearing branch.


Our Fuel 

 C.S. Lewis wrote, "God has designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing."

C.S. Lewis


 The Best Connection

You and I live in the period of history where we have access to more information than ever before. We have so much information that it produces what has been called the "Paralysis of Analysis." It was the poet T. S. Eliot who wrote:

 Where is the wisdom--we have lost in knowledge.
Where is the knowledge--we have lost in information.  

The beauty of our faith is that God gave us more than information--he gave us Himself. He gave us more than rules and outward appearances. He gave us a relationship with him. Colossians 2:10, "In Him you have been made complete." Only he can satisfy your deepest longing and bring order to your innermost being. In Jesus Christ, God's word became flesh. He is alive! 


 What You See Is God's Love

Carlyle Marney told about an old man who was asked once, "Have you ever seen God?" He said, "No, but I have known a couple of Jesuses in my lifetime." That is what John is talking about. No one has ever seen God, but what you can see is God's love.

 The Right Parts and the Right Instructions

  Have you heard the story about the man who ordered a tree house over the internet? When the box arrived, it had printed on the top the words that have become every parent's nightmare: "Some assembly required." 

The man began to assemble the tree house (but would you believe it?) as he laid out all the parts on the floor and began reading the instructions, he realized (to his dismay) that the instructions were indeed for a tree house? but the parts were for a sail boat!!

 The next day, he sent an angry e-mail message to the company complaining about the mix-up. Back came the reply:  

 "We are truly sorry for the error and the mix-up and the inconvenience. However, it might make you feel better to consider the fascinating possibility that somewhere today there is a man out on a lake trying to sail your tree house."

 The point is clear: To put something together, you have to have the right parts and the right instructions. This is where faith comes in. The only way you can put your life together is through faith. Faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. That's what makes it work.


 "I Am" 

There are seven "I Am" sayings in the gospel of John. I Am the true vine is the last of these sayings.

I am the bread of life - 6:35
I am the light of the world - 8:12 & 9:5
I am the gate for the sheep - 10:7,9
I am the good shepherd - 10:11,14
I am the resurrection and the life - 11:25
I am the way and the truth and the life - 14:6
I am the true vine - 15:1,5

From the Vine

 Recently we experienced severe thunderstorms with very high winds. My neighbor had a tree which the winds tore off several large limbs. Because the limbs were large it took him several days to get them cut up and removed. There was one very noticeable thing about the limbs that lie there on the ground tore from the trunk of the tree. They died. This may sound very trite and you may be saying, "well of course they did! A limb cannot live separated from the tree." I too know this fact, but seeing them lying there dying drilled home the reality, "apart from the tree the limb cannot survive." This fact of nature was used by Jesus as a metaphor for the Christian life.  

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 15:5-6)

We cannot live the Christian life and be fruitful Christians apart from Christ any more than those limbs could live after being tore off the tree trunk. Every branch draws its identity, its sustenance, it life from the vine. No two branches are alike and yet they are all the same. Paradoxical as it is, it is true. Every Christian is unique and yet every Christian is the same. Our identity is derived from the Vine. We are known by the Vine. We receive our sustenance and life from the Vine.

Gerald Whetstone, Personal but Not Private

 No Good If Detached

About eighteen months ago the refrigerator at the parsonage had to be replaced. So we went to Reliable Home Supply and got a new one. It was delivered and put into place by two strong fellas. Before they pushed it into the corner I notice a tag which said: "No good if detached." Can you think of any other place this tag should be placed?

 Source of Our Power

 he story is told of a native from a remote mountain village who had the opportunity to visit a large modern city for the first time. He could not bring much home with him, and he had little money. But he was amazed at the electric lights which he saw everywhere.

 So he bought a sack full of electric lights bulbs and sockets with switches so he could turn them off and on.

 Arriving home he hung the light bulbs in front of his home and on his and his neighbor's trees. Everyone watched him with curiosity and asked him what he was doing, but he just smiled and said, "Just wait until dark--you'll see... When night came he turned on the switches, but nothing happened. No one had told him about electricity. He did not know the light bulbs were useless unless connected to the source of their power.