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Sermon - 5 Easter

In the Name...

 

One Sunday, after the service, a man said to the minister,” Pastor, today your sermon reminded me of the peace and love of God.”  Leaving the minister looking pleased, the man said to his wife at the car, “It passed all understanding and it endured forever!”

 

Today, our Gospel reading presented us with the last teaching of Jesus to his disciples in the Upper Room that Maundy Thursday night. I think the disciples knew that something was different about that night, even if they didn't know what it was.  Passover is a time of retrospection and I can imagine as the disciples went through the familiar rituals and sipped their glasses of wine that they might have thought back to that first miracle in Cana of Galilee and thought of how everywhere Jesus went he spread joy - unlimited, uncontainable joy - a gift that energizes us in good times and gets us through the tough times.  The deep seated sense that life at its core is good and that every day is a gift, even if the day is filled with some challenges and hardships.  Joy which brings victory.

 

They also might have thought about themselves and the difference Jesus had made in their lives.  There was Peter, a common fisherman and John, the son of a well-to-do merchant.  There was Matthew, the collaborator who had made a living stealing from his own people, and Simon the Zealot, who had the blood of men like Matthew on his hands.  Jesus had united them and given them a new vision in life, a vision born of the love he had for them and the joy he took in them.  Joy which brings peace.

 

And they might have thought about the ways Jesus had brought joy into the lives of those who had come to him in need.  Lepers, the blind, the lame, but also the sinful who, like Mary Magdalene, had discovered a fresh start, a new beginning, an opportunity to lay aside guilt and shame and start enjoying life as the person God had created her to be.  Joy which brings life.

 

And in the midst of these thoughts, Jesus says, "I am the vine. You are branches. Bear fruit.  Love one another as I have loved you.”  This is the heart of today's message.  How do you become the person God wants you to be?  How do you win the victory of life and peace?  By letting go of control and depending on God as completely as branches of a vine.

 

Can you imagine walking along and seeing a broken off branch lying on the ground twisting and turning, straining to produce fruit?  Of course not.  It's silly.  But so many people try to live that way, broken off, separated from the source of life and try to live relying on themselves.  They want to be in control.

 

Two guys started working a construction job.  The first day they had lunch together one looked inside his lunchbox and said "Peanut butter sandwiches.  I can't stand them."  The next day this happened again, in fact it happened every day until the other guy finally said, "Look, why don't you just tell your wife to make you something else?"  "What's my wife got to do with it?” the first worker said, "I make my own lunches." 

 

When we try to control God in our lives we often find we don't like what we've ended up with.  Our job is just to hang on to Jesus, to let the sap of the Holy Spirit flow through us, and he will do the rest.  He will produce fruit in us because life becomes more focused and less anxious when we turn it over to God. 

 

In his letters to Timothy, St. Paul gives a litany of how all the people he considered close to him were, for one reason or another, unavailable when he was put on trial.  But this did not distress him because, he said, "The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength.  And I was delivered."  Paul let God be in control of a very difficult situation and he received the victory of life and peace.

 

Our Gospel today also reminds us that throughout that Maundy Thursday evening, Jesus expressed his concern that the disciples remember him.  Now, not because he was afraid that the disciples might forget who he was; rather it was a call to remember him by following in his steps, to remember him by doing the things he did, to remember him by showing love for one another as he loved us - self-sacrificing love.

 

The story is told in classical antiquity of two men who were the most implacable of enemies.  They were leaders of their respective peoples and often went to war.  One day, as each rode through the mountains ahead of his armies, they found themselves facing each other alone.  At that moment, the earth shook and a large rock began to fall towards them.  Without hesitation, the one sprang forward and pushed the other out of the path of the boulder but in so doing he bore the crush of its fall and was killed.  The rescued warrior then carried his fallen foe to the enemy camp, at the risk of his own life, and saw to it that that he was buried with full honours.

 

What was it that impelled these men who lived centuries before the birth of Christ to act in this way?  What impelled them was something which God has planted deep within the human heart from birth, that despite all the fabricated distinctions of race, class, nationhood or whatever which divide us we are all brothers and sisters, children of One Father.

 

Christ has invited us to a very simple, yet transforming vision of life.  A vision of life in which we are not the hapless victims of events, but the victors over events by letting go and depending on him.  I am the vine, Christ said.  You are the branches.  My life is yours.  Use it.  Let his life, then, flow through us.  Let him produce fruit in us.  And may his victory of joy, life, and peace, which passes all human understanding and endures forever, keep our hearts and minds, secure and confident.

 

In the Name...


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