Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 2, 2021
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts

Watch Here: (TLC Worship Service 5/02/2021)

Alleluia!  Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

A dozen farm conservation agents descended on my Dad’s farm in Iowa to take soil samples. They were interested in the soil of my Dad’s farm, because my Dad practices a non-conventional type of farming called no-till farming. The concept of no-till farming is simple, after the harvest is completed in the fall, and before the planting of the next crop in the spring, my dad does nothing to the ground.

This is different than the conventional farming he himself grew up learning, and that his neighbors around him practice today. Conventional farming believes in preparing the soil for a harvest. In the fall, cornfields are plowed, or chisel plowed, the ground literally turned over or broken up, and then in the spring, the ground is worked again, disked, perhaps a couple times, to make the soil as clear and flat as possible.

After years of no-till farming, the conservation agents were curious as to what effect it had on the soil. As they analyzed the soil samples, the supervisor told my dad his soil had turned the corner. One example of that, was the restoration of the earthworm population.

In the process of living and dying, burrowing and moving, eating and defecating,  earthworms provide health to the soil. They not only restore nutrients to the soil, and but paradoxically, prepare the soil to withstand both rain and droughts. In the time of heavy rain, the soil allows the water to filter through, but in case of drought, it also helps hold moisture.

As a farmer, my Dad understands the direct connection between healthy soil and a healthy harvest. Healthy soil leads to a healthy and sustainable harvest, not only this year, but in the years to come. The healthier, and more sustainable the harvest, the healthier the profits.

I thought of this as I reflected on this image from the Gospel reading today.

In today’s gospel reading we hear Jesus identifying the connection between himself and his disciples. The connection Jesus made is that of a vine and branches.  “I am the vine and you are the branches,” said Jesus.

And like my Dad’s concern about the connection between soil health and a harvest, Jesus also offered this metaphor as one of connection for the sake of a harvest. As Jesus said recorded as John 15:5 “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine,” instructed Jesus in John 15:4, “neither can you unless you abide in me.”

The fruit we are to bear – is the fruit of love.

Defined in both the Gospel of John, and reaffirmed in the First Letter of John, Jesus was God’s love and those who live in Jesus are also called to love. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God,” we hear today in First John.  “The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

The connection between Jesus as vine and we the branches, invites us this morning to consider our connection as branches, to the vine of Christ – his life, his teachings, his death, his resurrection. What are the ways we are connected to Christ for the sake of a harvest of love? What are the ways we are disconnected from Christ, and fail to live in love to those around us?

Connection is important to consider, because here’s the truth: each one of us bears fruit in relation to the vines we are connected with in life.  

Each and every single one of us, though unique and different in many ways, are united to vines that lead us to bear fruit – whether that fruit is bitter and poisonous, or whether it is healthy and plentiful. Connections shape our lives and guide our behaviors.

The vines we are connected to are those places we get our news, the social media posts we consume, the podcasts we listen to … the vine are the people we are connected to, the people we learn from and listen to, the people we allow to shape our thoughts, the people we honor.  We are all connected to vines in life – and through these vines flow information, beliefs, opinions, paradigms and attitudes that bear fruit in our lives. 

What we consume shapes and forms us – whether this happens consciously and knowingly, or subconsciously and unknowingly. Sometimes we make decisions about the information and people we will consume or distance ourselves from. And sometimes, just by living in society, we live in soil, and are connected to vines, not of our choosing that yield fruit that we don’t even know we are yielding.

Again, sometimes these vines are good and healthy and bear good fruit: loving parents and grandparents can teach healthy values and belief systems. Trusted teachers and coaches can instill helpful knowledge, discipline, and attitudes. Healthy friends and coworkers can provide support, loving correction, and accountability. Surrounded by healthy people, making good decisions, and acting in loving ways yields a fruitful harvest in many ways.

But, sometimes these very connections can also prevent a harvest of love, and can even yield bad fruit. Stereotypes and prejudices exist and are perpetuated because we come to believe what is said about other people. Caste systems and racial hierarchies come to exist, because we believe stories told throughout society that some are human and others are subhuman. As disciples, we need to be honest and clear that sometimes the vines in our lives fill us with disinformation, lies, deceptions that cause us to bear bad fruit. 

As Christian disciples, we are invited to connect with Jesus the vine for the sake of bearing love in the world.  

Today, and every day, we are invited to consider our connection with Christ, how we are drawing our nourishment, our sustenance, our direction from Christ, and in so doing, yield a harvest of love.

Our First Reading gives us an example of this in action. The story starts with an Ethiopian official reading the scriptures. In response, according to Acts Chapter 8, the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard the Court Official reading the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

Yes, you can read the Bible on your own as part of daily devotions, but true understanding comes through connection with others: by regular participation in worship to hear a sermon and reflection on the Word, by regular participation in Tuesday or Wednesday Bible Study, or Adult Forums. Christ the vine comes to us in the people of our lives who are Christ’s love, forgiveness, and mercy in our lives.

With the Ethiopian connecting to Philip, look at the fruit that was born! “Here is water,” the Ethiopian asked, “what is to prevent me from being baptized?” Connected to the vine of Christ in the person of Philip, the fruit was baptism and new life in Christ!

Connecting to Christ the vine is connecting to the people in our lives – connecting to Christ is relationship with those around us.

I shared this somewhat challenging verse from First John last week, and it’s worth repeating again: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” 1 John 4:20.

In connecting with our brothers and sisters in the world, especially in relationships  of love with those most in need around us, we are connecting to Christ. There in relationship with Christ, by relationship with our neighbors, we experience the presence and nourishment of Christ. The vine of Christ reaches out to us in those who challenge us and who are different from us, who speak truths and lived experiences that enrich the soil of our lives by adding necessary perspective. When we welcome the vine of Christ reaching out to us in the hopes and fears, in the yearnings and strivings of those of different ethnicities, cultures, and languages is the possibility of harvest of love that is rich and expansive.

The Good News today, is that in the waters of baptism, God proclaims connection to each one of us in the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Here in water & word, in bread and cup, Christ the vine feeds us with his very presence … here in Word and Sacrament the living Christ is present to us and for the world for the sake of life and love … here the risen Christ reaches out to us with his very self to fill us with his love and grace, and in us, to enact a harvest of mercy and blessing.

Nourished by Christ, and filled with faith by the Holy Spirit, may you disconnect from those vines filling you with sin, may you cut off those branches that are not bearing fruit.

Connected to Christ the vine, may you connect to the source of perfect love that casts out fear.  

Abiding in Christ, may you go forth to love and serve all your neighbors.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!