1 John 4:7-21
Peace be with you!
It is funny how you can start talking to a random person on the street, only to find out you both know some of the same people and go to some of the same places. For me, this happened when someone who was a stranger to me showed up on my doorstep thirteen years ago with a friend of mine. This stranger just happened to be the son of the speech therapist I had in preschool. What a small world! Amazingly, that random person is one of my closest friends today, though he now lives in Japan. (Rumor has it he and his wife are moving back to the States soon.)
Another time, I randomly met someone at a Lutheran conference a few years ago, but forgot to get his email address. I was so happy to renew the connection when he randomly showed up years later while I was touring Luther Seminary as a prospective student with my parents.
A few years ago I went skiing in Utah with my friend, Amber – a fellow Luther Seminary alum – and my volunteer (who was helping the ski instructor put me onto the ski lift) heard us talking about classes. We found out that he was also a Luther Seminary alum and knew a few of the professors we were talking about.
Today’s Gospel reading has Jesus comparing God to a vine grower, himself to a vine, and us to branches. As a vine, Jesus is the conduit to give us (the branches) the tools, strength, courage, and wisdom to live faithfully as Christians. As branches, we are connected together by a common vine and tangled together. Our community of believers is interlocked together through our relationship with Jesus and our relationships with each other.
When we abide (or remain) in Jesus, we are able to share his good news, forgiveness, grace, love, and compassion with others in order to draw them to the Triune God. Abiding in Jesus means to live out our faith and to continue to spread the good news; it is an active way of living through Jesus. Our relationships are tangled up with one another as we support each other in our faith in Jesus Christ. You never know when the random person next to you needs to hear the good news – whether as a believer needing to hear a simple word of forgiveness or as an individual needing to be introduced to the Triune God. And you never know when the person next to you will be the one to bring you good news.
For example, take our reading from Acts where God sends Philip to Gaza along the wilderness road. On the way, Philip runs into an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace (Queen of the Ethiopians), who is reading a mysterious passage from Isaiah about a lamb being slaughtered (Acts 8:30a, 32-33). When Philip asks the eunuch if he understands what he is reading, he questions how he can without guidance (Acts 8:30b). On cue, Philip shares the good news of Jesus Christ with the eunuch who then stops his chariot to be baptized in water (Acts 8:36-39). Philip had no clue he would be baptizing an important Ethiopian official that day along the wilderness road.
Jesus gives Philip the tools and the place – as unlikely as it is – to share the good news with an unlikely individual. We may not always understand where Jesus is sending us, but when we allow his plan to unfold through us amazing things can happen.
A vine can be a tangled mess. My mom and grandma complain about vines taking over their gardens because they are hard to kill. Relationships in communities can be complicated; strained relationships are the worst since hard feelings are difficult to get over. Sometimes relationships overlap, which can cause confusion. For instance, you may think of employee as a friend until the unfortunate time you have to fire them for stealing. Your friendship with the employee will never be the same. You may have other friends who also know your ex-employee/friend and who may decide to take sides. Or take the structure of the church and all of the people who keep it running. We have all had experiences of conflict with church council members or church hierarchy. Relationships can be messy, especially since not everyone gets along.
Jesus says he will prune and burn those branches that do not bear fruit (John 15:6). It is a harsh threat: Jesus will get rid of those of us that do not share his love and grace with other and stay living in the darkness. Jesus has no use for individuals who do not live out their faith.
Yet I cannot help but wonder if Jesus also prunes us when we seek forgiveness by getting rid of the darkness in our lives. All of us are sinners since Satan lives in the world. Jesus makes us new when we reconcile ourselves with God and ask for forgiveness. By seeking forgiveness, we are asking Jesus to prune us of our faults, so we can grow closer to God the Father and share the good news. As we grow in our faith, we let go of parts of our old selves through Jesus Christ.
Jesus calls us to abide (or remain) in him and his words, and he will answer our prayers (John 15:7). We continue to grow into our faith throughout our lives. Our daily commitment to stay in the light with Jesus keeps us on the vine of life. We actively remain in Jesus by becoming and continuing to be his disciples.
As branches on a vine, Christians are all connected to each other through Jesus Christ. We live in a community as disciples as we grow in our faith through our connections with Jesus and each other. As disciples, we bear the fruit of Jesus for all the world to see.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for pruning us to be Jesus’ disciples. Help us to seek forgiveness in order to live out the good news and to answer your calls for us. Thank you for connecting us in a community. Amen.
Thanks to the Triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Please answer the following reflective questions in the comments below. Please agree to disagree and be respectful to each other. (If you have not already done so, please also take a moment, to sign the comment covenant.) You can answer as many questions as you would like.
1. How do you live in community with other disciples? Do you see it as a positive or negative that you are intertwined with other believers? Why?
2. How do you bear fruit?
3. Have you ever had a random encounter like Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch? How did God use you to touch someone’s life unexpectedly?