Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Some months ago, I learned from a colleague from a diocese which shall not be identified that somebody on his diocesan staff had prefaced a suggestion to the clergy for doing some task or instituting some program (I don’t remember) with words like “since you all have more free time these days.” It was shockingly out of touch, obviously, since all the clergy I know have been busier than ever during the pandemic. Clergy or not, I know a lot of folks my age have been stretched to nearly the breaking point trying to juggle work obligations and overseeing their children’s distance learning and all the rest.

It seems that when I ask folks how they’re doing these days, the answer is more often “busy” than it is “bored.” I don’t know how often I respond to this question by saying “It’s a busy time of the year,” without thinking, “When was the last time I wasn’t busy?” We’re coming up on Summer, which is supposed to be relaxing, right? But everyone I know seems nearly overwhelmed. It seems to me that what many of us need is just a chance to do what Jesus said: Abide.

Both today’s Epistle and Gospel use this word “abide”, which is our translation of the Greek “meno”. It was one of John’s favorite verbs, by the way. It appears 40 times in his Gospel and another 29 times in his letters. It’s one of those complex, Greek words that has layers of meaning. On one level it simply means “to remain”, but it also means “to rest”, “to be held continually” and “to await”.

We are told this morning to abide in the vine, to abide in God, and to abide in love. These aren’t very action-oriented commandments. Rest in love. Be held continually by the vine. Await God.

This is a hard teaching for many of us. Our culture values productivity and efficiency above all else. Even in that lovely image of the vine, my own mind turns to labor rather than renewal- tending the vine. It’s an image of hard work. But in this morning’s Gospel it’s God tending the vine. It’s God doing the hard work. We must first abide, rest in the vine, if we are to bear fruit.

And bear fruit we must. Lest we think that we are being taught to be lazy, Jesus concludes his teaching by saying, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.” “Faith without works,” James’ Epistle reminds us, “is dead.” But on the other hand, works without faith are impossible. The trick, then, is to rest in God, to abide in the vine, so that we have sustenance to bear fruit.

And what is that fruit? It is easy enough to say that it means good works, acts of charity. But consider the metaphor Jesus is using. It’s not an orange grove or an olive tree; it’s a grapevine. And what do grapevines produce? Well, grapes obviously. And what do grapes become? Grapes produce wine. And, at least as ancient people understood it, wine produces happiness. Scripture continually uses the image of wine to talk about joy.

Anyway, the fruit we bear brings joy to the world. The knowledge and love of Christ which we spread, which by our Baptims we are commissioned and required to spread, is nothing less than the only source of true happiness there really is in this world. We certainly have work to do.

But if we’re not connected to the vine, we cannot produce good wine (or even Welch’s for that matter). We must stay connected to flourish.

How we do that is something we are reminded of over-and-over again, but which bears repeating as often as possible. First and foremost, it is the Blessed Sacrament, the “food for pilgrim’s given.” It is also daily prayer, daily re-acquaintance with scripture, and – yes – rest. A popular modern metaphor says that we should “recharge the batteries”. I think the vine is an even better metaphor. You remove your phone from the charger, but you don’t remove the vine from the branches. They are always connected. That means that in even the most draining of circumstances, we don’t have to shut down (or “burn out” as some of my clergy friends talk about). We’re still connected. We just need to open ourselves to more of the good stuff that Jesus is pumping through the vine instead of trying to grow grapes without nourishment. So maybe we need to take a lesson from Jesus, and from time-to-time permit ourselves to abide.

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.