In the name of God, source of all being, eternal word and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches. We connect to life in God through Christ.
When I went to visit my mother yesterday, I drove across the Napa Valley to Sonoma and up the Valley of the Moon. I saw a lot of vines. I saw chardonnay, cabernet, and viognier. I saw head-trimmed vines and trellised vines. And all the vines I saw were healthy, and green, and growing. Every living branch of them has been pruned, and is being pruned, again and again this growing season. And every branch was abiding in the vine, living in the vine, from which they drew their nourishment, their strength and their sweetness.
Later in the summer the vineyard workers will come through again and remove immature bunches of grapes, thinning down and focusing the energy of the branches, so that the fruit they bear in due season will be as strong and sweet as it can be.
Like the branches you and I have been pruned. As Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper, we have been pruned, cleansed – it’s the same root word in Greek – by the word he has spoken to us. The vinedresser has tended the branches of the vine. Now is our time to grow. We are preparing to bear fruit. And while we are growing and preparing, and soaking in the water and sun and each day’s nourishment, we stay connected to the vine. That’s Jesus. We connect to the life of God, to eternal life, through Christ.
We stay connected to the vine, and receive nourishment, power and love and strength from God, by a variety of means. We read the Bible. We pray. We take part in the sacraments: we are baptized, confirmed, married, ordained, anointed, reconciled; we take our places at the Lord’s Table. And we serve.
Canon Carey pointed out to me that our service booklet now ends with a new sentence. NOW THAT THE WORSHIP IS OVER, OUR CHRISTIAN SERVICE TO THE WORLD BEGINS.
Over the gateway of Poly High in Long Beach is a similar motto: Enter to learn, go forth to serve. That is very like what we are encouraged to do on Sunday morning. We learn. We study the Word of God. The Word refreshes us, and we go forth in the Spirit to love and serve the Lord. And we serve the Lord in one another, and in the stranger.
One of my teachers at college used to do something astonishing. He didn’t tell me about it but I found out about it. He took Christ at his word. When Jesus said, “you visited me in prison,” that struck home for Donald. To seek and serve Christ in this world, he used to get in his car after Mass and drive down to Soledad Prison to visit with the inmates. And so he taught me, unknowingly, that if we want to find out what Jesus looked like, if we want to see him today, we should look for him in the faces of those we serve.
Scriptures, prayer, sacraments, fellowship, service. These are ways we connect to the divine life – through Christ. Another way is pilgrimage.
A few weeks ago I began to look for connections in my own life. I began to look for reference points, to visit holy places, and to seek out people with whom I need to touch base as I begin to interview for priesthood and for my first employment as a priest.
In a way it became a pilgrimage. I wanted to review where I was in my life and remind myself of who I am and how I got to this place. It raised the question, how do I stay connected?
Amy Dierlam raised the question in its first form. During a meeting of the 20s/30s group at the 10 o’clock hour, she started the discussion by asking of each us, where do you feel most at home? I began to smile. I was remembering the afternoon I spent in a hammock on the back porch of a house in Tucson last January. [Friends from Tucson asked me the same question not long ago – and, while I grew up among the redwood, the live oak, and the madrone, there are times when I close my eyes that I see saguaros.] So when I went back to Arizona just week before last, of course I was feeling at home. But that’s not all.
From Arizona I went on retreat to New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur. I have been going there since college, whenever there is a significant turning point in my life. And so I went to the monastery. I sat in the chapel, contemplating the altar and the crucifix suspended above it. And I felt at home. But that’s not all.
From the monastery I visited old friends, including another college professor – who has been praying for me for 32 years – and received their encouragement. Then I came back to Sacramento. And I definitely felt at home again.
And I felt at home when I visited my mother yesterday. (It’s not too late to call or write!) But that’s not all.
I came here. And here is the connection, not only the connection to home for me, but to home for all of us. The connection to God that happened for me touching base with people and places across the Southwest and California can also happen right here. At the Lord’s Table we are united with Christ and in Christ with one another. Here at the Lord’s Table we all connect with life from God through Christ. All the branches connect with the one true vine – Jesus is here among us. And we are all welcome at the Lord’s Table. Amen.
Fifth Sunday of Easter Year B RCL
Acts 8:26-40 Psalm 22:24-30 1 John 4:7-21 John 15:1-8
Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento & Pioneer House, Sacramento May 14, 2006