Easter 5b: Sermon notes on “Branches!”

Acts 8:26-40 Psalm 22:24-30 1 John 4:7-21 John 15:1-8

Children’s sermon – and for the adults, too

Ask the kids:
Do you have a grapevine in your yard? No? Me, either.
How about grass? Do you have grass? Me, too.
Who cuts it? (ha, ha) That was just for fun.

Today we heard a story from Jesus. Particular type of story called a “parable.”

(Here’s the bible part:)
This story is the last one in a series of what is called the “I AM” statements. Jesus says: I AM:
The bread of life Chap 6
The light of the world Chaps 8,9
Gate of the sheepfold and the good shepherd Chap 10
The resurrection and the life Chap 11
The way, the truth, and the life Chap 12
The vine Chap 15

All of these statements inform us about:
 How God interacts in the world
 And with us
A parable can have a simple, literal meaning.

Show them a dead stick and a branch (cut off from the rest of the tree) with leaves.

Talk about the differences between each: which will grow, which will die? Why –
Cut off from the tree/vine

Parables also have deeper meanings. They can get silly if we get too carried away. Let’s not try to carry the meaning to a ridiculous place, but let’s look at what is possible for our understanding, okay?

Jesus is the vine.

“Apart from me you can do nothing.”

The vine does not exist apart from its branches. Apart from God and Jesus Christ we can do nothing. We are meant to be with our Lord, to grow and intertwine and be together, not just as individuals, but as the church. A vine with a single branch is pretty weak. We cut it back at our own peril, but if we leave it alone it is sparse and weak; it stays alone. There is only so much one branch can do. It survives, yet it certainly cannot bring forth a bounty of anything. A single vine is weak.

But the true vine, God in Jesus, cuts back that vine – reach out, God seems to say – reach out to one another. You will bear fruit that way. We are not individual branches, we are the church, and we are meant to be together, to grow together, work together, and work through our faith alongside each other. An intertwined branch is strong – have you ever tried to tear one up? – it stays together pretty well! We are pruned back from our individual “missions” in order to be the church.

Even then, we are but branches; Jesus is the true vine. We, even together, do not exist alone – can do nothing alone; we need God, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. “Apart from me you can do nothing.” We can grow and be strong for a little while, but it is at our peril that we cut ourselves off from Jesus. We are the church, and we are all about Jesus!

Our gospel becomes one not only about correction, but about connection. What happens to a limb that we cut off? It may live for a little while; even cut flowers give us beauty for a time, but eventually those things that are separated from their life source die. They wither and die. It is then that the branches are gathered together and burned – not because of adversity, but because of detachment, of being totally separated from that which gives us life! And we know that it is Jesus who gives us life, new life, every day.

Let’s look at the connections that we have:
Put our names of pieces of brown paper: build a trunk and a tree
Now, let’s look at how we grow and the fruit that we bear (we’ll use leaves to watch our tree grow and flourish)
Give out leaves. Launch the initiative of our “living, giving tree:”
Full Tummys
CROP walk (do some warm up exercises: bend, stretch, reach toward the sun … grow)
Henrietta Ambulance
Henrietta Fire Company
Gift cards for the hungry
Read the bible
Sunday School
RIT – feed the kids!
Soup kitchen
Scribe (Jeanne Panek)

Adult piece (for kids, too): ABIDE
How do we abide in Christ Jesus? We do our best. We learn from Philip and the Eunuch what perfect abiding looks like, which is the way that Jesus the vine grower abides with us. Here is abiding, love, as told by Ralph Milton:

“May I tell you a story?” Philip asked. Then for an hour or two or three – I have no idea how long – he talked about a man named Jesus – a prophet from a little jerkwater town who seemed to reach out and touch all the hurting people – tax collectors, prostitutes, widows, lepers, foreigners.
“They killed him,” said Philip. ”They accused him of sedition. He was crucified.”
“I’m not surprised.” I said. I felt sad. But it was not the end of the story. Not by a long shot.
And so Philip talked some more, about a resurrected Jesus, a Jesus who it turns out is the Messiah – the chosen one Isaiah was talking shout – one who came to save the weak and the lost – the people nobody else cared about.
I asked. “Would Jesus care about me?”
“Of course,” said Philip.
“Did you know that I’m a eunuch?”
“I guessed. But why should that make a difference?”
“I’m black. I’m a foreigner. But I am successful, and I am rich.”
“That’s all obvious,” Philip laughed. “But again, why should that make a difference. Jesus loves you. He doesn’t care about your genitals, or about your skin color, or about your nationality. Jesus especially doesn’t give a hoot if you’re rich or successful. Jesus loves you.”

It took me almost an hour to stop sobbing. I felt as if a huge, heavy load had been lifted from my shoulders and tossed over onto the roadside. Now I could stop trying harder and harder. I could stop struggling. I was a real person, a real person because I am loved by a real man named Jesus who lived and died and rose again and danced among his people.

We are loved, we are loved, we are loved.
Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. Help us, Lord Jesus, to grow.

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