A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (8:26-40)
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
24 My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.
25 The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the Lord shall praise him: *
“May your heart live for ever!”
26 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, *
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.
27 For kingship belongs to the Lord; *
he rules over the nations.
28 To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; *
all who go down to the dust fall before him.
29 My soul shall live for him;
my descendants shall serve him; *
they shall be known as the Lord’s for ever.
30 They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn *
the saving deeds that he has done.
A Reading from First Letter of John (4:7-21)
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or 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. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John(15:1-8)
Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
by the Rev. Deacon George Snyder
MAY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH AND THE MEDITATION IN ALL OF OUR HEARTS BE ACCEPTABLE IN YOUR SIGHT, O LORD! YOU ARE OUR STRENGTH! YOU ARE OUR REDEEMER!
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower…I am the vine, and you are the branches.”
The gospel this week is full of another agricultural image; but, then, that makes a great deal of sense because Jesus was speaking to an agrarian society—a society that understood the sheep images from last week and the wine images from today. To the ancients, their lives were built around sheep and wine; consequently they understood with great clarity these farming metaphors. This week, fortunately for us, these vine images are clearer to us since most of us grow at least a few plants.
Jesus wasn’t the first to use this vine image to describe the connection between God and his people. The Old Testament is replete with them. The writer of Isaiah said that Israel was God’s vineyard: “The vineyard of the Lord is the House of Israel.” Jeremiah quotes God when He said, “Yet I planted you a choice vine.” These images continue in the books of Ezekiel, Hosea and the Psalms.
Grapes are a very fast growing plant; they can grow many feet in just a few weeks. If the vine grower allowed the plant to grow on its own devices, the branches would grow longer as the summer progressed. Those plants would flower and bear grapes along its entire length. Unfortunately the stem and root system do not gather enough nutrients to allow all of the grapes to grow to the full sized, sweet fruit. The grapes nearer the stem would take most of the nutrients, leaving little to reach the grapes at the end of the vine. The reality is that the grapes closest to the stem of the vine would almost grow to full size without all of their natural sweetness, and the ones further away would barely form miniature grapes. None of the grapes would be full size when mature; none of them would be sweet enough to produce the wine that they needed to survive. Some parts of the vine would produce absolutely nothing.
The ancients realize that to get the full size grape, the plant needed severe pruning because only the grapes near the stem would produce good fruit. When I was a child, our family had a garden; some years my mother would preserve a thousand jars of fruits and vegetables to get us through the winter; all of my brothers and sisters and I learned quite a bit about raising fruits and vegetables. Our parents would teach us that we had to prune tomato plants—taking off the sucker branches—in order to allow the plant to produce full sized tomatoes. We learned that in order to make larger flowers or fruit, such as apples or peaches, that some of the fruit had to be sacrificed and removed from the branches.
The ancients understood that the parts of the grape vine that did not produce fruit had to be pruned off because they were less than useless. These branches, if left on, could take energy away from that part of the plant that produced good fruit. There pruned branches were of no good whatsoever; they could be used for nothing; they were simply throw into a fire and burned.
The people then, as do we who live in the 21st century, understood what Jesus meant when he said that he was the vine and his followers were the branches producing the fruit. They understood the concept that God—the vine grower—would trim the useless branches and throw them into the fire since they did not produce. They also understood that God intended for all of his children to produce fruit, and that the only way they could produce good results was to stay near the stem—that is, near Jesus. And, we know that today!
If we want to be productive followers of Christ Jesus we must stay near him; we must remain in contact with our Lord on a daily basis. If we allow the temptations of live to draw us away from Him who is the source of all of our spiritual and moral being, we risk losing that spiritual and moral fiber, and if we lose that, we are set adrift in the vicissitudes that pummel us daily in this world. It is absolutely essential to us Christians that we stay connected to Christ even though it is so easy to drift away. A day withdrawn from Jesus can easily turn into two days, three days, a week, a month, and then years. If a branch were to become disconnected from the vine, it dies. The same can be said of us Christians. If we separate ourselves from Christ, we can die, too. Oh, sure, we can continue living with no Jesus connection—that is true. But, we Christians know that a life without Jesus is total emptiness for us; could we even call it lift.
It is so easy to disconnect ourselves from Him—there are so many temptations out there. It is easy to stray; but, we must make the effort to stay in connection even when we are overwhelmed with the world and don’ even have time for ourselves. If we do not stay connected to Jesus, we lose ourselves. It is easy to stay connected—spend five minutes in prayer; spend five minutes reading his holy word; spend five minutes singing a favorite hymn. Some days you may have fifteen minutes; others, you may find only a minute. On that kind of a day, your prayer might be, “Lord, I want to stay connected to you, but, I can’t seem to find the time; please, Lord, stay connected to me!”
There is another way to stay connected with our Lord. There are days that I feel that my prayer turns into a litany of “Lord, give me this, give me that.” Some days, I just hate to continue to ask. On days like that—and at other times—I simply says, “ Lord, I want to be in your quiet presence.” I will just sit there silently focusing on him; sometimes just letting my mind go where it will. Every once in a while, I will repeat, “Lord be with me today.” That kind of prayer is becoming one of my favorite kinds of prayers.
Think back to the time when you started dating—that was, oh, so long ago for some of us. I remember the feeling that it was necessary to avoid silence. Either the girl had to be saying something, or I had to speak in order to keep the silence at bay. That silence was so awkward. However, after a while of getting to know one another, I did not feel compelled to say something all the time. I realized that silence was perfectly comfortable with the girl because we had connected in various ways. Prayer time with Jesus can be that comfortable silence of two good friends. And, there is a tremendous benefit to that silence—if we are lucky, we can hear Jesus talking to us. In those silent moments, we may be able to discern what God wants us to know. Psalm 46 tells us, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Jesus says that we are the branches of his vine. God expects us to produce fruit. That is the purpose of our connection. What kind of fruit are we expected to produce by being part of Jesus’s vine. As we grow from a small, insignificant flower into a full grown, sweet grape on Jesus’s vine, we learn what it is that God expects. In fact, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22 Jesus tells us when one of the Pharisees asks him what the greatest of all commandments is. Jesus responds, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
If we have grown properly on the vine of Jesus—being so close to him throughout our life time, we will naturally love God. If we love our neighbors—even those that we have never seen and never will, by being so close to Jesus on his vine, we will show those neighbors the Christ that is within each of us by our words and actions. We will care for them as much as Christ would. We will tell them about Christ; we will invite them to church with us so that they can learn more. We will give from out of our abundance into their poverty—be that poverty of material things or poverty of spirit. We will give them some of the sweetness of Jesus—the sweetness that we have gained because we are so close to him—on his vine.
I pray that God gives us each opportunities this week to show the world that we are branches of the vine of Jesus. And, I also pray that we seize some of those opportunities to share with others the sweetness of our life on that vine.