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. Michael Kreutzer
Just because something is over doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s over.
The gospel according to John has a complex literary history. It apparently was written, and then edited, and then added to, and then edited again, and then added to again, and then edited even more – all through the mid-to late first century. And the transitions between its various parts are not always seamless.
In its first twelve chapters, John tells the story of the public ministry of Jesus: the Word-made-flesh. By their end, Jesus has entered Jerusalem for the final time. Then suddenly, with the start of chapter thirteen, John slams on the brakes, and everything shifts into slow motion. The next five chapters all take place supposedly during the Last Supper. John portrays Jesus as saying more during that meal that he did during his entire public ministry all put together.
But there’s also a clear break in that long narrative. At the end of chapter 14, after Jesus has spoken to his followers about the coming of the Holy Spirit, and after he has assured them of peace as his final gift to them, he seems to end the meal and begin his journey with them to the Garden of Gethsemane. “Rise,” he says, “let us be on our way.” You can see the disciples getting up from their places at the table and begin heading for the door. Then suddenly and without explanation, he starts up again with the opening words of today’s gospel reading: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.” I can just picture the disciples looking around at each other and asking, “Didn’t he just say we were leaving?” And then they all sit down again — for three more chapters no less!
Just because something is over doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s over. But then, isn’t that the case with the entire gospel story. Come to think of it, isn’t that the case with all the great stories of salvation. Our supposed endings are not necessarily God’s endings.
Take, for example, the great story of the Exodus. After the back-and-forth struggle between God’s prophet, Moses, on the one hand, and Pharaoh, on the other, the Israelites had marched out of Egypt. But suddenly, they faced an apparent end to their bid for freedom. They found themselves trapped between the sea, on the one side, and Pharaoh’s pursuing army, on the other. It appeared that there was no way out. They were doomed to the inevitable fate of runaway slaves. But just because something is over doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s over. And so God did a new thing: leading them through the waters and forward to a new life.
Many centuries later, after the kingdom of Judah and the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed and its leading people had been led into exile, the nation and its identity seemed to be at an end. But just because something is over doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s over. And in the middle of one of the most unlikely places, in the middle of Babylon, God did a new thing: recreating Israel in a new form, for a new age, for a new beginning.
And now, God was at it again. Jesus’ public ministry was quickly coming to an end. In less than 24 hours, his tortured, lifeless body would be lying in a tomb. But just because something is over doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s over. God would soon be making another new beginning: the most remarkable and unexpected one of all. He would not be reviving the past, not restoring things to be the way they used to be. What is past is past and will never return. Instead, God was doing a totally new thing. God was beginning to re-create all people and all things. And God began that greatest of all new things by raising Jesus from the dead: raising him to a completely new way of living, to a completely new way of being. And in him, as branches of a vine, we, too, are being raised to that completely new way of living as well.
Just because something is over doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s over. That’s a message that followers of Jesus need in all ages. And that is a message that we who are the church, the branches of the vine, especially seem to need today.
It is obvious to anyone who is paying attention that old, accepted ways of being the church are dying – or, more accurately, are already dead. In last Sunday’s follow-up to our annual meeting discussions, I mentioned the fact that, when I came to St. Mark’s 19 years ago this summer, 13 out of the 14 Episcopal churches in the greater-Dayton and Springfield area had one or more fulltime priests. Today, only 7 do, and that number will no doubt decrease in the coming years. More and more churches are sharing clergy. Yet the work of the church is just as urgent today as it was then. The old familiar ways of functioning as a church may be over; but, just because something is over doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s over. This new situation in which we find ourselves is prompting us to take a new look at the roles and responsibilities of all of us who are baptized, of all of us who are branches of the vine. God seems to be at work through these times of uncertainty and struggle, re-making the church and calling us, not to look backward in a futile attempt to go back to the way things used to be, but to look forward to new ways of being the church and of embracing the ministry that God has entrusted to every believer.
One of the projects in which I will be involved over the next six months is hosting this year’s Diocesan Convention. We had our first formal planning meeting this past Tuesday. The theme for that gathering will be Isaiah 43:19, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” That ancient question is a key one for us today and for the entire church: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” The past is past and is not going to return. But just because something is over doesn’t mean that it’s over. It never is with the God who is always at work making all things new. God is at work in our time, doing another “new thing”; do we not perceive it?