Monday, April 27, 2015

The Pruning Hand of GOD. A Homily from John 15:1-8 for the 5th Sunday of Easter

5th Sunday Of Easter
Homily for 5.3.12
edited from a Homily
first posted 5.6.12
Year B

Today’s reading from St. John’s Gospel, for this the fifth Sunday of the Easter season, offers us a pre-Calvary and therefore a pre-Resurrection teaching of Jesus from what have come to be know as the Upper-room Discourses. These chapters from John give us those most intimate utterances of Jesus with his disciples. They are filled with poignancy because we know in a few short hours he will be dead. Thus, we can expect that these words would be his most critical thoughts to them (and by extension to us), and we are not disappointed. 

In our text Jesus teaches about being connected to him, as the True Vine. N.T. Wright reminds us that there was a deep precedent in the Hebrew Bible for offering the metaphor of the vine for Israel. He goes on to write: 
“Now Jesus is saying that he is the ‘true vine’. This can only mean that he is, in himself, the true Israel. He is the one on whom the promises of God are now resting. And his followers are member of God’s true people -- if they belong to him and remain in him. The picture of the ‘vine’ isn’t just a clever illustration from gardening. it is about who Jesus and his people really are, and what is now going to happen to them as a result.” (emphasis his)

Thus, we could say to be part of GOD’s vine, who is Christ the Lord, is to be part of his new community, his new humanity, this new people whom he continues to create — even so long removed from his earthly presence — through the cross, the resurrection, and the power of the Holy Spirit, who makes Christ the Lord a living reality to the human heart and mind. 

But, this grafting into the the vine who is Christ the Lord, is not such a simple matter and it is not without its pain. Over and over again the words of Jesus comes to us, but they are often left without an underscore of emphasis: 
“Drop your nets; follow me”“Take up your cross and follow me”“Sell all you have and give to the poor and follow me”“Count the cost, and follow me”
In these words and many others as well we see the pruning hand of GOD. We see the reality that to follow the ways of Christ the Lord involves a very real and painful paring down, a very real and painful cutting away of a life naturally built for self, self-aggrandizement, self-establishment and self-promotion. Believe me, replacing this selfishness, under the power of the Spirit, with self-humility and the esteeming of others and their needs is nothing if not painful. For example, see St. Paul’s words from Philippians 2:1-4, a text we often cite in this regard:
1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 
But, is not this the way of Christ the Lord? Did he not abandon himself up for us all? Did he not leave all for us? Are we not to follow?  Doesn’t our response to that calling, therefore, carry with it a very real cost? What does our following Jesus the Lord mean if not to follow his way of sacrifice and reconciliation?

Thus, I would argue, to initially follow Christ the Lord is to leave all, not as a way to earn this new community way of life, but as a result of hearing the Holy Spirit’s call to follow Christ the Lord. Of course, we almost always confine this costly truth to the fine print of the evangelistic negotiation. 

That is, we are less apt to say, 
“Following Jesus Christ the Lord will alter your life and cost you everything…” 
even as we are more apt to say; 
 "Trust Jesus and you life will be better.“Trust Jesus, you’ll go to heaven when you die.”“Trust Jesus for God has a wonderful plan for you life”
And, while these above statements may be true in their own way, at least for me, I no longer speak in this way because these, at best distort the gospel -- making it human centered and offering a skewed view of Jesus Christ the Lord as my personal celestial Santa Claus, and at worst they disembowel the gospel, making it into a piety of selfish Sunday mornings only -- “OK, Jesus, what have you done for me lately.” 

Said differently, when we offer allegiance to Christ the Lord, we offer our lives, all our lives, all the time. We are not seeking to merely fit GOD into our lives one day a week or when mere convenience offers nothing else to do. We are not in the Jesus-way for what we can get from GOD. Instead, we are submitting every waking hour to this loyalty of obedience. And, truly, how difficult is this?!

Or, said still differently, the gospel is about GOD. The gospel is about the one, true and living GOD reclaiming his good world now marred and broken by human sinfulness and selfishness. The gospel is about how GOD chose to reclaim this world through Jesus Christ the Lord, the one who fulfilled GOD’s promises to Israel, the one who won a great, final victory through the cross and the resurrection, and the one who created and who continues to create a new covent people to proclaim and live out his words and his ways as agents of new GOD’s new reality through his ascension as King of the world. 

Thus, if following Christ the Lord means we submit every waking hour to this loyalty of obedience, then it seems very clear that we must change our values, our thoughts and our ways of behavior. We must truly change our ways. 

But how? 

You see, our experience tells us that even if we offer a true allegiance to Christ the Lord as a genuine desire of the heart, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we will fulfill this desire, does it? That is, while we may be sincere in our aspiration to follow the Jesus-way -- that is the spirit may be willing, we also know by painful evidence that the flesh is woefully weak. 

Here again, the pruning hand of the Lord comes to our aid, as our initial confession of faith -- 
“Jesus is the crucified and risen Lord, and I offer him my life by following his ways...” 
is made every-day real by our remaining connected to the vine, which only occurs as we truly and daily submit to the words of Christ the Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit -- the Spirit of the risen Christ -- who resides within us, and who truly connects us to his new covenant people. 

Said differently, the New Testament knows nothing of a Christ-follower not connected to the new community, the church. Now, of course, the church will look different in every generation and in every culture, but it is in the church where we find this connection with the words and works of Jesus Christ the Lord, who is the true vine. 

At this point, it may be helpful to drill-down a little deeper, and to say that the new-community-of-the-King, the church, offers the follower of Christ the Lord his words and works through the bread and the cup, through the reading and proclamation of the scriptures, and through the impact of the Holy Spirit who makes the bread, the cup and the scriptures come alive in each existential moment the church shares in the loving, wise embrace of her Savior and Lord. 

Thus, it is through the Holy Spirit that the church finds itself growing in faithfulness to the ways of Christ the Lord and in her faithful proclamation of the gospel. 

That is, through the empowering presence of the living Lord -- through the Holy Spirit -- the church is fruitful in being GOD’s new people. And notice the text tells us that this fruitfulness is primarily found in prayer answers. 
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."
Now, of course, the temptation is to see this verse, again based upon a me-centered gospel, as a way to obtain the selfishness of wealth and ease. Believe me when I say that there is nothing in this text that offers either. If we are connected to the Vine, then what do you think we will be asking of the Father? Will we be asking to gain wealth and fame and power and privilege for ourselves? To say that is to again slap the face of the Jesus. 

No, to see this vine-fruitfulness in reality is to see what Jesus himself asked of the Father. Jesus’ prayers were for the world to see the reality of the Father’s love (for that is what the Father’s glory entails -- the power of GOD's wise and loving response to the world) shown in the sacrifice of the cross and the reconciliation of humans to the Father and to each other. The prayers of Jesus were for a weary world at war with itself, that this world would know that he had come from the Father, and that the world,therefore, as bad as it still is, has been fundamentally changed forever.