|Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany||February 5, 2017||Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20|
|Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Reflections on Annual Convention, Susan Tilt||January 29, 2017||4th Sunday after the Epiphany||Matthew 5:1-12|
|Third Sunday after the Epiphany||January 22, 2017||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Psalm 27:1, 5-13, Matthew 4:12-23|
|Second Sunday after the Epiphany||January 15, 2017||Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42|
|First Sunday after the Epiphany, Baptism of Jesus||January 8, 2017||The Baptism of our Lord, Year A||The Book of Common Prayer|
|Epiphany||January 6, 2017||Epiphany 2017||Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12|
|Christmas Day, Year A||December 25, 2016||Christmas Day, 2016||Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, Psalm 98, John 1:1-14|
|The Eve of the Nativity||December 24, 2016||Christmas Eve||Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2: 1-20|
|Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 11, 2016||Third Sunday of Advent, Year A||Psalm 146:4-9, Matthew 11:2-11|
|Second Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 4, 2016||Second Sunday of Advent, Year A||Matthew 3:1-12|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year A||November 27, 2016||First Sunday of Advent, Year A||Isaiah 2:1-5, Ps 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44|
|Christ the King Sunday, Year C||November 20, 2016||Christ the King Sunday, Year C||Jeremiah 23:1-6. Ps 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43|
|Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||November 13, 2016||Proper 28, Year C||Malachi 4:1-2a, Ps 98, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19|
|Charles Sydnor’s sermon, Nov. 6, 2016, All Saints||November 6, 2016||All Saints, Year C||Luke: 6: 20-31|
|Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 30, 2016||Proper 26, Year C||Isaiah 1:10-18, Psalm 32, Luke 19:1-10|
Easter 5, Year B
Sermon Date:May 2, 2021
Scripture: John 15:1-8; 1 John 4:7-21
Liturgy Calendar: Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B
Rappahannock River, April 25, 2021
Jesus said to the 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.”
The first thing to do before pruning a tree is to take a good long look at the tree and to figure out what kind of tree it is. The pruner needs to know the natural shape of the tree before taking any action at all, because the natural shape of the tree will determine how the pruning should be done and what sort of pruning will be necessary based on the circumstances.
The next thing to do is to remove the dead branches on the tree. As Jesus points out in his image, the dead branches get removed first, for they are the branches that can further damage the tree by eventually breaking off and leaving a ragged wound, or by being a source of disease or infestation that can then bring harm to the healthy parts of the tree. So off the dead branches go.
And then comes the tricky part. The person doing the pruning has to remember that no matter how necessary the pruning is for the health of the tree, the pruning is going to produce a wound on the tree.
Trees do not heal their wounds. Instead, a tree closes its wound by growing new bark over the wound if possible. If the pruning is done incorrectly, the tree won’t be able to grow new bark over the wound. Then, the open wound becomes a source for rot, disease and insect infestations that can get into the rest of the tree.
So a good pruner, knowing that the action of pruning will wound the tree, is going to be very careful in the way that he or she does the necessary pruning.
One reason to prune is to repair damage that has occurred to the tree, or to protect the tree from getting damaged. People in cities damage street trees all too often when the trees get in the way. A person walking down a sidewalk who has just run into a quickly growing tree branch may break off the branch in anger. Sometimes people who are drunk will damage young trees intentionally. And then there are the delivery trucks that have proliferated in the time of this pandemic, and the height of those trucks will damage the higher branches of trees. So pruning can be done to correct existing damage, and pruning is also done to prevent damage, by removing branches that might damage something because they are in the way of damage themselves.
So imagine with me—starting with the image that Jesus presents in today’s gospel, God is the gardener.
God sees that the garden that God planted needs some serious love. So God plants Jesus, the tree of love, in our midst, in hopes that Jesus, the shape of love itself, will grow big strong branches that will produce and spread the fruits of God’s love far and wide.
Jesus grows up, goes through Galilee teaching people how to love by offering radical examples of what love is through the stories he tells, the healings he does, the demons he casts out, and the hungry he feeds. And sure enough, Jesus the tree of love is growing stronger by the day, and the fruits of love are spreading everywhere, which is exciting to the gardener, God.
But not to some others.
Some people do not like this tree of love. The fruit from the branches is dropping over onto their lawns and they have to keep pulling up the little seedlings of love that spring up because those seedlings don’t belong in the perfect lawns that they’ve cultivated in which nothing can be allowed go grow except their perfectly manicured grass, not even the seedlings of love.
These people refuse to meet or talk to the gardener who is growing the giant tree of love. They just keep getting angrier and angrier as the seedlings spring up, and the shade of the tree cools their gardens, and the fruit from the tree, which looks and smells delicious, keeps dropping into their yards, but surely it must be poisonous, and they don’t dare to try it, so they just hurl the fruit back into God’s garden, or stomp on it. After a while, they get so frustrated that they get together and start plotting to destroy the tree of love that is Jesus.
And so, the time comes when the haters find a chance and chop down the tree of love– that is, they crucify Jesus.
God the gardener, is horrified, BUT because God is God, and God has given everyone free will, God does not stop this brutal and senseless killing of love. God is heartbroken.
So what is God to do? Take revenge on the people who have been so destructive and so brutal to God’s own tree, God’s own Son?
God walks through the devastation of the fallen tree and the broken branches and the wilting leaves. And as God mourns, with eyes cast down, God sees the fruits of love, still so sweet and good, lying on the ground. And so God waits.
The whole world waits. The whole universe waits!
And in all that death and destruction, seedlings spring up out of the fallen fruit. Everywhere, the seedlings are taking root and growing, growing, growing. And on the third day, the great tree of love, which they knew was dead, because they had killed it, has been raised into new life, and there it stands once more in God’s garden, full of the fruits of God’s love.
What are they to make of this? As the Easter hymn puts it, “Love lives again, that with the dead has been: Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.”
After this resurrection, the people who killed the tree realize that this tree of love is eternal. So they have a choice to make—accept the tree of love, maybe even try out the fruit, maybe even let the seedlings grow tall in their yards, or they can continue to try to kill the tree, even though they see with their own eyes that LOVE IS STRONGER THAN DEATH.
Meanwhile, the tree of love, restored, shelters its seedlings, which grow and grow and the roots of the seedlings and their branches grow and God, the master pruner, tends the seedlings and prunes away the inevitable damage that comes with life and growth, and the seedlings can grow up in the shape they are intended to grow into, the shape of love.
We Christians want to be like Jesus, to grow into the shape of love. For this to happen, we must allow God to prune us as we grow and suffer damage in our lives.
Here’s a real life example of the sort of pruning I’m talking about.
I have a friend who, one day, when her two daughters were still tiny, had her husband come home and tell her that he didn’t love her any more and that he was leaving. And then he left. And there she was, with two tiny children and her whole life to reconfigure with her husband and his love gone.
You might say that a huge storm had unexpectedly blown through this woman ‘s life and had damaged some of her branches, left them dangling, leaving her overall health in jeopardy. Her husband had damaged her by roughly breaking off some of her branches, and now she unexpectedly had anger and hatred taking hold in her life, damaging her.
Anger and hatred were getting in through the wounds he had left and were infecting her very soul. Wouldn’t revenge feel good? Wouldn’t it serve her former husband right if he got rejected as he had so cruelly rejected her? Could she ever trust enough to love again? She realized that the damaged branches had to go, that the wounds had to be cared for if she wanted to grow back into the shape of love, and not be stunted, but she couldn’t prune the damage that her husband had inflicted on her by herself. She longed to be rid of her anger and hatred, and so she waited on God for help.
God, the gardener, who by the way had looked on at her hurt and had been heartbroken by what had happened to her, just as God had been heartbroken over the death of his own son–God knew my friend’s pain and heard her prayers for healing. God came to her and pruned off those branches of anger and hate and the desire for revenge that was spreading damage throughout her and making her misshapen. This pruning on the part of God is so full of hope! God believes in us and wants us to be free so that we can grow well and bear lots of fruits of love.
Did God’s pruning hurt? Yes. Did it leave wounds? Yes.
But the new wounds that corrected the messy wounds left by the former husband were clean and smooth. God’s pruning took away the jagged edges, removed the torn and injured bark that was letting the rot of anger and hatred get in and slowly destroy this woman. Over time, after God’s pruning, new bark grew over the wounds, and closed them, and new healthy branches of love grew strong in the place of the damaged branches that God had pruned away.
Now, so many years later, this woman, having undergone an unexpected and damaging storm in her life and the hurtful and imperfect pruning of another person, then followed by God’s perfect pruning, has grown into the most beautiful tree of love you could ever wish to see. She has grown into the shape of love that God intends for all of us to be. Is God still pruning her and shaping her? Yes. But she does not fear these prunings, for she knows that God is taking away what can kill her and is giving her life instead.
People killed Jesus because they were too scared and threatened to accept his love. But God resurrected Jesus, because LOVE IS STRONGER THAN DEATH, and in doing so, God opened for us the way of life, because now we know what the shape of love looks like—the shape of love looks like Jesus– and we—no matter how damaged we are– we know that we can ask and expect God to prune away all the damage that has the potential to kill us so that we can grow ever more fully into love.
As the writer of First John says, “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but 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.”
Love is the natural shape that God has intended for us from the beginning, the life-giving shape of love that is Jesus, the life giving love of Jesus with which we love one another and grow into the perfect shape of God’s eternal love.