5th Sunday of Easter
(Acts 9:26-31 I Jn 3:18-24 Jn 15:1-8)
The Rev. Leonard B. Oakes
May 6, 2012
Let me ask you this question today:
“What does it mean to connect yourself to another person — to link your success or failure to another person’s passions, fears, strengths, and weaknesses?
That is the miracle that happened yesterday with our delegates at the equipping the beloved community deanery day at Trinity Episcopal Church in Menlo Park. We felt connected with the rest of the beloved community in this part of God’s vineyard. We shared our passions, fears, strengths and weaknesses to draw from others the living spirit of God in us and be able to bloom again and be fruitful. We are now connected with the web of God’s love which is our lifeline. We are now woven, along with others, to the web of strength and leadership.
That is what a beloved community is all about. It a relationship between two or many people or groups in which one person or group seeks to influence and be influenced with the vision, values, attitudes, or behaviors of each other.
Leadership requires followers — someone who chooses to be influenced. Leaders cannot lead unless followers choose to follow. Like it or not, we are tied together. We are a team; we are the beloved community; we need each other. It is a relationship with God leading us and us following his calls. And in every relationship both persons influence and are influenced by each other. Sometimes we exercise leadership; sometimes we follow. Leadership connects us.” Leaders and followers are connected to each other. Each delegate added to a team brings his or her knowledge, skills, experience, and interests to the group. That is the primary advantage of the beloved community where teams tie into the same web. The web is our lifeline that will take us to our destination. Cutting our lifeline would lead to the collapse of our vision and leadership. Let the line be secured well so that others may also cross over to reach their goals.
The diversity of our connectedness is not confined in the Peninsula deanery alone; it extends to the wider Diocesan spectrum.
Holy Child and St. Martin delegates were all scattered like good seeds in the rich leadership seminars conducted in that same day of Cinco De Mayo in the Diocese of California. Our delegates to the Treasurer and administrator seminar at Grace Cathedral also made their web of connections among those whom they established interactions. On that same day, other members of this great Church attended the Faith and Science seminar with Ruth Hoppin in Daly City. We are now linking ourselves with others who are tied with us with the same web of strength and leadership. We are beginning to bear fruit because we remain in our lifeline who is Jesus Christ our true vine.
At yesterday’s beloved community gathering, the delegates had a wonderful and meaningful liturgical celebration where each was provided a ribbon in different colors representing grape fruits. Each one wrote down on it their hopes and visions and had them tied to a barren trees that were then transformed into a beautiful vine trees. Such was a beautiful picture of a bright beloved community.
In the gospels, we find many analogies of the Christian life. No single one can give us an adequate picture. Like any good teacher, Jesus uses many examples to get across his point. This parable of the vine is a particularly apt one. Jesus says: “I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser…I am the vine; you are the branches”.
Now looking at things from this angle, it seems that Jesus has the more passive role and we have to do a lot more of the work. He is the vine who feeds and nourishes us, the branches. And our job is to bear much fruit. We can do that only if we remain in Christ.
If you want to be what God wants you to be it is necessary to abide in Him. The phrase, “Remain in me” is repeatedly used in today’s gospel. It simply means stay hooked up, stay connected and maintains communication. Some of us use the dial up modem to connect to internet. Sometimes we get connected, sometimes we don’t, and sometimes our connection is a bit slow, sometimes we get booted off altogether. Comcast Network says that if we had cable, we’d be connected all the time, faster, able to do a lot more. Jesus is stressing that He wants the same kind of connection for us.
Matthew Burt of Christ Episcopal Church in Portola Valley presented to us the importance of getting connected through social media by means of facebook, email, newsletter, church signs, phone and others and uses that as a means to communicate the love of God. The Rev. Matthew Dutton-Gillett of Trinity Episcopal Church in Menlo Park recognized that out of his 600 members, only 200+ are regular church goers. It is very important to stay spiritually connected and those who are connected need to reach out to those who, somehow, have been disconnected due to many reasons.
The conditions to live united to Christ are clear. We live in him, by keeping God’s word continually in our mind and making it the guide of our actions; by maintaining a prayer life; by receiving the sacraments that draw out his grace; by avoiding all sins and yielding to the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Above all, we abide in Christ by being united with one another as a community of love. There can be no such thing as a lonely Christian in a loving community. Our love for one another has to be real. “Children, let us love not in word or speech but indeed and truth” (I Jn 3:18). We are called to be the fruit and drink especially of the lonely, the ill, the poor in our neighborhood and communities. We are meant to be sources of nourishment that revive the spirits, feed the hopes and enliven the bodies of others.
The pains of life are not signs of being cut away from Christ; on the contrary they are indications of the opposite. Because we are united to Christ like branches, God will prune us to promote growth of the branches. If we remain in Christ both in good times and bad, we will enjoy much peace and consolation as the members of the early church did: “The church was at peace and enjoyed the increased consolation of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:31). If we remain in Christ we will find joy in him, not the superficial joy of prosperity suggested by slick television commercials, but a joy that comes from the fulfillment of one’s potentials. Therefore try always to be connected to Jesus.
I always say to you that the end of the Eucharist is the beginning of service. I ask you therefore that before you leave the church today, find someone and talk about what you heard and witnessed today. Reflect upon the words of Christ who said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. If we remain in Christ, we shall bear much fruit.”
Call someone today, someone who didn’t make it today in our community service. Say hello to them. Ask how they are doing and if they need prayers, say a prayer for them or pay a visit. Let us keep each other connected. Let us be fruitful in our relationships, not only in good times but also in times where we needed each other the most. Amen.