Please join us for our May 3rd Worship Service! You can reach the service on YouTube by clicking the following link: https://youtu.be/pGozvF2FF8Y
May 03, 2020 [White]
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Abide in the Vine
AC and BC
A few weeks ago, I had an on-line meeting with some pastor colleagues. One of my friends shared with us a quite funny, but serious comment about the coronavirus: Until recently, the history of the world was divided into BC and AD. “BC” means “Before Christ”; “AD” means “After Domini” (Domini is Jesus the Lord). So, the birth of Jesus became the turning point between BC and AD. But now our history will be divided into “BC” and “AC.” “BC” means “Before coronavirus” and “AC” means “After coronavirus.” The coronavirus will become a turning point in our history. We all laughed at his remarks at first, but when he continued to ask how this coronavirus would affect our Christian worship and ministry, we couldn’t laugh anymore. (I actually mentioned this question in my weekly letter last week: “Even if we were able to come back, could we worship and share fellowship as we used to? Well, nothing is clear right now.”)
In this transitional time in history, I want to think along with you of what it means to be a Christian. We need to clarify our Christian identity. When we know who we are and what we are called to do, we can better respond to all the changes or challenges from whatever happens in our history. In other words, when we stand strong on our foundation (Christian identity), we can jump better! So, “What does it mean to be a Christian?”
The Vine and the branches
To answer this question, I can hear Jesus saying in his parable from today’s gospel lesson, “I am the true vine and you are the branches” (v. 5). This image is so profound yet very realistic in that the vine and the branches must be always connected to each other. If separated, the branches cannot survive.
This is a perfect metaphor to describe our Christian identity or our relationship with Jesus Christ. Basically, it tells us that Christians are the ones who must live in unity with Jesus Christ. Yet it suggests not just a spiritual but also bodily connection to Jesus Christ. How can we do this since Jesus is now a spiritual being? You know, the community of faith is known as the body of Christ. So when we faithfully belong to the church, we can abide in Jesus Christ.
Based on this metaphor, let us think about how we should respond to all the challenges and changes that this coronavirus will bring to our worship and ministry. Whatever it may be, I can hear Jesus speaking to us like this: “You can do things differently. You can continue to worship me through an on-line service, or whatever technology, and I will be there for you. But don’t forget, I am the true vine and you are my branches. If you want to stay safe and well, don’t try to make it on your own; don’t renounce your relationship with me. There is nothing you can do without a country, without a community, without a source of life. That is me, the true vine.”
In his sermon, Jesus mentioned that he abided in God the Father in heaven. That’s why he could stay bold enough to take all risks in his ministry and even take the suffering of the cross. He also knew that his disciples would face trials later because of him. That’s why he told them, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Abide in me.” When the branches are tightly attached to the vine, they can endure the storms without withering and dying. Likewise, when we tightly cling to Jesus Christ (or God), we can endure every kind of disaster and eventually get through it.
Yet the branches are not just attached to the vine for survival. They have a special mission. They are stuck to the vine and supposed to bear fruit. In his parable, Jesus continues to say, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5). Then, what kind of fruit? In a word, it is “love.” No one expects to have apples from the vine. Just like the vine bears grapes, we are supposed to bear the fruit of love because the Jesus Christ we cling to is all about love.
But before we talk about love in our ministry, we shouldn’t miss the main point of this parable, which is our (bodily) connection to Jesus Christ. Our Christian life first begins with abiding in Jesus (abiding in the community of faith), so we can receive his spiritual nourishment. And then we may be able to share or spread God’s love in terms of mission to people living around us.
The abiding presence of the risen Christ
Over the past weeks, I have kept saying God is everywhere, so we can worship the Lord everywhere we live. Yes, that is true! I don’t want to take this statement back at all. And I am so thankful for this on-line service that helps us worship God at our homes. This is a very creative change in our worship and I really can say this kind of technology, like our Bible or sacraments, is a means of grace. But I still want to remind you that we Christians are the people who are called to gather together in Jesus’ name. Without our bodily connection to the community of faith in Jesus’ name, we can’t really say that we abide in Jesus Christ.
Friends, this is May, the perfect season of spring. In my weekly letter, I told you that I could feel a powerful energy coming from everywhere. Soon, we will be busy with our garden work, cutting, trimming, pruning, and planting. I hope these spring events in your garden remind you of Jesus saying, “I am the Vine and you are the branches” and encourage you to prepare for coming back to our community, the body of Christ, as you stretch spiritually in the protection of our loving God. Amen.