Summary: A sermon for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year B

May 2, 2021

Hope Lutheran Church

Rev. Mary Erickson

John 15:1-8; 1 John 4:7-21

Connected to the Vine

Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is the time of year when you see The Old Farmer’s Almanac in the magazine stand at the grocery store. The Almanac contains a bevy of information: moon phases, tides, regional weather forecasts. Each year’s edition also includes short articles on a wide range of topics.

Several years ago, they published a fascinating article on how to grow a huge pumpkin worthy of the county fair blue ribbon. Here’s what you do. First, you have to trim all but one pumpkin per vine. That focuses all of the vine’s energy on the one fruit. If you have more fruit on the vine, the pumpkins will never be able to grow to supersized.

You also want to baby your pumpkin. Keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t get too much sun. That might burn and damage the top. Also, make sure its underside isn’t sitting in a muddy place. You don’t want your pumpkin to rot from the underbelly.

And finally, keep a close watch on the pumpkin’s connection to the vine. Sometimes they can grow in such a way that they actually snap themselves from the vine. When that happens, it’s all over. So make sure that the vine is free from impediment.

Fruit on a vine, how does it happen? How does it grow? Jesus uses the metaphor of a grapevine in a vineyard. Jesus is the vine and his heavenly Father is the vine grower. Tending the grape vines requires pruning. The vine must be cleared of excessive branches to encourage overall vitality.

I remember listening to someone who had bought a tree from a nursery. Part of the service included the delivery and planting of the tree they’d purchased. The delivery day came and the man from the nursery arrived with the tree. He dug the hole in the yard and planted the young tree. Before he left, he asked the new tree owner, “Would you like me to prune the tree for you?” The owner said, “Sure, thanks.”

So then the tree man started pruning. And he really went at it! The new owner’s eyes began to bulge and he started to get increasingly nervous as he watched limb after limb come down. Finally, the tree guy stopped cutting. The owner looked at his poor tree. It looked pathetic, a shadow of its former self.

The tree guy looked over at the owner and said, “Yeah, I took a lot off. I always ask people if they want me to prune their tree before I leave. You need to cut back on them when they’re transplanted. And as the new owner, you don’t have the heart to cut away what needs to go.”

As people of faith, we’re connected into Christ’s vine. So what does pruning mean for us? Do we have the heart to cut away what needs to go?

Maybe we’re overextended. We don’t have enough energy to do justice to all the projects we’ve got going. It’s draining us and leaving us exhausted. Something has to go. That’s one way we might need pruning. We’re trying to accomplish more than we have energy and time for.

But there’s another kind of pruning needed, too. Each one of us has personal characteristics and behaviors that are destructive. They pull us down and prevent us from bearing good fruit.

How do we identify them? How do raise our self awareness to the level that we can recognize our faults? Are there jealousies or angry feelings that need to be pruned? Do we have obsessive thoughts that sap our energies?

I’d like to lift up a very old and established spiritual practice called The Examen. The Examen comes to us from the Jesuit community. It’s a very simple practice. At the end of our day, we take a few moments to reflect on the day that just was. It’s an intentional time to consider inner self. You look at yourself in a mirror to tend to your outward appearance. The Examen is like a mirror for your inner life.

Here’s how it goes: First, simply place yourself in God’s presence. Give thanks for the grace and tender mercies filling your life. Then review the day that’s drawing to a close. Just briefly walk through your day and take account of what happened. As you do so, focus on your feelings. How did you respond in particular situations? Were there things that drew you closer to God? What occurrences pulled you away from God? Then think about what you might want to change going forward. Lift your day up to God and then look forward to tomorrow.

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