5th Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2018
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
A common occurrence for parents and other caregivers is sending kids to school. But there is nothing like the very first day. One parent stands at the bus stop getting ready to send their child to kindergarten for the first time. Another parent stands at the door of the dormitory room getting ready to leave their freshman child at college. The parents are entering into new times.
They will not be present to help make important life decisions for their child anymore. Last words of advice are given: â€œButton up your coat and make sure you wear your hat.â€ â€œEat your lunch.â€ â€œBehave yourself.â€ â€œMake sure you share.â€ â€œDonâ€™t put gum in anyoneâ€™s hair.â€ â€œKeep your hands to yourself.â€ â€œReturn victorious.â€ â€œDonâ€™t embarrass us.â€ No drinking.â€ â€œNever be cruel or cowardly.â€1 â€œAlways be kind.â€ â€œNever eat pears. Theyâ€™re squishy and get your chin wet.â€2 â€œListen to the teacher.â€
â€œListen to the teacherâ€ is a fitting instruction for todayâ€™s gospel lesson. Jesus is with the disciples preparing them for the day that he will no longer be with them. He lingers with them before his arrest, trial and crucifixion, and leaves them with words of advice. The time is coming when they will have to step up and make their own way in the world, just as a child in college does, or even one in kindergarten beginning on the path of independence. The disciples will have to be prepared to take over the mission and the ministry of Jesus.
In the 5th verse of this passage, Jesus gives them this piece of advice. â€œApart from me, you can do nothing.â€ These are difficult words for them as they try to fathom what he is telling them is to come. He will be dead and gone. How can he still be present with them? But that is his promise.
I love Johnâ€™s little play on words in this passage. â€œApart from me, you can do nothing.â€ â€œApart from me,â€ â€œwithout me,â€ â€œaway from me,â€ â€œseparated from me,â€ you can do nothing, this is pitted over against â€œabide in me,â€ â€œremain in me,â€ â€œpersevere in me,â€ â€œtogether with me.â€
John gives us this lovely word picture of being together and being separated.Â The difference though is that we know at least in the flesh that Jesus is no longer going to be with the disciples. But in the Spirit, he is always with them and with us as well.
â€œApart from me you can do nothing is tough for us in this very self-reliant, self-assured, independent culture. We donâ€™t like to accept the fact that we need someone, Jesus or anyone else. But in fact, we do. We do need to â€œlisten to the teacher,â€ when he says, â€œapart from me you can do nothing.â€
God is the vine grower, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Separated from the vine we can do nothing. Separated from the vine we cannot be nourished or taken care of. Separated from the vine we wither and die. Separated from the vine, we are nothing.
And yet, these are not sad words or scary words, but gracious words from the one who loves us even when we are at our worst.
They are words, not of independence but of dependence on the one who loves us and gives his life for us. The one whose life actually defies death and whose most perfect love dispels all fear and gloom. Apart from Jesus we are nothing, we can do nothing, we can feel nothing but fear, and hopelessness.
When we take this example a step further, what we find is that we not only cannot live apart from Jesus, but we cannot live apart from this life-giving community.
Families and communities are never perfect, but we still cannot thrive or live without them. We cannot live without all of the other branches on Jesus the vine.
We count on Jesus the vine for strength and nourishment and on God for our personal growth. And we count on one another for contact and support, for mutual conversation and consolation.
Without Jesus life is different. It is harsh, it is cold, and it is fearful, and it is lonely.Â Listen to the teacher. Abide in him. Abide in the vine that gives you life.
Abide with us here as we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. As we uplift one another and lean on one another. Live with us in his name.
Resources: SundaysandSeasons.com, Â©Augsburg Fortress, 2018
1, 2, Quotes from Doctor Who