Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, April 28, 2024

YEAR B 2024 easter 5

Easter 5, 2024
Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:24-30
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

As you surely know by now, I used to play in a band for a living.  And in our band we had a saying: If you have to explain your songs before you play them, you should probably just write better songs.  Truly great songs speak for themselves, and explaining them runs the risk of ruining them.

That’s kind of how the lessons are for this Sunday.  If I stand up here and tell you why the story about Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch is a good story, I honestly think it takes away from how great the story is.  Likewise, if I try to explain the reading from First John about love and how God loved us first and that’s what makes us able to love one another and . . . Well, I think it would only be a distraction from the power of that little snippet of this letter.

And then, there’s this gospel reading.  You know, Jesus and the vines and the branches and all that.  Powerful imagery and--to be blunt--kind of obvious, right?  Branches can’t grow unless they’re connected to the vine.  Jesus is the vine.  Sooooo . . . Amen then.

My point is this:  over-explaining any of these three readings is not going to be helpful, and--in my own view--runs the risk of taking something away from them.  And so, this Sunday, I’m just going to offer a few observations about the lessons . . . and then talk about y’all.

In the first reading, from the book of Acts, the Ethiopian Eunuch has gone up to Jerusalem to worship, and is on his way back home.  An Ethiopian Eunuch would not be allowed into the Temple to worship for two reasons:  He’s Ethiopian and he’s a Eunuch.  A double outcast has gone up to worship anyway, even though he will be rejected from the assembly.  And, in the person of Philip--at the prompting of the Spirit--God comes to him anyway.  And in such a powerful way that he asks to be baptized that very day.  From total outcast to Christian disciple during one short chariot ride.  And all because the Spirit led Philip to the right place at the right time.  Philip’s will was aligned with the will of God.  

In the second reading, from First John, it’s all just a riff on this idea:  God is love.  When we abide in God, we abide in love.  And abiding in love leads to all sorts of great things, like serving our neighbors, and finding that fear has been cast out.  The point is not that we love God, but that God loves us.  And the reason we love at all is because God first loved us.  Any good that we do is because of the love of God working in us.  The Spirit leads us, as the Spirit led Philip, and then God does what God does, because God is love.  Any time we make a promise it is always accompanied by the phrase, “With God’s help.”  Apart from God we can do nothing, which leads us to the Gospel reading for today . . .

Jesus is the vine.  You are the branches.  This is a pretty obvious analogy, right?  I mean, if a branch gets cut off from the tree, it dies.  To stay alive it must stay connected to the tree.  But here’s a case where it’s important to look at the actual words as they’re recorded.  We lose something in English because we don’t have a way to make the word “you” into a plural.  Well, unless we’re from the south, in which case you’ve got “y’all” to work with.  And, come to think of it, let’s do that!  What Jesus is saying here is “I am the vine, and y’all are the branches.  Y’all remain in me and y’all bear fruit.”  

And why is that important?  Because it’s not about individuals having a personal relationship and being hooked into Jesus; it is about the community of believers remaining connected to Jesus.  Jesus says, “apart from me, y’all can do nothing.”  Apart from Jesus, our parish can do nothing?  Well that’s not true, right?  If we didn’t have Jesus we could still gather in this space, and we could have festive dinners together, and we could even collect food and donations for our neighbors in need.  We could still do good works without Jesus right?  The Rotary and the Elks and the Jaycees do that same kind of work, right?

Well, maybe what Jesus is saying is that those kinds of good works, that kind of fruit will be gathered up and thrown into the fire to be burned.  For us, those who have been cleansed by his words—as he says—the value of what we do comes from being connected to Jesus together.  We could spend a whole bunch of time being busy and active and doing things, but if we’re not connected to Jesus, those things are pointless . . . They’ll be gathered up and burned.

And then here comes the amazing part . . . The tricky part . . . The part that makes us go, “What?”

Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  It’s tempting to take this to mean, If I remain in Jesus, and I ask for a new bicycle, I will get one tomorrow.  If you abide in me, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  Okay, I wish to win the lottery this afternoon so that I can give all the money to St. Timothy’s Church so we can fix up our building and start new programs so that we can continue to abide in you.  In Jesus name, Amen.

Seems like a slam-dunk, doesn’t it?  Something we want for all the right reasons, rooted in the continued abiding in Jesus?  But what’s missing here is the plural—our old friend y’all.  Doing things on my own isn’t properly seeking the will of God, because it requires . . . y’all.

If we want to do the will of God, we will inevitably run into this nagging question:  What is the will of God?  Every week together, we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.”  Why are we praying for God’s will to be done?  That’s kind of strange, isn’t it?  Praying that the will of God would be done?  This is us, the “y’all,” asking together that God’s will would be done.  And that’s because we find God’s will in community.  With other people.  

Way back before I ever went to seminary, the first step in that process was to go meet with my Rector a few times.  Just the two of us.  Sitting in his office.  And how I hated those meetings!  He asked very hard questions, and he never told me whether I was answering correctly.  But one question came up over and over, because it was the point of our meetings.  And that question was this:  How do I know if becoming a priest is God’s will?  How can I be sure?

The answer—simple, and yet as profound as can be—is this: If my will is aligned with God’s will, then I want what God wants, and God’s will is revealed in other people.  If my will is the same as God’s will, then I want what God wants.  I go where God wants me to go.  I will be who God wants me to be.  And I can only know that in community.  You could say, God’s will is in The Y’all.

If we abide in Jesus, we will want what God wants.  Or, as Jesus says, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”  Staying connected to Jesus is the key.  Abiding in Jesus leads us to want what God wants.  And so, you’re asking, how do we abide in Jesus?  The answer is, I will with God’s help.  In the promises we make at Baptism, it is spelled out for us.  

And that is always done together, in community, in the y’all.  We renew our baptismal covenant together.  We gather in worship together.  And the baptismal promises we make are together, with God’s help.

You could look at the Baptismal Covenant in your Prayer Book and see the responses, but the answer is always, “I will, with God’s help.”
With God’s help, you and I promise together to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.  Together we promise to persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.  
Together we promise to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.  Together we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Together we will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Always together.  And together we abide in Jesus.  With God’s help.  We—together,  all y’all—have done and will keep doing amazing things, with God’s help.


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