“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
What and who are you connected to? What and who are you disconnected from? Growing up, my family moved all over the country so that I felt like I was never able to lay down roots. Instead, I turned inward and tried to compensate by doing it all myself and never relying on others, thinking in my young age that we would move again and I would lose whatever connection I had built. So I stopped trying. I stopped trying to form relationships and this led to the loneliest year of my life in high school. I was disconnected from potential friends, I was disconnected from my family, and I was disconnected from God.
Jesus is speaking today to his disciple in the upper room, the place where he washed their feet and had the last supper before his betrayal, trial, and execution. The disciples do not understand this but Jesus is preparing them for the time when he will no longer be physically with them. In the coming days and weeks they are going to painfully feel this loss of connection and wonder how they can possibly move forward. How can they stay connected to him when he is gone? What are the connections that will give them life and sustain them for the journey?
Earth Day was just over a week ago and I was thinking about how disconnected we have become from the earth. Seven years ago Pastor Liz and I became vegetarians. It started as a Lenten challenge but as we learned more and grew into it, it felt right for us. As we studied the meat industry in the US we realized how little we actually know about where our food comes from. I, personally, was so disconnected that I would have no idea how to get a steak or a burger in the wild. We as a society have distanced ourselves from the land and from creation. We are disconnected from the land and the gardens that God called good in Genesis.
I believe that all of this disconnection only serves to hurt us. As Jesus says, “when a branch is removed from the vine it cannot live.” It is unable to get the lifegiving energy and nutrients from the vine. I do not think this is a judgmental passage as it is sometimes read but rather a brutally honest one. We know that if we stop eating or drinking water we will die but we do not realize that when we disconnect from the source of life, when we disconnect from community, and when we disconnect from the earth it leads to our spiritual death.
This drive in humanity for disconnection and individualism seems rampant, so rampant that Jesus addressed it 2000 years ago and we still struggle with it today. But Jesus offers us what seems to be a simple antidote. Jesus says “Abide in me.” Abide. As theologian Debie Thomas reminds us to abide means, “To tarry, to stay, to cling, to remain, to depend, to rely, to last, to persevere, to commit, to continue, to tolerate, to endure, to acquiesce, to accept.” (Debie Thomas – Journey with Jesus, April 22, 2018) Abide. Abide in Jesus, abide with one another, abide with all of creation. Do not try and create or do or fix outside of God. Simply abide. Abide in God’s goodness, love, and justice. Because it is in God that we will find life. It is in the vine that we are nourished and able to produce good fruit.
In high school I was pulled out of my disconnection and isolation by a wonderful group of friends in my high school and in my church youth group. They cared for me and pursued me and made me feel loved, even when I was desperate not to let anyone in. They loved me, not because I did anything special but simply because they understood that connection is what brings us life.
The disciples wrestled with the isolation once Jesus left and eventually built up the early church to fill their lives in community through the Holy Spirit. They did the hard work of connecting not to make everyone the same but to value and love each person as they are. They cared for everyone’s needs from the richest to the poorest and brought all into the life giving nourishment of the vine. I could not make it on my own. The disciples could not make it on their own. We are not meant to be disconnected but rather deeply interconnected to God, one another, and all of the earth.
What would it look like for you, today, to abide with God? Perhaps a walk in nature without your phone. Perhaps a time of silent prayer and meditation. Perhaps it looks like a meal with friends (safely masked and outside of course). Because Jesus tells us the secret to bearing good fruit in our world starts with abiding. Abide with God. Abide with each other. Abide with creation. Because when we are disconnected from any of those things we start to lose our ability to bear good fruit. And only by abiding can that fruit of love, grace, and justice be born into our world.