Harrowing Of Hell
April 28, 2024

Vines & Branches: We Are Already Connected

The Rev. Lisa Ozaeta

To watch the sermon click here.

Today is the 5th Sunday of Easter.

We are on the 24th day of the 50 days of Easter. The 50 days of Easter mark the time between the Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

So our Gospel readings during these 50 days show us something about what it means to live in Christ.

Some of these readings, like today, go back before the crucifixion. Just as you are getting settled into what is happening in the story, it can feel a little like de ja vu because we were just here during Holy Week.

But you have to stick with it to hear the message and to hear what Jesus was telling us. He wants to tell the disciples what it will be like after he is no longer physically present.

Today we read the Gospel of John chapter 15. We are back in the upper room. It has been a crazy night. The disciples gathered to celebrate a feast that they have celebrated many times before.

They are with the 12 and Jesus. These are their people.

It must have started like a really amazing night. It seems like people are starting to get the teachings of Jesus. People are starting to understand who he is.

Just a few days ago, he was greeted at the gates of Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna and with people actually putting their clothes on the ground for the donkey carrying Jesus to walk across.

Jesus was having his day…and they were a part of it.

Then the evening took a little different turn when Jesus took off his robe and started washing their feet. Judas has left. Jesus has told Peter that he would betray Jesus 3 times before the night was over.

This great night got weird fast.

This night is pivotal in the life of the disciples. It is the hinge between the before and the next.

They think their time has come, but Jesus knows what is coming. He knows that they will be brokenhearted, alone, and targeted.

And so he speaks these words, “I am the vine. You are the branches. Abide in me and I will abide in you.”

Jesus is telling them that they will never be alone. They are connected to Jesus. It isn’t a superficial connection. It is a deep intimate union where their lives are intertwined with his.

Their very life is anchored in Jesus. He is the source of their life and roots them to the ground. They are secure because they are connected to the vine.

They will be brokenhearted and feel alone. But they will not be alone because Jesus is with them.

The verse Abide in me and I will abide in you is comforting until it is confusing.

It sounds wonderful. Abide in Me and I will Abide in You. Yes, I want that.

But, how do I Abide in You? What does that mean? And what does it mean that you will abide in me?

The visual of the vine and the branches is meant to illustrate this point. It helps us see the mutual and vital connection between Christ and us.

The word Abide means to remain, continue, or to stay. Abide is not a temporary or occasional contact. It is a continuous relationship that conveys the idea of living in unity with Jesus … continually drawing life, strength, and nourishment from Jesus.

As I prepared this sermon and read commentaries, there was a long list of things that were suggested that we do to Abide in Christ.

Pray – The commentaries said that we should communicate with Jesus regularly as a way to stay connected.

Worship – We are to spend time with others in thanksgiving to God. We spend time recognizing the place that God has in our life. Giving up the notion of self-reliance or self-sufficiency.

Live a life of Love. To love others means to seek what is best for them, demonstrating kindness, patience and compassion in our interactions regardless of our differences or how others respond to us. It is showing respect to others in all things.

The list continued with the other things that we can do to make Abiding in Christ happen.

So, I think that these things are important. These disciplines will help us see Jesus in our lives. Prayer, worship, walking in love will all help us grow in our faith and help us to be more like Jesus.

But, I think that this kind of list is also indicative of how we often think about our relationship with God. We always want to be in control.

I can do these things – and create this result –

We want to know what to do.

But abide isn’t about doing.

It is about knowing what is true. We are bound to Christ already. The branch isnt doing anything but growing out of the vine.

Perhaps prayer, worship, walking in love are more like the sun, water or fertilizer. They certainly help the branches be more productive and more healthy.

But, the Spiritual Exercises aren’t about creating connection. They are about making us aware of the connection that already exists so that we live into reality.

The reality is that we are already connected. Ipso Facto.

Spiritual growth lies in recognizing and deepening the connections that already permeate our existence. It is not about forging new relationships but about awakening to the interconnectedness that binds us together.

At the heart of this realization is the simple truth: we are inherently connected.

This connection is not something to be constructed; it is something to be acknowledged and embraced.

The metaphor of branches being pruned or burned can be misconstrued as harsh or punitive. It’s important to clarify that this process does not imply that suffering or adversity, such as illness or loss, is inflicted by divine will to teach or purify us.

Rather, the imagery of burning away branches speaks to the spiritual work of letting go of our own limiting beliefs, unnecessary attachments, or behaviors that hinder our awareness and growth.

When we engage in this process of clearing away what no longer serves us, we naturally begin to exhibit qualities such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control.

These are not merely virtues to be adopted but are the natural fruits of a life lived in alignment with a deeper truth—the truth of our interconnectedness.

This sense of connection starts with our relationship to the divine, to Jesus, who is depicted as the vine in the scriptures. As branches, we are not merely attached; we are fundamentally sustained and nourished by this connection, drawing life and strength from it. Recognizing this relationship with Jesus helps us see how deeply interconnected we are with Him at a spiritual level.

From this divine connection flows our interconnectedness with others. As each branch is connected to the vine, so too are we connected to one another.

This is not a mere adjacency but a vital, living network of relationships. Understanding our connection to Jesus thus naturally extends to an understanding of our connection to every other branch—that is, to every other person.

Living with this awareness fundamentally changes how we approach life. By understanding and embracing our connections, we find that our actions and decisions are influenced by a consciousness of our collective journey, not just our individual desires or goals.

This realization fosters a way of being that is in harmony with our deepest values, and this alignment is reflected in the qualities that emerge from us.

Thus, the journey toward spiritual awareness is not about reaching outward to something new but about peeling back the layers that have hidden the reality of our connectedness.

As we discard these layers—these attitudes and behaviors that cloud our perception—we uncover the enduring truths of our existence.

This inward journey reveals the unshakeable connections that link us to each other and to the whole of creation.

By embracing and deepening our understanding of these bonds, we learn to live not as isolated beings but as integral components of a larger, interconnected community.

The vine and branch is such a great image.

Each parable and story of Jesus has something to tell us, but this is one of my favorites.

It tells us that, unlike the story where Jesus seeks the lost sheep, in this relationship, we are inherently connected. Even when you feel alone or brokenhearted, remember, you are not alone. You are connected—intimately and eternally—to the source of life and love itself.

 In Christ, you are never lost; you are forever connected.