Fifth Sunday of Easter
Reading I Acts 9:26-31
Reading II 1 John 3:18-24
Gospel John 15:1-8
“I am the vine and you are the branches, and if you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”
The question we are being asked this morning is: “Do we bear much fruit?” This morning we are celebrating the fifth Sunday in Easter, and as you know the Easter season is not one day but it is a whole season because every day we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead.
The first three Sundays after Easter we heard about Jesus appearing to his disciples. He needed for them to know that he was alive and that he died but is now risen, just as they will be, and to give them courage to go out and spread the good word and the good news to others.
Last week and this week the topic is: What is our relationship with God? What is our relationship with Jesus and what should it be like? Last week the Gospel was about the Good Shepherd. We know a good shepherd is one who takes care of his sheep. We know that Jesus is the perfect shepherd who always takes care of us if only we allow him to do that.
Today in our Gospel from John he uses a story that we all know and that is the story of the vine and the branches. We know if you go to a vineyard, the vineyard has to have good vines. And once they plant the vines, the vines will have branches. And once the vines have good water and sunlight and nourishment, the vines will produce good fruit.
But what happens if a branch is severed or taken off? It withers, it dies, and is thrown into the fire to be burned. We are being told today that God the Father is the gardener, and Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. We are being told that unless we are united with him we cannot produce fruit, and not only can we not produce fruit — we really cannot have joy, and we cannot have happiness.
There is a story about two boys. They went to grade school and high school together and they were inseparable. They were good friends and went everywhere together. When you saw one you saw the other. However, when they graduated from high school they went their separate ways. One of the boys went to college and did very well. The other boy went to college and had some problems. After a few months his mother called and said, “I need your help. Your friend is failing in college. He’s getting in with the wrong group and he’s not doing what he needs to do.” So his friend went to the college where his friend was enrolled and talked with him. Even though he hadn’t seen him for months, he helped him through that bad time.
The thing that we didn’t know was that one of the boys had a strong character, and the other had a weak character. While they were in high school it wasn’t an issue because they were together and it worked very well. When they were apart, the one with the strong character did well, and the friend with the weak character had problems.
This story goes along with the parable about the vine and the branches because it shows we need God in our life to guide us. We also need each other.
Why do we come to church on Sunday? We come to praise God — but we also come as a faith community to support each other. Why do we have prayer groups? To help each other be accountable so that we will continue to grow in faith.
When we look at the vine as Jesus, and ourselves as branches, how do we stay close to Jesus? We stay close to Jesus through prayer. We stay close to Jesus by talking to him. We stay close to Jesus by receiving the sacraments. We stay close to Jesus when we receive the real body and blood to nourish us in our endeavors. What separates us is sin. What severs us is our own selfishness. Therefore, we always need Jesus in our lives to help us, and we need each other in our lives to help one another.
How many of you want to be happy? How many of you are happy all the time? How many of you are happy some of the time? I am not going to ask how many of you are never happy.
I ask you the question because happiness is a kind of transient thing. Happiness is a balancing thing. Most of the time we are happy when we get what we want. If we win a promotion we are happy. If we do not get the promotion, we are not happy. If our children do what we want, we are happy. When they do not do what we want, it is bad. We can go on and on, and the truth of the matter is — sometimes we are happy, and sometimes we are not. And most of the time we are in between.
But our story tells us today that happiness is a good thing — but what we should desire more — is to have joy. Being a Catholic and being a Christian we should be a joyful people. We should be a joyful people because if we are connected with Christ, we have it all. If we are connected with Christ then we have peace. When we connect ourselves with Christ we realize we are not in control and, that we do not always have to be in control.
It reminds us that when we have Christ in our lives and when our branches are connected to that vine we can have peace. Will every day be a good day? No. Will every day be a happy day? No. But every day will be a joyful day because we are connected to the vine and we know that Jesus is in our life.
This morning Madison will be baptized. She is going to be a branch off the vine of Christ. Christ will be with her and her family, and will always be with her and her family. It is up to her parents, and godparents, and grandparents and our faith community to help Madison stay close to the vine. Right now there is not a whole lot of work to do and they have it very much in control. But as she gets older she will need our help and support.
“So I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me, and I in you, we will produce good fruit.” What I want us all to think about this week: How close to the vine is our branch? How close are we to Christ? And what do we need to do to get closer to him so that we can produce more fruit?
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Terry Ellerman is a retired educator and serves as a deacon at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Quincy, Illinois.