Saturday, May 30, 2015

What the How the Who?

The Holy Gospel According to St. John, the 3rd Chapter
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 
Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Today is Holy Trinity Sunday.  Clergy around the world are, right now, either boring their congregations with the history of the doctrine of the Trinity, letting the Deacon preach or jumping into some heresy or another with both feet, trying to apply human certainty to the nature of God.  Somewhere, someone is inevitably trying to use water, an egg or even apple pie to explain God and, of course, failing miserably.  We fool ourselves into thinking that having God fully understood and all wrapped up with a bow is what it means to be faithful.  But today’s Gospel makes it clear that discipleship and faithfulness are much more about being honest and persistent than about being clear or certain.
Nicodemus isn’t at all clear about what Jesus is telling him and really, who can blame him?  Jesus is saying some strange stuff!  Born from above, with water and Spirit, and wind blowing... Huh?  This was Nicodemus’s first time hearing this stuff.   Many of us have grown up with it... we’ve become desensitized to the strangeness of it, but if you really look at it and imagine hearing it for the first time... It’s just WEIRD!
Now, I don’t think Jesus was TRYING to be confusing or weird.  Jesus genuinely wanted to share the truth about God with Nicodemus and with all of us.  Jesus knew that the deeper we allowed God’s truth and love to soak into our heads, hearts and down into the core of our beings, the more we would be able to experience the peace and meaning-filled lives God intends for us all.  Jesus wanted to share that truth.  That’s what Jesus came to do!  And Nicodemus wanted to hear it and live it!  But as Jesus began to describe the endless lengths, depths and breadth of God’s unconditional love to him it quickly became clear that God's ways are beyond human words or understanding.  Neither Nicodemus NOR JESUS could wrap Nicodemus's mind around God It was impossible.  I sort of imagine it would be like you or me trying to get an unborn baby, still inside the womb, to fully understand and embrace what life will be like for them OUTSIDE the womb.  THEN, convince that baby to start living like they will outside the womb before they’re actually born.  Impossible!
The truth and enormity of God’s nature and love for us is impossible to fully wrap our minds around, and the life that comes with God’s love is impossible to fully describe.  We have glimpses, but not the full picture.  We have a glimpse that God’s love means more than just life after death but also a new life right now.  We have a glimpse that it’s more than just ETERNAL life too because, as one author says, “if your life stinks and it goes on forever, how good is that?”  We have a glimpse that eternal life is more about QUALITY than QUANTITY... more about DEPTH than LENGTH.  We get glimpses of the truth, that as we become more aware of how deeply we are embraced in God’s love, life becomes infinitely more meaningful and we have a glimpse that even if we never understand and it never sinks in, the gift of life is still ours in Christ but it's only a glimpse it’s only part of the whole picture.  
Jesus told Nicodemus that God was preparing him to be born into that new and infinitely meaningful life; that the place he was, right now in his faith journey was essentially in God’s womb... being nurtured, fed, loved and prepared for the new faith life that God was giving him.   By the end of their conversation it was clear that Nicodemus still didn’t really understand what Jesus was trying to tell him.  But in the last part of this passage Jesus lets Nicodemus, and us know that God’s love isn’t conditional on us “getting it.”  It’s true that the more we let God’s love sink in, the more filled we will be with peace and meaning... but not “getting it” fully doesn’t stop God loving us completely.  Jesus was determined to bring that message of God’s love to us in all he said and all he did and not even death stopped him from doing that! 
I love this Gospel lesson, not because of the certainty that some find in it, but because of the UNCERTAINTY and honest, authentic, questioning and confusion we see in Nicodemus.  Nicodemus is trying to be faithful.  You can’t argue that.  He’s a Pharisee, looking to do everything perfectly for God.  He wants to live right, eat right, bathe right, and take care of his leftovers right... all so he can be closer to God.  He is trying like mad to do right in his life for God.  We can relate to that.  We try and do the right things in our lives too... and like Nicodemus we too, inevitably come up short.  
In spite of coming up short and not fully understanding, Nicodemus is faithful, and here we see that faithful isn’t at all certain or perfect.  He’s seen and experienced things with Jesus that made him scratch his beard, and faithfully he looks to Jesus for deeper understanding.  He’s more interested in the truth than he is worried about saying the right thing.  He’s faithful enough to risk getting caught by those who don’t like questions.  But what makes him the most faithful is that he simply keeps trying to understand, grow and learn in spite of the fact that he just never completely gets it!  He goes to get clarity and leaves with his head spinning even more than when he came!  Everything Jesus tells him is different… not just a little different, but a hundred miles past left field different!  He DOESN’T grasp what Jesus is all about and he DOESN’T fully understand what God is doing in his life and he DOESN’T understand what Jesus is saying  BUT he DOESN’T ever pretend to understand when he doesn't and he DOESN’T stop searching either!
THAT is what being faithful REALLY looks like!  Faith is a persistent struggle, not a certainty!  The folks who say they have it all locked down in the faith department are fooling themselves.  When you take your faith seriously like good ol’ Nicodemus, it’s going to be a struggle... a life long struggle.  Nicodemus did just that.  Later in John’s Gospel Nicodemus struggled to get his Pharisee buddies to treat Jesus justly.  They didn’t.  Then he helped Joseph of Arimathea to prepare Jesus’s body for burial.  He continued to struggle with who Jesus was, what Jesus was all about and what Jesus’s life, death and resurrection meant for his life.    
So embrace your inner Nicodemus!  Struggle!  Question!  Be curious be persistent and keep looking to know more about God while at the same time realizing that you will never know it all.  Don’t ever be afraid to admit like Nicodemus did, that you just don’t fully understand what God is doing, and remember that God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, to catch you in a moment of uncertainty, but in order that you and the world might be saved through him!  
God sent Jesus into the world to first TELL us how much we are loved by God and then to SHOW us that the power of God’s love is stronger than anything, including doubt, including a lack of understanding including death.  Real faithfulness is struggling with that improbable truth every single day and hopefully dying a bit to the old ways and being born a little more fully each day into the amazing, infinite and encompassing nature of God’s love.  Amen.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

It Was Just There a Second Ago! I Swear!

The Holy Gospel According to St. John, the  17th Chapter
Jesus continued to pray, ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 

While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

We missed something.  We missed the Ascension.  We missed the celebration... it’s technically a Feast, really... a Principal Feast at that, and that puts it up there in importance with Easter and Christmas and yet we missed it!  We’re not alone though.  Lots of people miss the Ascension, mostly because it always falls on a Thursday that's not a good excuse to miss it, but it does fall on Thursday.  
The Ascension is the day after the resurrection where we remember Jesus telling his disciples that they would soon receive the Holy Spirit and they would be his witnesses, starting where they were and then reaching out to everywhere in the earth.  Then Jesus was lifted up and carried away in a cloud.  The disciples stood there staring up at the sky with their mouths hanging open catching flies in shock, which I suppose is fairly understandable.  But soon, two angels came and told them, “Men of Galilee, SNAP OUT OF IT!  Jesus will come in the same way you saw him go!  SO GET ON WITH THE MISSION!”
That’s where we are.  We’re in this IN-BETWEEN time between Ascension and the Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost, remembering the disciples left alone and God feeling... distant.  Maybe not quite as distant as it felt between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but still, Jesus was gone... God felt distant and their future had again become uncertain.  It’s here in that middle, waiting, uncertain time that we hear today’s Gospel.  I can almost imagine the disciples standing there in the field looking up to where Jesus had just been, thinking “Now what?  Does anyone remember what he said the last time he left?”  
Well, the LAST time Jesus had left was Good Friday and in THAT in-between time they hadn’t yet experienced the Resurrection.  THIS time they KNEW that not even DEATH could keep God away forever... but HOW God would transform this most recent ending into a glorious new beginning was anyone’s guess and in the mean time, Jesus was still gone and God still felt distant.
I think remembering those times in Scripture when Jesus was absent... when God felt distant... the time in-between the ending of one thing and the new beginning of another...  I think remembering those times helps us understand our own experiences when God feels distant.  It doesn’t FIX those confusing, painful, in-between times, but I think it helps to hear that we are not the first disciples to ever live in-between one of God’s endings and one of God’s new beginnings.  It helps, I think, to remember that we’re not the first AND it also helps to look back at what Jesus prayed as they headed into that first in-between time... Jesus prayed, “Holy Father, PROTECT them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be ONE, as we are ONE.” 
Prince of Peace, St. Mark’s... the whole K-6... the New England Synod, the Diocese of Maine... really all of the Christian Church to be completely honest... is standing in one of God’s great in-between times.  The Church as we have known it for the last 500 years has ended and we have been left, very much like the original disciples, staring up at the sky with our mouths gapping open looking at the spot where the Church as we knew it was... just a minute ago!  We’ve all been left here, mouths hanging open, in-between what God was doing before and what God is planning to do next.  It happened in-between Good Friday and Easter.  It happened in-between Ascension and Pentecost.  It happened as the Church moved from being persecuted by the Roman Empire to becoming the official religion of the Empire.  It happened when the Eastern Church and the Western Church split, it happened in the Reformation and it’s happening now. 
So here we are.  Just like those disciples... standing on the hillside staring at the sky with our mouths gapping open... Staring at the place where the Church we grew up with, loved, trusted and followed....our Church... WAS... just a minute ago!  And like Jesus after the Ascension... it’s now just... GONE!  So here we are... in-between the Church as it WAS, but not quite yet to the time when God will bring the new thing into being.  
I’m sure it felt horrible for the disciples in between Good Friday and Easter.  I'm sure the time in-between the Ascension and Pentecost was hard too.  But regardless of how those IN-BETWEEN times felt for the disciples... THIS in-between time FEELS HARD for us NOW!  It is hard.  But perhaps the thing to do is to take our cue from the disciples at the Ascension as we face OUR in-between times.  Perhaps the thing to do, is to first look back and REMEMBER the prayer Jesus prayed.  REMEMBER that Jesus prayed for our protection so that we could all be ONE.  
But then do more than simply REMEMBER.  I also think we are being told, like those first disciples, to “GO” into the world and LIVE THAT PRAYER of unity INTO BEING!  We’re being called to both remember Jesus praying for us to be ONE but also to GO and LIVE INTO BEING ONE to stick together, not bury our heads in the sand in denial or spin apart trying to find someone to blame AND BRING that unity into the world!  
I think we’ve made a pretty good start here, living together into being ONE, but the work is really just beginning.  We’ve made a good start locally, but as Jesus said, we're not to stop until we reach the ends of the earth!  These in between times are neither comfortable nor easy and there is not a pre-planned program to see us through to the other side.  There is, however, Good News!  Resurrection always follows death, Pentecost always comes after Ascension, and God is bringing something amazing into being on the other side of OUR in-between time too!  
So just as the angels said to the disciples back then they are speaking again to us now saying, "People! Snap out of it!  It’s time to stop staring at the place on the horizon where the Church used to be!  It’s time now to instead remember that we have God's protection for whatever lies ahead in the in-between.  It's time to remember that we have been called to be ONE with each other and it is time to actively work to BECOME ONE with our brothers and sisters, near to home and to the ends of the earth!  May we be ONE with each other as we wait in this in-between time to be amazed once again by the God who brings hope out of despair, joy out of pain and life out of death.  Amen.    

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Busy, Busy, Busy

The Holy Gospel According to St. John, the 15th Chapter
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Jesus asks us to abide.  Some of us seem to recognize it and even envy it when we see it, but most of us, I think... if we’re honest... fear it.  We fear “abiding” because it requires making a frighteningly, deep and intimate connection with God and other people and so, to avoid that kind of a connection we keep ourselves busy, worrying and working on anything and everything else... the money, the bills, the future, the past and anything but the present.  So, could it be that we busy ourselves so much as Christians, not because busyness is faithful, but because somehow we hope our busyness will keep God and others at a safe distance?  Connecting so deeply and intimately is frightening... after all.  If we slow down and God or others really abide with us... they might get to know the real, naked, broken, dark, lonely and fearful... me!  
Kelly and I went to New York for our anniversary.  Walking through the streets, people, of course, were everywhere... physically close, bumping together, weaving in and out... physically close, but still distant.  Headphones, talking on the phone, walking with that, you’re-in-the-city-so-you-don’t-make-eye-contact stare and so on the surface it looked like a sea of people, but the sea, at first, seemed only six inches deep.   
Then we saw a little girl with a polka dot dress.  Her clear, gel sandals slapped on the cement sidewalk with each step.  With one hand she held her mother’s finger and with the other, a half-eaten sidewalk vendor’s hot dog.  She reminded me of a photographer's project called “Humans of New York.”  He takes pictures of people, but more importantly... he takes TIME.  He connects past the headphones, past the safety stare, past the fear-fueled bustle and rush... and he ABIDES.  He listens deeply and intimately to a piece of their humanity normally stored somewhere securely deep inside.  He abides and in that connection, it is so incredibly clear and obvious that he experiences the profound joy God created us all to experience when we genuinely connect with another and with God.  Then he shares his picture, the story and his joy with others, so in a way, every post becomes a sermon proclaiming, “you know, you can have this too!”   
Walking behind that little girl and remembering his “Humans of New York” project I was reminded again of a deep truth.  All of us... all the people walking those streets... all the people walking our streets... all the people from St. Mark’s and Prince of Peace... saints and sinners... all of us... the truth is that we’re all ALREADY connected.  We’re ALL, ALREADY abiding with one another.  We’ve BEEN connected... deeply, intimately and permanently through God’s love... a love stronger than death, shown so clearly that first Easter Sunday.  We share everything already... the same earth, air, hopes and dreams... the same uncertainties and fears... the same tragic brokenness and resurrection wholeness.  What we lack is not a deep and intimate connection with one another... what we lack is the AWARENESS that we are ALREADY DEEPLY AND INTIMATELY CONNECTED to EVERYONE!  And the same is true of our connection with God.  Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and mystic, says, “We cannot ATTAIN the presence of God, because we’re already totally IN the presence of God.  What’s absent is AWARENESS.”
I think we run around this life, frantically trying to hide our true and authentic... honest and broken... genuine and beautifully imperfect selves from each other and from God, somehow thinking that if we just keep busy enough, God and everyone else will only be able see the surface... only see our polished Sunday morning selves and will somehow never catch on to who we really are.  Maybe, if we don’t sit still too long... neither God nor anyone else will see the real person we are deathly afraid to show.  If we stay busy... if we never stop to ABIDE, then neither God nor anyone else will ever find out the real and honest... me.  
If you are trying to hide your authentic self from God or others (and I think most of us are whether we admit it or not) I have what may be an uncomfortable truth for you.   No matter how busy you stay... No matter how you try to avoid abiding with God... God is already deeply and intimately abiding with you.  We do not choose... God has chosen us!  God knows you and has known you deeply and intimately and completely from before you were even born, up to today and on into the fullness of your future.  God knows your hopes and dreams, your moments of deepest shame and your moments of highest joy.  God has always, fully and deeply known all your brightest days as well as the horrors of your darkest nights.  God has always been and always will be abiding with you deeply and intimately and God has LOVED YOU, completely and intimately, THROUGH it all... and always will!  When we choose, out of fear, NOT to abide... we don’t stop God from knowing us... we only stop experiencing the complete JOY that comes with God knowing us.
Don’t do that!  Let go of the fear and let in the JOY!  It’s there in the presence of God, the love of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.  It has been with you forever... since before you were a twinkle in your mother’s eye and it will be with you and at work in you and through you forever!  Let it in!  (Let it in, he says... like it’s that easy.)  I know... it’s not that easy... I know.  It will unfortunately (I hate this part too) take some practice.  Letting joy in will take some practice, and we practice becoming aware of Christ’s love abiding in us by loving the people around us... not with a sentimental love, but with a love that drives us to do what is in the other’s best interest.  It will take practice, and we practice also by bearing fruit by making a difference in people’s lives by living our lives with gratitude, compassion and generosity.  It will take practice, and we practice experiencing the JOY of God's abiding presence when we abide with other people when we invest real, significant pieces of TIME and really LISTEN... not listen just to get your come-back ready, but instead to genuinely HEAR and KNOW the other and GROW in the connections you already have with each other!  
You are fully known by God already... the good, the bad and the ugly.  There is nothing left to hide, and no busyness busy enough to hide it, even if there was.  God knows it all... and LOVES YOU loves YOU... no matter what.  As the angels always say, “Fear NOT,” there is nothing left to hide, there is nothing left to loose, but one more moment without the complete JOY that is right there waiting for you to breathe it in!  Let us love one another, bear fruit with one another ABIDE with one another and practice with one another receiving the complete JOY that comes when we grow in the awareness of how deeply connected we are with one another and how deeply Christ’s love already abides in us.  Amen.  

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Branch Abides.

The Holy Gospel According to St. John the 15th Chapter

Jesus said, ”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. 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.

Do you prefer the Cordon system or are you more an old world Goblet style person?  Maybe you like the Geneva double curtain or maybe the Lyre OR would you go more contemporary with the Scott Henry or the Smart Dyson?  When Jesus first said, “I am the true vine” he said it to people who knew a lot about growing and pruning grape vines.  Surprisingly, these days, few people in Maine have a deep, technical knowledge of viticulture!  
Well, if we’re going to get anything out of this Gospel lesson, we’re going to have to learn a little bit about growing and pruning grapes... wine grapes in particular!  The first thing to realize is that in the wild, grape vines grow long vines up through the tree tops to spread their leaves and steal sunlight from the tree that supports their vine.  In the wild, they put almost all of their energy into vine and foliage growth and very little is left for making fruit and seeds.  
In a vineyard, the vine grower RADICALLY prunes the plant for a balance between foliage growth on one hand and fruit production on the other.  With too much foliage, you get little or no fruit.  With too much fruit, the health of the vine suffers.  The skillful pruner will shape the vine, while it’s dormant in the winter, so that in the summer there’s a balance between healthy foliage and high quality fruit.  
To get that balance A LOT has to be pruned.  Look at the front of the bulletin and check out the two pictures.  Good pruning means about 90% of the previous year’s growth is cut away!  The first time you prune grapes it feels TERRIBLE!  The biggest mistake people make though, is that they are tempted to keep too much from the past.  “It was good last year, it should be good this year!” is what they think, but that’s simply not how grapes grow!  That wood from last year may have produced the best crop in 100 years BUT, here’s the truth about how grapes grow... GOOD FRUIT DOES NOT GROW ON LAST YEAR’S BRANCHES.  The vine grower prunes 90% of last year’s branches away because the vine grower KNOWS that healthy fruit only develops on new growth.  Good fruit just doesn’t grow on last year’s wood.  Look at that picture again.  In the “after” picture there are only three branches on each side of the vine and on each of those branches there are only two buds that are left for the coming year’s foliage and fruit.  
Jesus is the vine.  You and I are the branches.  The temptation is to hold onto the things of the past that grew such beautiful fruit back then and not let ourselves be pruned by the Vine Grower so radically today.  It seems SO counter intuitive to allow SO much... 90% for crying out loud!... SO MUCH of all that was good from before to be pruned away!  After all, it REALLY was WONDERFUL!  It grew AMAZING fruit!  It was so SWEET.  It was SO PLENTIFUL and every fiber of our being says to hold on to what grew that and do ANYTHING to keep it from being pruned away.  
The thing is... the Vine Grower knows best about growing fruit and Jesus didn’t randomly pick GRAPES to illustrate his point.  Jesus picked GRAPES on purpose, because Jesus knew we, like grapes, grow wild on our own.  Jesus knew that we, like grapes, if we hold onto the parts of us that grew good fruit in the past, we will quickly loose the balance that the Vine Grower knows is best and we’ll become unhealthy and produce less fruit and fruit of less quality in the coming year.  
Our world around us tempts us to believe that more is always better.  Bigger is always better.  Stronger is always better.  Farther is always better.  The lesson of the Vine Grower, the True Vine and the Branches, is that when it comes to growing fruit and when it comes to growing fruitful lives... more, bigger, stronger and farther really aren’t the way to grow the best, sweetest or most plentiful fruit.  The lesson of the Vine Grower, the True Vine and the Branches is that to bear good fruit we need to have cut away from us a frightening amount of what came before.  We need to let go of programs, systems, practices, institutions, attitudes and events that may have grown AMAZING grapes back then, but have become unproductive and wandering without direction now.  
What this lesson teaches us is that we need to trust the Vine Grower.  I know... it’s hard for me too!  But we must allow the Vine Grower to radically prune us as individuals and as a Church and TRUST that God really does know what is best for us EVEN when that means 90% of what happened before is dramatically pruned to just a little shoot with a couple of tiny buds!  
This lesson also teaches us that after we have been pruned, our first job is not to grow vines or leaves or even fruit... but our first job, in fact OUR ONLY job, is to simply ABIDE.  Our job as a radically pruned branch is to simply ABIDE in the vine, to live and be intimately and absolutely connected and allow the True Vine to feed us at the Table and with the Word.  Our job is simply (well, not so simply) to allow the Vine Grower to do with us what the Vine Grower knows is best, live connected with the True Vine, live connected with one another through the True Vine and allow the True Vine to work through us.  
Last week Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd” and that left us to be the sheep and the sheepdog.  And yet as sheep and dog we desperately want to tell the Good Shepherd where we should be led, the valleys we want to avoid and what pasture is best.  This week Jesus said, “I am the True Vine” and we are the branches.  Yet as branches, we desperately want to tell the Vine Grower how to prune, what to keep and what to cut away.  Jesus knew that as sheep, dog, branches, Lutherans and Episcopalians we would always have trouble trusting God! 
May we trust the Good Shepherd, the Vine Grower and the True Vine.  May we allow the dead wood of worry and fear that tangle our lives to be pruned away.  May we commit ourselves to abiding intimately and fully with one another in the True Vine and may we trust that in due season, the Vine Grower will make through us an abundant and memorable harvest of fruit which will be made into a beautiful vintage of the most amazing wine.  Amen.