... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Easter 5 Year B, Message May 6th, 2012

Wishing and Receiving

Text: John 15:1-8

“If you abide in me and my words abide in you ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you”. Such is this strange statement from today’s Gospel reading. It is the promise of receiving that for which you desire. But be warned!

I have to tell you this story. There were three friends marooned on a not-so beautiful island in the cold North Atlantic. For 3 months they survived by eating fish and drinking rain water. One day one of the friends saw something shining in an underwater crevice near shore. Wading in he picked it up discovering it to be a gold lantern. Drying it off – out came a genie who offered him one wish. Immediately the delighted person said, “I wish to be home with my family”. Poof! Wish granted. The remaining 2 friends perplexed by the sudden disappearance of their companion moped about until one day – the second friend also spied the lantern. Drying it off again the genie came forth and offered the same one wish. And again the second person wished, “I want to be home with my family”. Poof! Wish granted. The third friend now alone, wanders aimlessly for several days when lo, the lantern presents itself. Taking it and drying it off the genie appears and offers the one wish. After several minutes of deep thought the person says, “I wish my friends were back here with me!”

So often we wish for things and we experience either disappointment or regret. We all have been there, done that, and felt the sting of unfulfilment. As children we would so often see a toy, we would pled with Mom or Dad or both, that if we couldn’t have the toy life wouldn’t be worth living – after all every one of our friends had said toy. Teenage years presented different desires, but the same emotions. Even in our adult years we have desires. Some are fulfilled, some may be even what is necessary for us but just as often the desires are not what we truly need. So how is it that Jesus makes this bold promise to his disciples?

In order to answer this question we need to look at the lectionary readings and see them in the context of a larger picture. All four readings for today deal with the theme of relationship between God and people. God has established a relationship, nurtures it and expects a response in return. In the story of the encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, Philip opens to the eunuch that which the eunuch has been searching. He had known a sense of void in his life and a sense of call or longing. Yet the answer had eluded him – eluded him that is until Philip opened for him the Scriptures and in those Scriptures how God had offered a relationship with humanity in and through Christ Jesus. The immediate response was that the eunuch asked to be baptized to become part of this relationship.

The psalmist in Psalm 22 had we read it from the beginning at first is in a great distress, experiencing a great sense of alienation, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” From the horror of some grave dilemma God rescues the author and having been granted his wish for rescue now proclaims to the wider community the love God displays and the relationship god offers to those of faith. The author of 1 John reminds the readers that God’s love is at the heart of the life of faith and indeed life itself.

While the Gospel of John reaffirms this aspect of God’s love and desire for relationship it also provides a hard lesson as it relates to this relationship and the human response. This lesson has a great significance for both church and individuals within it, as they attempt to be faithful to their call.

As in last week’s “I am” Gospel passage with the “I am the Good Shepherd,” John in “I am the vine” passage uses the same format. There are two “I am the vine” sections and then a paradox. In the first “I am the vine” section vs. 1-4, Jesus emphasizes his relationship with God the Father. God is the vine grower – the work of creativity of production and of nurturing is the Father’s. Jesus is simply the vine. Yet he is much more than the vine – he is the real vine – the main stem directly linked to the supply of all nutrients required by the tree. Yet even as the real vine, Jesus has been shaped and pruned by the Father.

In the second I am the vine section Jesus now turns to the relationship between the disciples and him. They are the branches and the branches are alive only in as much as they are connected to the main vine and yet their nutrients from it. Apart from the main vine or at a long distance from it, the amount of nutrient diminishes to the point where there can be little or no production of fruit. Even the least abled “green thumb” knows that a fruit producing tree or plant needs to be pruned to allow for better yield. If a plant is allowed to grow unpruned the flowers and fruit become sparse and often times of little worth. Pruning results in larger fruit, more numerous fruit and healthier fruit. The closeness to the source of basic food is imperative.

In this imperative three general admonitions can be extracted. First, all ministries individual or corporate whether they be concerned with social justice, outreach, spiritual formation or church programs apart from the indwelling of Christ, are meaningless, produce little nourishing or lasting fruit and will eventually lead to failure or worse. Second, ministries even with an indwelling of Christ need to be pruned to allow for better fruit or more productive undertakings. Too often we see congregations trying to undertake too much, trying to be all things to all people, and in so doing fail. In one community I know of there are five congregations each with a youth group. Neither youth group boasts more than 10 members, and yet they refuse to bring the groups under one. They need to be pruned – to cut the number of groups so that in one or two groups they might become stronger richer and more productive. The third admonition deals with personal relationships. Pruning is necessary to stimulate better relationships. Sometimes this requires several levels of connectedness rather than everyone connected directly. Using the imagery of grapes of the vine – we can see how impossible it would be to have any meaningful crop if each single grape had to be connected directly to the main vine. Yet as bunches of grapes the yield is more abundant. So too the individual can only be as abundant as part and parcel with the congregation or the church.

Finally we have the paradox, “wishing and receiving”. Unlike the three friends of the humorous story, Jesus wish stemmed from his intimate relationship with the Father. It is this same intimate relationship Jesus commends to his disciples; and if they exist in that then their every wish their every desire would be in line with what Jesus wished and by extension with what God wished. Once that intimacy is realized then every wish would be granted. What at first appears a paradox or whimsy is in reality a measure and function of the unity of Divine purpose stemming from the real relationship God has offered in and through Christ Jesus.

May we so come to that relationship that all our wishes are met in God’s desires.