Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Apr. 28, 2024

Posted by on Sun, Apr 28, 2024 in Easter, Sermons

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Apr. 28, 2024

Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) wrote,

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. 
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay…
it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability and that may take a very long time.      …

Give the Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser. We can almost see Jesus standing with his disciples, looking around for the right example for what it is to trust and live in God, to find one’s life flourishing in him, to feel one’s heart abounding with such love from the Holy One of blessing. There—a vineyard! That’s perfect! he thinks.

This vines wouldn’t have looked sparse and forlorn from drastic pruning, nor would the branches be weighed down with abundant grapes. Jesus says these words in the season of Passover, springtime, when vineyards would be lush and leafy, no grapes yet, or perhaps some tiny ones just emerging. They could see the vines and the branches themselves, but no fruit. When better to stir one’s spirits about coming into fruitfulness?! 

Wine was associated with God’s blessing, with feasting and medicine and liturgy. Jesus teaches how the blessing of these vital grapes is the result of how carefully the vine dressing is accomplished. Vine dressing and winemaking are part of a slow process demanding patience and careful attention, and rushing it does not yield good things. We also need to “trust in the slow work of God, our loving vinedresser.”

Today we hear this lesson amidst ongoing fear and violence in much of that area. Grapes are critical to the traditions and economic stability for many Palestinians, but during the Israel-Hamas war, farmers in the occupied West Bank are losing the struggle to keep their land and themselves safe. Many cannot go near their vineyards at all. This means loss of more than an income, it is loss of a deeper connection with the Holy One, and this is the vital relationship Jesus is speaking of.

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.” Our cultural norms esteem being productive and accomplished, ‘successful people’ are to be driven to high achievement by bringing the highest tangible value or reaping the rewards of praise for that success. Such things might bring us temporary pride or heighten our worth to others, and when we don’t achieve we likely feel we’ve failed, or even that our accomplishments fail in comparison others. That’s not how God’s vineyard works! 

To start with, we are not the source of the fruit, and even if we’re very good at farming or winemaking we still can’t produce a single grape ourselves. “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.” You cannot grow a grape without a grapevine, no matter what a magnificent branch you are. We need to live in that vine. Jesus says he can do nothing apart from God, his intimate relationship with the Father is how he does everything. For us he is that connection. Jesus as the vine creates and fosters fruitfulness we share with others. Last week I watched a child come up for Communion with her hands going everywhere, gesturing to her grandmother in silent conversation. Her grandmother bent over and gently reached her arms underneath the little girl’s arms, her hands cupping the child’s hands, to help her slow down and receive Christ’s life-giving Communion. This woman and her granddaughter formed a branch on Christ the vine; I saw it the child’s face as she smiled at me tasting the familiar bread, and in her grandmother’s eyes which said she’d do it again and again, with love. 

God’s hands cradle our own, our lives even, and as we let ourselves be guided and held and so imbued we discover a fruitfulness flowing into and through us which could come from nowhere else but the divine source of all things. If we are too busy holding onto that which needs pruning or avoiding the vineyard entirely we miss the finest of those fruits.  One Episcopal brother says, “We are not the originators of the divine grace that comforts and heals and saves; we are simply mediators and instruments of this grace.”

That abundant harvest comes from a skilled pruner who knows what to take away in order to activate the vine and branches to produce the best yield. A well tended vine might live and produce for 100 years, and though the volume of fruit may diminish, the characteristics of an older vine’s fruit are another thing entirely. The flavors concentrate in it’s  fruit, and the aging root system stretches deeper into the soil reaching more precious underground minerals and nutrients. Their grapes and then wine have unmatched attributes from their specific vineyard or region — environment effects the grapes and us too, as our faith is formed in community and fed by Jesus’ vine growing right here. 

I will say, often the “pruning” is unwelcome. It results from suffering, the death of one we love, a job loss or move, an illness, accident, or some unexpected event. Pruning can be a wound. Please hear that I’m not saying God takes a pruning knife to us by taking away joy or love, or that God visits pain upon us to make us grow! Jesus said, “You have already been [cleaned of what needed pruning away] by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you.” That is the crux of it. God waits patiently for us to come into this, being with us in loving care, and does this through the witness, ministry, and love we have for each other too. Yesterday Wendy Miller, Radu Cracut, Cherié Salisbury, and Nancy Gray, four of our members, received the laying on of hands by Archbishop Melissa Skelton at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle. It was sacred, beautiful, and prayerful —and a dozen more of you were there to be part of this holy moment. There, amidst some 600-700 people from over 30 congregations, including 153 of them being Confirmed, Received or Reaffirmed. (Though I did notice we were the only congregation who brought a sparkly rainbow of pom-poms to celebrate our candidates! Thanks to our fearless Sr. Warden). These four St. Michael’s ‘angels’ committed to abiding in Jesus and asking him to abide in them. This is the depth and dimension of spiritual fruitfulness come to life, and the words rang true; “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Like most of us, each of these four have had times of feeling cut back or ‘pruned,’ and waiting for that new life to surge through us again. As our poem said, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God… it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability and that may take a very long time.” Have you ever found yourself looking back at hard times or overwhelming difficulties only to note that in their wake was new life somehow? Perhaps it forced you to take a step forward, to change direction a bit, to adjust your vision to converge with God’s vision of loving you. Or maybe you instigated it and sought God in discerning the way of life you could live, sought freedom from what stifled your spirit or to be healed and cleansed from things you wanted pruned away. 

In the first letter of John today we heard, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.” Living into that teaching leads us further in; “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us.” “We love because he first loved us.”

In the words of Jean Vanier, “The glory of human beings is not first and foremost to do or produce things or to build beautiful monuments or churches, to write wonderful books or to create new technology. All these will pass. The glory of human beings is to communicate life, pouring the oils of compassion on suffering people. It is with Jesus and in him to transform others, to help them move from inner death, sadness and aggression to inner peace, joy and fullness of life.” As branches we receive the life of the vine and pass it along to others. “The fruitfulness is not ours, but God’s. God is its source; God alone.”

We speak of wine as the Blood of Christ in our liturgy, it stands for Jesus’ life which stays with us.Given as an offering, a promise, an instruction to ‘do this to remember me’, a celebration of our life in him and he in us.

When the Spirit practically had to shove Philip into the chariot of the Ethiopian treasurer, a eunuch, it was to tell him the good news about Christ Jesus, the true life-giving vine. He was so inspired that he made them stop his chariot at the first water he saw so Philip could baptize him, saying eagerly, ‘What is to prevent me?’ 

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s poem, Above All, Trust in the Slow Work of God, quoted at the beginning of the sermon, is here in it’s entirety:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages 
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
something new.

Yet it is the law of all progress that it is made
by passing through some stages of instability and that may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves without undue haste. Do not try to force them on
as though you could be today what time—that is to say, grace—
and circumstances
acting on your own good will
will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new Spirit
gradually forming in you will be.
Give the Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.

© 2024 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

Post will be removed at 8:00 AM on Tue., Apr. 28, 2026.