The three readings we just heard proclaimed
were written 60 years or more after the fact:
Luke’s Acts of the Apostles between 93 and 110
with substantial revisions well into the 2nd century,
John’s first letter between 95 and 110,
and the Gospel between 96 and 100.
They were written to communicate Jesus’ message
to followers of a specific time and place,
just as our bible studies, and reflections,
and homilies, and prayers do today.
In Acts, Luke describes Paul as causing so much trouble
with his bold preaching in Jerusalem
that the Hellenists, that is, the Greek Jews, want to kill him,
so the Christian Jews take him away to Tarsus.
That brought peace to the community of believers in Jesus.
At about the same time as Acts was written,
the first letter of John appeared,
an epistle written against the idea
that Jesus did not walk the earth in a body
but came only as a spirit,
so John declares that Christians must believe
that Jesus lived “in the flesh”—
that he really existed as a human being.
Today’s passage from that epistle tells us
that Christians show their belief in Jesus
by their love for one another,
and their love must be in action, not just words—
as we would say these days,
it’s not enough to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.
Today’s passage from the epistle also instructs us
to follow our hearts—
to be assured of forgiveness when we know we are wrong
and to be confident that God remains in us
because we try to keep God’s law,
which is to love one another—
and the proof is that the Spirit is given to us.
Each of us has a healthy need for loving relationships,
for close friendships,
Again, about the same time
as the Acts of the Apostles and the first letter of John,
the fourth Gospel frames this truth about Jesus’ message
in a common Jewish metaphor,
the idea of Israel as the vineyard of God.
John extends the metaphor
into an allegory addressed to the community.
Like branches on a tree, like canes on a grapevine,
we are attached, and we get pruned,
and we produce great fruit.
Because of my swollen foot,
I didn’t get out quite so much this week;
Being a bit unsteady on the crutches, I was afraid I’d fall.
As I sat home with my foot in the air,
I had hour after hour to miss
the various communities I’m part of—
the Claver House friends I’ve started weekdays with
ever since I retired,
the Jim Bacik followers at his Wednesday lecture,
my Perrysburg-Friday-coffee-at-McDonald’s buddies.
It made me keenly aware of the importance of connections.
When I limped out for supper with friends one evening,
I found great joy in sharing the meal and sharing stories.
This week has been like a pruning experience for me—
some of thing things I do in a given week are essential,
and they involve people I cherish.
Many of the things I do are not necessary
and can be pruned off without any ill effect.
Some of the things I do should be pruned off
because they don’t produce fruit at all;
and the one thing I need to do, whenever and however I can,
is practice love for others wherever I meet them—
at Claver House, here at Holy Spirit,
in the grocery store, over the garden fence.
We each live in many different communities,
communities of caring, of interlocking relationships, of love.
We live in families of one sort or another,
and we become very much aware of their importance
at times of stress and change.
Empty nesters suffer loneliness
when the kids settle down in another state.
Teens joyfully flap their wings off to college
and then fall asleep crying from homesickness.
The gathering rooms of senior citizens’ centers
echo with tales of treasured family histories.
Last week I stopped
for supper between Tree Toledo events with other participants,
and two of them found that they had connections
to the same West End neighborhood;
their sharing of memories of people they had known back then
painted a picture of a caring community
still cherished after 50 years.
Last Sunday I went to the annual memorial service
for families of the 192 people
who donated their bodies to UTMC in the past year.
The thousand-seat Nitschke Auditorium
was filled with loving relatives and friends,
a community formed for the day
to honor their loved ones for their gift to strangers.
And then there’s our Holy Spirit Catholic Community,
a community of believers gathering week by week
to share our lives and thoughts and concerns
as we try to follow the Way of Jesus.
That’s the way we follow this gospel message…
in our connectedness.
At the same time, we all have to be careful
not to extend the metaphor so far
that it begins to carry meanings that aren’t there,
that aren’t true to what Jesus taught.
There’s a line in today’s Gospel that says,
“Those who don’t remain attached to me
are thrown away like dead canes:
they are collected, tossed into the fire, and burned.”
We can read that line to say that we’ll go to hell
if we don’t do the right thing,
an unfortunate extension of the metaphor.
But those of us who grow grapes
know what happens in the pruning:
in late winter you cut back to one or two nodes,
so the cane is trimmed, not destroyed.
It’s like cutting out a bad habit during Lent
and allowing good habits to grow.
And we who grow grapes also know
that the canes produce new growth
and great fruit
because of the pruning.
The parts that are cut off are destroyed,
like the bad habits that give way
because of a successful Lenten practice.
We find ourselves connected in God to all that is—
to our families and friends,
to all human beings,
to vines and trees and flowers,
sunshine and moonglow, mountains and valleys.
All that is
is in God,
and that includes us.
As John’s letter tells us,
we can be fearless
because we live in truth and keep God’s law:
we love one another.
Glory be to God!
Holy Spirit Catholic Community
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m.
Sundays at 5:30 p.m.
at 3925 West Central Avenue (Washington Church)
Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor
Mailing address: 3156 Doyle Street, Toledo, OH 43608-2006