Of Love, Vines, Connectedness and Race

Sermon for Sunday, May 3rd, 2015||  The Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B || Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22: 24-30; I John 4: 7-21; John 15: 1-8||  The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

I wake from the dream with the feeling—still fresh, still vivid—of incredibly radiant, joyful, and totally satiating,  mutual love. I try to place it, to bring into focus the vague image with which I associate such bliss, and while I can’t quite get there before the image slips away, I have a dull sense that if I could, what I would see is a close-up, shot in profile, of my then 2-year old daughter and me, cooing and kissing, rubbing noses and giggling with silliness– ridiculously happy–each completely enthralled with the other.

The dream slips away, but the feeling—the deliriously delightful feeling of my heart bursting with love for another while simultaneously bathing in that other’s love for me— lingers. Have I ever felt so utterly connected, so totally complete?

All week long, the feeling stays with me. I retrieve it at will, happily savor it, “abide” in it as our scripture this morning would say. I keep trying to bring a corresponding image into focus, but it’s no use: I’m looking through glasses bearing someone else’s prescription, and the more I struggle to see, the less clear it becomes. This vision is to be felt, not seen.

Until: awareness!  This is how God loves me! This is how God loves you!  This is how God loves each of us! And what’s more, this is how our truest selves, the ones we keep hidden from the world and sometimes even from ourselves—this is how we love God: Wildly, giddily, with absolute abandon.

So I am convinced now,  this is real:  This incredibly joyful, radiant, mutual love that so totally delights in the other. This is what it feels like to, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” And this is how—when God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done— we will love one another: As interrelated branches bound by the unspeakable joy of shared life in the one true vine in whom we are home…in whom we live and move and have our being…in whom we abide.

But for now, what?

In stark contrast to this dream so vivid that my heart was bursting with joy, comes the news of the Baltimore riots and the Nepalese earthquake, and the heartbreaking capacity for violence of both man and nature.

And then the scripture: Abide in me as I abide in you…apart from me you can do nothing…

We creatures of God known as the human family are all so connected, so bound to one another, despite our innate tendency to avoid, forget or deny the fact. But neither race nor geography—nor any of the other countless differences we use to distinguish ourselves as separate members of this or that group –not of that can change the essential truth. We are one family. We are all branches of the same vine. We are all beloved children of God. We are connected.

We can refuse to read the paper, or change the channel when the news is too disturbing. We can turn our heads away or we can bury them in the sand. We can distance ourselves with finger-pointing blame or hopeless despair. We are all masters at defending ourselves from unpleasantries over which we feel we have no control or in which we convince ourselves we have no part.

But we are fooling only ourselves. Because what happens to young black men in cities all over this country happens to me and to you. What happens to families in Lamjung, Kathmandu and Kodari, happens to our families and to us.  We are connected; each branches on God’s vine. And with today’s technology—Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, Google, and 24-hour news– we are more connected than ever.

A young woman name Julia Blount has been getting a lot of attention in the past few days since an article she posted on Facebook got picked up by Salon.com. Julia is a Princeton grad, a middle school teacher, and happens to be bi-racial. Her parents were friends and colleagues of ours back in our days at NBC in Washington— her father Jeff Blount is black, a director at NBC, and her mother Jean Meserve is white, a former correspondent at CNN.

Listen to the words of this young woman who has lived what she describes as “a decidedly easy life for a person of color in America.” In a piece titled, “Dear white Facebook friends: I need you to respect what Black America is feeling right now,” Julia writes:

“I am not asking you to condone or agree with violence. I just need you to listen. You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to, but… please let me tell you what I hear: I hear hopelessness. I hear oppression. I hear pain. I hear internalized oppression. I hear despair. I hear anger. I hear poverty…”

“…If you are not listening,” Julia continues, “not exposing yourself to unfamiliar perspectives, not watching videos, not engaging in conversation, then you are perpetuating white privilege and white supremacy. It is exactly your ability to not hear, to ignore the situation, that is a mark of your privilege. People of color cannot turn away. Race affects our lives every day…So listen. Listen with your heart.”

Referring to white Americans who refuse to talk about what’s going on in our country Julia writes, “The silence is painful to experience.” The silence is painful.  You see, in today’s world ignorance is no longer bliss, it is a sin that perpetuates suffering.

I am the true vine,” Jesus tells us, “and my Father is the vinegrower.

“I am the true vine,” he repeats, and “you are the branches.”

God created us for connection. It is our very nature. Without it we wither and die. We are connected to Baltimore and Ferguson and Staten Island. We are connected to Nepal and Yemen and Syria. We are connected to Julia Blount and to all those for whom our silence is painful.

And the very good news is that in the person of the risen Christ, God invites us to connect with the true vine, the living vine, the vine that unlike so many worldly vines to which we sometimes cling for life, quite naturally produces healthy, sap-filled branches….millions of interrelated branches connected to the same life-giving source, that instead of withering and dying, bear much-needed fruit for a hurting world.

Please notice that I said God “invites” us to  connect to the true vine in Jesus. This connection doesn’t happen automatically. God never forces us. We have a choice here: We are free to turn away, avoid, or deny.

But this morning Jesus urges us to stay. Jesus urges us to connect with him, to abide in him, to make our home in him.  Because, “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine,” he says, “neither can you unless you abide in me. Abide in me as I abide in you…”

Abide in me by drinking in my Word.   Abide in me by resting in my Love. Abide in me by practicing gratitude. Abide in me by cultivating compassion. Abide in me by learning forgiveness. Abide in me by connecting and creating and listening and loving…

Abide in me, and oh what prolific fruit we will bear!  Spreading the word and healing the world– until each and every heart is bursting…bursting with the joyful, radiant, ridiculously happy and satiating love, for God and for each other. Amen.






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