April 29, 2018 sermon
John 15:1-8/ Acts 8:26-40
True Vine, Our Spiritual Mother
Today, we will talk about motherhood. Motherhood is a mystery to me, especially because I haven’t been blessed with that gift. I don’t know what it’s like to have a baby inside me and be physically connected to the baby through an umbilical cord. If a pregnant mom is exposed to bad things, such as bad food or drink, or stress and even trauma, the fetus will be affected. If mom eats good food and thinks good thoughts and feels peaceful and happy, the baby will be peaceful and happy too. No wonder the affinity that a mother feels about her child is special, and to me, mysterious. A little footnote here; I know a lot of fathers who have a deeper and more special relationship with their children, and I don’t mean to leave fathers out here. The only reason I am focusing on mothers is because of the physical connection with the baby during pregnancy.
I felt the affinity between a mother and a child when I was staying with my mother’s sister for a little while because I was having trouble with my sister. The first night I stayed with her, my aunt came into the bedroom, in the dark when I was in bed, hugged me and comforted me. I became choked up because she felt so much like my mother.
Anyway, the reason why I am talking about motherhood today is because the connection between a mother and her fetus seems to be the best analogy for our relationship with Christ. Jesus used the analogy of the vine in John chapter 15 because the vine is grown all over Palestine. From what I learned about the vine, although I am not much of a gardener and don’t know much about plants, is that it is a high maintenance plant. From what I understand, the young vine cannot start producing fruit for the first three years, during which time, it goes through constant pruning and “physical training”, so to speak. And the branches that do not produce fruit have to be drastically pruned so they don’t drain away the plant’s strength. It has to be carefully watched and taken care of to stay healthy and produce healthy fruit. The analogy of the vine tree is not something Jesus started; in fact, in many parts of the Hebrew Bible, the nation of Israel is compared to the vine. “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” (Isaiah 5) “Yet I planted you a choice vine.” (Jeremiah 2) “Israel is a luxuriant vine.” (Hosea 10) The vine tree became a symbol for the nation of Israel. They are God’s people; therefore, they are expected to live like God’s people and produce fruit of God’s people. They are the vine tree; therefore, they should produce what the vine tree produces. In John’s community, the members are Christians, the followers of Jesus the Christ. Now the Christians are God’s vine tree. God expects them to produce the fruit of the gospel. That is us; we are Christians. If we have accepted God’s invitation of love and belong to God’s kingdom, our lives have to reflect what we are and what we stand for; the values of God’s kingdom, which are radical love, compassion, and commitment to promote social justice. A vine tree is useless if it cannot produce grapes. A Christian is useless if his or her life doesn’t reflect the values of God’s kingdom. “Abide in me”, says Jesus. He is the vine tree and we are his branches. Just like the fetus cannot survive if the mother isn’t well, branches cannot survive without the tree. For us to survive and prosper, we have to stay put and stick to the tree and receive nutrients from its roots. In other words, we are like the babies connected to the mother through an umbilical cord. The purpose and glory of our identity as the people of God and followers of Jesus is to produce the fruit of the gospel in our lives; live by the values we are taught from Christ.
As I said, for us to be the branches of the vine tree that produce fruit, we have to stick to the tree; or as Jesus said, “Abide in me.” But what can happen if we abide in Christ, stick to our “mother tree”? What kind of fruit are we talking about? The fruit that we can produce by sticking to the tree or by abiding in Christ is a transformation beyond our human capacity. How can the Holy Spirit transform us, or in what ways? Since we are going through the Easter Season/ the post-Easter time, the Acts of the Apostles is a great book to read and learn from. In today’s story from the Acts of the Apostles, disciple Philip meets an Ethiopian eunuch, an officer of his queen’s court. This man seems to be one of the unofficial followers of the Jewish faith called God-fearers, which means he follows and learns from the Jewish faith but has not been officially converted through circumcision. Those who officially converted to Judaism were called procelytes. Now, according to the Jewish Law called the Torah, this eunuch cannot be accepted in the Jewish community. It’s written in Deuteronomy 23:1. Before the gospel of Jesus, before his resurrection and the sending out of his disciples to be the kingdom of God and to make more disciples, they would have been restricted by the Law of Moses. But now that the disciples have received the gospel of Jesus and the Spirit of God, they are no longer restricted by what the Law says; because Jesus taught that it’s the spirit of the Law, the spirit of the gospel, the spirit of God’s kingdom that counts. The gospel of Jesus taught us that everyone is welcome in God’s family; even the eunuchs, homosexuals, transgendered people, Gentiles, those who are deemed unclean according to the Law, and anyone else who is deemed unworthy according to the old law.
There is another story in the Book of Acts that teaches us how God’s Spirit can save us from our prejudices and become more inclusive. In Acts chapter 10, there is a story of Peter changing his mind about accepting Gentiles into God’s community. God shows him a vision to teach him that there is no more boundary of clean and unclean/ worthy and unworthy of God’s love. In today’s chapter 8, Philip ends up baptizing the eunuch; in chapter 10, Peter ends up baptizing a Roman centurion and his family, who are Gentiles. God’s spirit transforms us from our limits, our prejudices. As the result of abiding in Christ and receiving strengths from the Holy Spirit, we should become more loving and accepting.
We live in a world full of hurts; from natural disasters, accidents, hatred, and greed. Recently our Canada suffered a horrific accident and an act of terrorism. No matter what pushed this young man in Toronto to commit such a horrible act, we do not know for sure. But one thing that is sure is that this world and its people need more love. We need to spread more love to conquer evil. We need love to comfort each other as we go through life’s ordeals. As branches, let us stick to the tree. Everyday, let us consciously spend time with God and wait for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Let us be transformed by the Spirit and become more loving, caring, and accepting. And with the new transformed identity, let us go out into the world and transform it according to what we received from our True Vine, Christ, our spiritual Mother.
Rev. Sunny Kim