May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be alway acceptable in your sight, oh Christ our strength and our redeemer. Amen
When I was asked by Worth to do the Youth Sunday sermon last month, I’m not going to lie, I was a little apprehensive. I’ve been apart of Youth Sunday ever since 7th grade and not once did I ever think I would be that chosen senior. Grace even made me nervous last year. But when I read the gospel for the first time, I knew I had made the right decision. Many memories of my childhood at St. John’s came to mind. And relating them to the Gospel wasn’t as hard as I originally anticipated. Through my memories at St. Johns, I have continued to constantly receive love and support.
In the Gospel, Jesus uses a vine as an allegory in the role he plays with his disciples. Jesus tells a story of a farmer nourishing his branches to bear good fruit. Jesus proceeds to tell his disciples that we are already cleansed, but more importantly, that we are loved by Him. In order for the branch to bear grapes, it must be connected to the vines. This compares to Christians and their relationship with Jesus. Jesus’ love enables us to live up to the potential and future he has in store for us. Without the love and support from the vines, the branches cannot survive. Just as we cannot survive without Jesus’ unconditional love and support. Jesus represents the vine while God represents the gardner. In the gospel, Jesus tells his disciples
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me
It’s impossible for the branch to bear fruit without the support of the vines. Also making it impossible for us to be the best we can be without the love and support of Jesus. Jesus tells us, you cannot bear fruit unless you are fully committed to him.
When I was only one year old, Robert Wisnewski came to St. Johns. While we were getting to know Robert, Mary Ward, Meg and Rob better, I, very casually, walked over to Robert and just sat in his lap. Just plopped in his lap like I already knew him. Most children are scared of strangers but from what my parents tell me, I was instantly comfortable around Robert. Throughout my childhood, whether it was pool parties or kick ball tournaments, I depended on Robert– not only as one of my parents friends, but also as a stable and constant reminder of God’s love. As I got older, one of my friends always told me how awesome it was that my priest went to EYC. I never thought much about it because Robert and Evan were just always there. I don’t think one EYC member ever questioned it. What other priest takes you skiing or takes you on the roof of the Church? Getting to know them on a more personal level increased the sense of love and community I had at St. Johns.
I’m sure many of you in the Congregation here today remember that not so typical Sunday morning. Betsy Webster and I were inseparable growing up. And every Sunday after Communion our parents would send us out for our Dr. Peppers. That much sugar plus two four year olds is never a good situation. And after a while, my mom bribing me with toys to be quiet in church stopped working. However, this Sunday I think my mom wished she tried to bribe me. Myron and Mike have been at St. Johns ever since I can remember and Betsy and I had a routine with them. We would sip on ice cold Dr. Peppers and eat animal crackers while waiting for our parents to get out of church. Myron told Betsy and me to walk over to the hallway to my right, and peek into the Sanctuary to see where we were in the service. As Betsy and I cheerfully skipped up the steps, I remember looking at Myron. And from what I could see, he was waving his arms and saying Go go go!. Looking back I’m sure it was a No no no. Just as I get the okay from Myron, I grab Betsy’s hand and swing open the door. Still sipping on our Dr. Peppers, we casually stroll down the stairs and begin to run down the aisle.. with glass bottles in hand. Laughter and confusion instantly breaks out during the post communion prayer. Mrs. Ellen, Betsy’s mom, was terrified that one of us would break a bottle on the Church floor. I don’t remember much from that day, but looking back it’s apparent to me how comfortable I was with all you, my church family. I’m not saying I would recommend running down the aisle at considerably inappropriate times. While that memory of mine is certainly a funny one, it’s also a very comforting memory. And obviously , I’ve been comfortable with y’all since I was four years old.
As I said earlier, my mom and dad would honestly bribe Frannie and me to be good during Church. I’m not so sure why it was hard for us to just stay still and be respectful. But it was. In fact, our behavior was so bad, we weren’t allowed to sit in the front with the rest of our family. Frannie and I always wondered when the day would come for us to sit with Mama Jane and Chief. For as long as I can remember, I’ve anticipated Communion. As a child, I was eager to get up and see everyone. But most importantly my grandmother, Mama Jane. Every Sunday, I would stop and hug Mama Jane and Cheif. I always carried my American girl doll Kit and Mama Jane was always thrilled to seeus in the matching outfits she picked out. When we finally were mature enough to move to the front, I instantly missed hugging my grandmother every Sunday morning. Her fast little hugs on my way to Communion was something I looked forward to. The first time I read this Gospel, I instantly thought of hugging Mama Jane. That quick little routine hug seemed so simple at the time. Mama Jane served as one of my farmers always nurturing me and making sure I was the best I could be.
Last January, I attended the Ski Trip with EYC as we traveled all the way to West Virginia. I had been skiing twice before, so naturally I considered myself a pro. However, the first day on the slopes I realized that was absolutely false. Trying to keep up with the big dogs like Drake McGowin, Grayson Anzalone and Parker Turner quickly backfired on me. As Drake and I were coming down the infamous Rendevous II, I completely lost all control. While Drake chose the open and correct path, I opted for the skinny little detour to the left of the main slope. Next thing I knew, I was on my stomach with limbs in every direction. I looked up at Drake and we both started hysterically laughing. This was our second year to ski together and laughing at each other’s tumbles had become regular. After a few minutes of laughing, I attempted to stand up. In that second, the laughter quickly turned into crocodile tears. Oh great, I thought to myself, the un-athletic girl just tore her ACL skiing.. how embarrassing. After the initial shock, Drake notified the snow patrol. She sat beside me laughing while stuffing snow into her mouth. She kept reassuring me she laughs during uncomfortable situations. While waiting for the ski patrol, Drake managed to make me laugh while I was in excruciating pain. I’m so grateful Drake and other EYC members were comforting me all the way in West Virginia. Memories such as that one remind me how strong my relationships are with the Youth in this Church.
The vine, the branches and the grapes are great metaphors. However, you cannot have any of those unless you have fertile soil or a rich and fertile container. St. Johns has been one of my spiritual containers for the last eighteen years of my life. The Gospel lesson speaks of God being the Gardner-and I agree, he is the ultimate gardner. But I also like to think of you, my St. Johns family, as my gardeners. You have water and fertilized my soul. You have helped to let the sun shine down on me. The pruning part of the gospel originally scared me, but I know with God’s love and your love that I will be able to withstand anything I will face in the future.
For as long as I can remember, I have felt Jesus’ love and support at St. Johns from everyone. Jesus talks about cleansing or pruning every branch so that it will bear more Fruit. It’s comforting to know that Jesus will always be with me so I can continue to bear fruit. Just like the Farmer taking care of his vines to make sure the harvest is abundant and bountiful, Jesus’ love is always with me to make sure I am all I can be. If I become separated from the vine, I cannot produce anything but by staying connected to the vine and to Jesus’ love, all things remain possible.
After re-reading this gospel a million times, I realized it was a great lesson for us. As Christians, we must stay connected to Jesus as the branches must connect with the vines. I also realized this wasn’t nearly as hard and nerve-racking as I thought it would be. It brought back so many wonderful memories over the past eighteen years that I will cherish forever. And through these memories at St. Johns, God taught me that I can do all things as long as I stay connected and committed to him.