April 30, 2024

April 28, 2024, The Fifth Sunday of Easter

April 28, 2024, The Fifth Sunday of Easter


On the night of his arrest, Jesus taught his disciples about the relationship they would have with him. Those who abide in his word and love bear fruit, for apart from him, they can do nothing.

[Jesus said:] 1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”


I preached this text here three years ago, and stood here to proclaim God’s promises to you.   We acknowledged together that the season of life we were in seemed disconnected.  The church seemed disconnected.  During the pandemic we lost much of what has traditionally and tangibly connected us to each other.  The regular activities, the regular service opportunities, the meetings, and the conversations after the meetings.  And most importantly worship and holy communion together in person.    Those visible connections do a lot for us – and help us to realize our spiritual connections.  As well as our dependence, both on God and on one another.

And I promised you, three years ago, despite the disconnect we may feel, the vine is still there.  The church has never stopped being the body of Christ in the world.   And so I asked you to live into that connectedness.  Abide in it even.  And risk loving each other, even when you feel disconnected.  Loving our siblings means that we realize that we are in this together, that my branch is necessarily connected to your branch.  That your health and wellbeing affects mine, because Christianity has never been a solo sport.  And you lived out that Gospel and never looked back.

The church changes shape, branches are lost, some are pruned, and yet Jesus words drawn us back to him.  The church grows and widens and yet remains connected.    As the vine brings food to the branches, Christ feeds us at his table. We are sent out to bear fruit for the life of the world. Through our baptism into Christ, we become connected to that vine, part of the flock as we talked about last week.  But as metaphors are never straightforward, there are always surprises and unexpected twists in the way this vine puts forth both branches and fruit…

The baptism we hear about today is a surprise to all involved except perhaps the Holy Spirit.  We don’t even know the name of this dark-skinned foreigner – but we know several important things about him.  One, he serves the queen of Ethiopia – and he’s not just like, one of her servants, he’s in charge of the royal treasury.  He bows to a woman and watches over her treasure with his life.  But somehow he heard about God – likely traveled over a thousand miles – just for the chance to worship in the temple.    To be a part of the gathered believers.

Sadly – the first readers would know that the Ethiopian official would not have been permitted to worship in the Temple –  not because of his race, nationality, or status, or his job – but because of his sexual identity.  While Gentiles who had converted and worshipped the God of Abraham were permitted only so far inside the temple, Eunuchs, and others who were deemed unnatural, were not even allowed inside the building.   He was not a full man in their eyes, and not a woman, but in space between labels, and there was no place for him in the temple.

God pushes Philip in his direction, as he passes by in his chariot. And Philip discovers he’s been reading the prophet Isaiah Chapter 53 “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away- cut off – from the earth.”

Eunuchs were excluded from participation in Temple rituals and from full admittance, as proselytes, into Israel’s community.  He’s denied access.  Due to some rules in Deuteronomy, He’s not allowed to be a part of the community – and thus cut-off from the very people who worship the same God he does.

Perhaps this story calls to him precisely because it describes something of the complexities of his own life, his own vulnerability and disconnectedness.  Now, if I was explaining Jesus to someone for the first time, that’s not the part of the Bible I would choose.  But Philip goes for it  and  “meets the eunuch exactly where he is, and gently, with the guidance of the Spirit, shows him how his story of silence and resilience, suffering and rejection, belongs squarely within the Story of Jesus.”    (WorkingPreacher.com, Matt Skinner)

Philip doesn’t give him the 2 minutes pitch, the elevator speech about accepting Jesus as your personal savior.  He doesn’t try to get him to join his church or enroll him in a bible study.  Philips meets him where he’s at and sits down there, jumps into a moving chariot more like it.   “He reminds us that the good news will not travel to the ends of the earth primarily because of focus groups, strategic plans, and demographic analyses.”  (WorkingPreacher.com, Matt Skinner)

The good news connects those who are cut-off when relationships bloom and we sit with each other on the the journey.

Just a few chapters ahead of where they are currently reading, the prophet Isaiah specifically mentions eunuchs, as well as Gentiles, who are not fully welcome.  In the vision of God’s future redemption of creation, “eunuchs would be brought within God’s house and given a name greater than sons and daughters (Isaiah 56:3-5). God’s embrace of the eunuch, and a foreign eunuch at that (compare to Isaiah 56:6-8), shows that the promised age of restoration has begun to dawn.”

In God’s reality, we are all connected, none are cut-off – but we struggle to live that out.  We always like to be the ones who say whose in and whose out, Whose actions preclude them from our community.  To say nothing of those who cut themselves off – through shame or guilt – believing that the things they have done or the person that they are is not able to fully be embraced.

But when God prunes – he’s not cutting off people.  The word that John’s gospel uses for prune is  katharei=to cleanse. We still reference the word when speaking of cathartic experiences.  Those moments when we, through grief or pain, are cleared out and cleansed.  We are each being pruned, cleansed, and transformed by God.  Even as the community of Christ’s body is cleansed and transformed.

As I come to the end of my time with you, in this beloved community, I have seen this transformation.    Relationships have bloomed and we have journeyed together.  The church has hanged shape – widened, pruned, growing connected to the vine which remains the source of our life.  The church on earth will never be perfect. But in the ways that we live out Gods future redemption and promised restoration of those cut off, it is being made whole and complete.

Our hymn of the day is my favorite, perhaps because it acknowledges this.  The church isn’t perfect, and and the church is often hurting.  Schisms rent asunder is just another word for people are mad and leaving the church.  And yet, if we love, when we love – we abide in Christ and Christ abides in us.  Amen.

Pastor Erin Evans

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