Well, today’s Gospel reading, where Jesus says, “I am the vine, and you are the branches,” is one of my all-time favorites. I think that the symbol of “the vine” is the perfect metaphor to explain our connection with “the Di-vine.” But, before I get to that, I want to take a moment to briefly talk about another reading from today’s lectionary, from the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 8. Verses 26-40.
This reading is known as the story of the disciple Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. This story only comes around in the lectionary every few years, and it’s one that most pastors rarely discuss.
But, I think it’s important for us -- an Open & Affirming church -- to recognize the importance of this story, because in it, a gender non-conforming black foreigner becomes the very first non-Jewish person to be baptized as a Christian.
In the story, Phillip the Evangelist, encounters a foreigner on the road. The foreigner is a servant from Ethiopia who happens to be a eunuch.
Now, eunuchs are mentioned many times in the Bible, but we don’t really hear about eunuchs today. In the ancient world of Jesus’s time, there were three genders: male, female, and eunuch.
The word eunuch means “guardian of the bed,” because eunuchs stood guard at the bedrooms of women in royal palaces and wealthy households. Most kings considered eunuchs to be safe guards for their wives, since eunuchs were men who were not attracted to women. But, just to be sure that was the case, some kings had their eunuchs castrated.
It is why Jesus says in Matthew 19:12: “There are eunuchs who were made that way by men, and there are eunuchs who were born that way.”
So, my friends, when you hear your Conservative Christian family members and friends quoting from the Old Testament about homosexuality, tell them that Jesus said they were born that way… cue the Lady Gaga song!
The Ethiopian eunuch, we are told in the Bible, is a court official to the Queen of Ethiopia, and, yet, he is unable by law to worship in the temple because of his race, his nationality, and his sexuality.
Philip knows the law, but he baptizes the eunuch anyway, and a gender non-conforming black foreigner becomes the very first non-Jewish person to be baptized as a Christian.
The old rules -- laws about who’s in and who’s out, who’s worthy and who’s not worthy -- no longer apply.
That’s what Christianity is all about… drawing the circle wider and wider, including more and more people, and inviting everyone to the table.
I’m not sure how Christianity got to the place where it is today, but that’s how it started, and I think it’s important that we recognize and honor that today.
Okay, let’s go on to today’s Gospel message about the vine and the branches.
The last time I spoke about this, I mentioned that if Jesus grew up in the Italian-American neighborhood I grew up in, he might be standing on the street corner in Brooklyn and saying to the apostles: “Youse are da branches, and I am da vine.”
And, I really like that, because “the vine” is a symbol for “the da-vine,” and “The Divine” is one my favorite words for God.
For many, the word, “God,” carries with it a lot of baggage. It conjures up an old man with a long gray beard looking down on us in judgement.
But, the word “Divine” is not masculine or feminine, and it’s more of an adjective than a noun. It means heavenly, awesome, extraordinary, amazingly good.
If you break the word apart: di-vine means “of the vine.” Divina, Divino.
And, you know, in Italian, the word “vino” doesn’t mean vine, but “wine,” the fruit of the vine!
Now, growing up in an Italian household, we had wine on the dinner table every night, and if you’ve ever been out with me socially, you know how much I still enjoy a good glass of wine with dinner.
Wine was a part of Jesus’s life, as well. His very first miracle was transforming water into wine. He turned something ordinary into something extraordinary.
And, at his very last meal, he shared wine with his friends at the Last Supper, telling them that it represented his blood, the “life force” circulating through his
Jesus wanted his apostles (and he wants us) to know that that same “life force” of the Divine flows in us and through us, but in order for us to receive it fully, we must stay connected to the vine.
If you’ve ever seen a grapevine, you know that it’s all intertwined. We are all connected to one another, and we’re all connected to God.
Just as the nutrients and the life-force of the main vine flow into each of the branches, the power and presence of God flows into each one of us…but only if we stay connected.
It’s why Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in God.”
So, my question for you today is: “Are you in the flow of the Divine?” Are you experiencing a life of joy, peace, love and abundance right now?
If not, maybe you need to do some spiritual pruning. Maybe you need to let go – cut away – those thoughts of worry, fear, lack, resentment, and unworthiness. Those are things that block the flow of the Divine.
When we are dwelling in that negative space, we are not abiding in God.
But, when we remember our connection to God throughout the day (through spiritual practices of silence, prayer, meditation, gratitude and mindfulness), we open ourselves more fully to the Divine flow….to the power and presence of God moving in us and through us.
And, we say, “Yes, I am willing and ready to receive more and more of my good. More and more of my God.”
May you, my friends, find time throughout your day this week to remember your connection to the Divine, to abide more fully in God, and to allow God’s presence and power to flow more freely in you and through you.
Rev. Salvaore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance by Pastor Rick Schupp
A friend shared recently the following quote from Richard Rohr: “What is the source of your spiritual power? It’s radical union with God. The only basis for fruitful Christianity is divine union."
When Jesus says, "I am the vine and you are the branches," there is a picture of mutual indwelling. We cannot bear fruit any other way. It is our connection to the vine that gives us life. Apart from God, we can do nothing.
Many say they believe that, but then they live as if everything depended on them. People who live like that are really “functional atheists.” A “functional atheist” is a person who says he/she believes in God, but then goes out each day and lives like everything in their lives depends on themselves. They might say they believe that God will provide, but then they worry that they have to work and work to make ends meet. They might say they believe God is with them all the time and they need to depend on God in everything, but then not think of God at all for huge parts of their days. They might say they believe that prayer changes things, but then not take time to pray.
Ultimately, we need to live passionate, holy lives of intimacy with God. We need to be deeply connected to the vine. We need to be in constant conversation with God throughout the day. We need to be constantly vigilant to the work of God all around us. When we seek God through spiritual practices like silence, solitude, study, self-examination, prayer, and simplicity, we will be like good trees bearing good fruit for we will be connected to the life-giving vine of God.
What did you think?