Lilacs on the Bush, May 2

Lilacs on the Bush

Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill United Methodist  Church and online; May 2,2021

 

As I know I’ve mentioned more than once before, there are two beautiful lilac bushes that hang over the patio in the backyard of the parsonage.  One has white flowers; the other has dark purple flowers.  All the flowers smell heavenly. 

 

This year, the white flowers bloomed first.  Betty and Michael were coming by on Thursday to check out the state of the parsonage, especially as we think about inviting a new pastor to make it their home this summer.  I cut a few lilac blooms to grace the piano and the kitchen table for their visit.  Three days later, those blooms don’t look so good.  Some flowers can last for almost a week off the bush and in a vase with water, but not lilacs, as you can see. (I had a vase of wilted lilacs with me.)

 

No, this is not a horticultural lecture, except as it relates to Jesus’ horticultural lesson he shared with his disciples in the conversation we read this morning.  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.  I am the vine, you are the branches, says Jesus.  For those of us more familiar with lilac bushes than with grape vines in our backyard, I am the lilac bush, you are the blossom isn’t all that far off.  The same point works – you flourish when you stay connected to me; you wither and die when you are removed, when you are apart from the bush. Just like these withered dead blooms.  Abide in me as I abide in you; let my Spirit keep you thriving. Abide, remain, live, dwell.  These words are used throughout the gospel and the letters of John.  All these verbs point to the same reality, first named in the 14th verse of the first chapter of the gospel. Jesus comes to abide with us – the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, set up his tent in our midst.  That’s the wonderful gift of the incarnation, that God comes to abide with us.  And then tells us to claim life, life abundant, life eternal, by doing the same thing – abiding, remaining, staying with the love, life, grace, and peace of God.   This is a wonderful offer, but how do we abide in God?  We keep our vitality, our liveliness, our lilacness, as it were, by keeping connected to the vine, to the bush.  And what does that actually mean?  How do we stay connected?

 

The wonderful reading from the first letter of John reminds us how we keep that connection alive – it’s all in the love.  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God.  Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.  We let love be the center and the guiding force of all that we do.  And what does that look like? We know that, because we’ve been loved.   Just as the word from 1 John tells us that we love because God first loved us, so also we love because we have been loved by others as well.  They have shown us what love looks like.

 

*Love looks like listening, paying solid attention to the needs and cares of a friend or a stranger.  Once we’ve listened, and really heard, we can respond. 

 

Maybe just with an understanding comment – wow, that was a tough time.  I’m proud of you for getting through that. 

 

Or with an offer to help – what can I do for you to help you get through?  Can I bring you lunch tomorrow?  Can I watch your kids for an afternoon next week?

 

Perhaps we respond with a hug or simply an invitation to say more – is there more to that story that I could hear to understand it better?

 

*We’ve been loved by friends who spend time with us.  Love sometimes looks like time – walking together on a hike, with or without conversation, playing cards, reading side by side, sharing an interesting tidbit here and there. 

 

*We’ve been loved by people who don’t know us well, but recognize that the life we’re living isn’t what it could be.  I have witnessed love offered by colleagues at  Annual Conference who stand and speak for justice in the workings of the United Methodist Church.  People who love a gay friend or child who then work to change laws and rules so that the person they love can marry legally and in the arms of the church.  Love, then, can look like a willingness to get involved – to offer creative solutions, to work with a larger group to address something that needs to be changed.  Love can look like working for justice.

 

*Next week on Mother’s Day we’ll be reminded of love that looks like caring and concern, protection and prayer, support and service.  Mothers and fathers are the reality of love for most of us as children, as we are forming our understanding of love.  Family is where we first learn love.  If we’re blessed to have also been a parent, we learn more love, deeper love, sometimes heart-breaking love.  For most of us, a parent’s love is wonderful – giving and teaching.  Parents aren’t perfect, but they are frequently a gift and model of love for us all our lives long. 

 

These examples of love are part of abiding in God and welcoming God to abide in us.  It’s what the life of a disciple of Jesus looks like.  And it’s a life that moves, that changes and grows, love that deepens and matures.

 

I am the vine; you are the branches.  The branches live as they maintain connection to the vine, as they abide in the larger plant and bear fruit. The important part of this image of discipleship is that it is impossible to be a disciple without growing.  Abiding may seem like a quiet, static verb, but Jesus challenges that understanding by grounding the image in a living vine.  The branches that connect to the vine are always growing, always changing. They aren’t the same week by week; they grow, they expand.  The purple lilacs on the bush in the backyard weren’t completely open yesterday; by tomorrow they will be different from Saturday’s blooms.  As disciples of Jesus, we are called to grow. 

 

There’s something comfortable to the concept of simply claiming Jesus and sticking with that. Staying put. I know where I stand and I’ll keeping standing here.  I was saved ten years ago, thirty years ago, and I haven’t changed.  But Jesus doesn’t say I am the rock and you are barnacles on the rock.  The image of being part of a vine means that we grow and change and don’t stay the same at all.  We continue to be recognizable as grapes – or lilacs or azaleas or tomatoes, but we learn more, we love more and that love changes us.  We mature into fullness as we walk the way of Christ’s love.  So we know we are on the path of discipleship if we are growing in kindness, bearing fruit, giving love that changes lives.  If we don’t grow, if we don’t change, we end up like these lifeless lilacs, not connected to the Spirit of Jesus, wilting in the vase where we thought we could stay put. 

 

Stay alive in love, friends.  Abide in God’s love, grow in caring, bear fruits of kindness and mercy, and be ready to change, and to blossom in the changes that God has in store.   Amen.

Acts 8:26-40

26Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

 

Psalm 22:25-31

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;

my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

The poor shall eat and be satisfied;

those who seek him shall praise the Lord.

May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;

and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

For dominion belongs to the Lord,

and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;

before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,

     and I shall live for him.

Posterity will serve him;

future generations will be told about the Lord,

and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,

     saying that he has done it.

1 John 4:7-21

7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

 

John 15:1-8

15”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.

 

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