The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Fifth Sunday of Easter||May 14, 2006|
I think we should proclaim again, God is good all the time. (Congregation repeats in unison, God is good all the time.) And we know that, if we listen carefully to the scriptures today. This is part of the conversation Jesus had at the Last Supper. He deeply loved the community that was gathered there together with him, and in Johns Gospel theres recorded a long conversation that Jesus had with them where hes pouring forth his heart, trying to draw them to respond with love also.
In fact, to really get the full impact of the allegory that Jesus uses in the Gospel about being the vine and we the branches, it helps us to recall a couple of the things that he had said to the disciples. Earlier he had told them, Do not be troubled. Trust in God. Trust in me. In Gods house there are many rooms, otherwise I would not have told you that I go to prepare a place for you. After I have gone and prepared a place I shall come again and take you to me so that where I am you also may be. Jesus never wants to be separated from his disciples, his community. Wherever he is he wants us to be there also.
At another point he told them, I have given them, speaking here to God, the glory you have given me that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me. Thus they shall reach fullness in unity. The world shall know that you have sent me and that I have loved them just as you loved me.
Jesuss heart is overflowing with love for his disciples, and so thats why he tells this allegory about, I am the vine you are the branches. Weve seen vines growing, and you know how intimately the vine, the root and the branches are connected. The same life flows through the whole vine. Jesus says, I am that vine. You are the branches. Youre in me. Im in you. Its such a beautiful image of how deeply Jesus wants us to be united with him.
And isnt it marvelous that today we celebrate the first Holy Communion for three of our younger members of the parish family, because in Holy Communion we receive the very body and blood of Jesus; the living Jesus, becomes present within us. So when God looks upon us God sees Jesus, and when we look upon each other we see Jesus in one another, because Jesus has become our very food and drink. Whenever we come forward to receive his body and blood the real presence of Jesus is there, and the union between us and Jesus is deepened. We become closer to God in Jesus. And its a bond of love from God to us that cannot be broken. So we rejoice to know that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. We share the very life of Jesus.
But we also know theres more to the Eucharist, Holy Communion as we call it, than simply receiving the presence of Jesus within us. We must always remember when we receive Holy Communion, when these youngsters receive it for the first time today, but when all of us come forward to receive Communion, remember when Jesus first declared, This is my body and this is the cup of my blood. It was on that night before he was put to death. So he says, This is my body given up for you. Its an act of supreme, infinite love. Gods body given for us -- broken and given for us. And the cup of my blood, the blood of the new covenant, which will be poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. The Eucharist is not just, as marvelous as it is, the presence of Jesus. It is Jesus acting for us, giving his body, pouring forth his blood out of love, no other reason, simply to show Gods love for every one of us.
And, of course, what do we say? You should think about this. When you come forward to receive Holy Communion, Conor and Drew and Sonia will do this for the first time today. They accept the bread and drink from the cup. Each time they say, Amen. And we do the same. Body of Christ. Amen. The blood of Christ. Amen. What are we saying? Were saying, Yes. Thats what amen means and we should be thinking about that. Im saying, Yes to Jesus, Yes to Jesus pouring forth his love upon me and Yes to the commitment that I then make to live the way of Jesus. Thats what Holy Communion has to mean. Every time we come forward, we renew our commitment to follow Jesus.
The other lessons today help us to understand what it means to follow Jesus. Just before the passage that we heard from the letter of John, John tells us we ought to give our life for our brothers and sisters. Then he challenges us: If you enjoy the riches of this world but close your heart when you see a brother or sister in need, how will the love of God remain in you? When we receive Holy Communion, were committing our self to love as Jesus loved us, to share what we have in a very practical way.
It seems to me that we should be very alert tomorrow evening. The President is going speak to the whole nation about immigration. What approach will he take? Will it be a defensive approach -- build that barrier, keep everyone out -- or will we welcome our brothers and sisters and see that they are coming not because they want to flee their counties but because they must in order to survive? Did you ever ask yourself why so many people from Mexico and from Central America come north and are crossing our borders? No one likes to leave his or her home place, their native land. What caused the poverty down there, made it worse the last 10 or 15 years? It is the so-called free trade agreement that we have imposed upon Mexico through the North American Free Trade Act and the Central American Free Trade Act. It has caused millions of people to become poor. They cant support themselves and so they come north. Well, are we going to welcome them as brothers and sisters and see in the face of every immigrant Jesus?
Thats what these lessons seem to compel us to do. So tomorrow night we should listen very carefully and determine how were going to react to what the President says. Perhaps well be able to support him strongly. Perhaps well have to challenge what he presents to the Congress. But what ever we do, we do it knowing that our actions are actions directed towards Jesus.
The other lesson: Paul is in trouble in Jerusalem and, you heard at the end of the lesson, he has to leave; theyre trying to kill him. It isnt clear from what we heard today, but the reason behind this is that Paul is trying to break down barriers. In the Jerusalem community of Christians, there were those who were opposed to people joining the community without being Jewish converts first, and Paul thought that was wrong. You dont have to make people jump through hoops of one kind or another in order to follow Jesus. They want to follow Jesus, theyre welcome and everyone is welcome. You exclude nobody, and Paul goes on further in his development of this idea. In Jesus there is neither male nor female, slave or free, Greek or Jew, rich or poor. Everyone is one in Christ. Break down all those barriers that weve set up. Welcome everybody into our community. And we have to keep on doing that in order to be faithful to Jesus.
Theres one other point that I think we might draw from todays lesson thats also very important. When we think of God loving us, we sometimes wonder, Well, and we all ask this question, how can bad things happen to good people? Where is the love of God? Well, if we listen to the Gospel, Jesus says, God loves us so much that God will prune this vine that we are. You might think as I did until I read it very carefully -- and Im not much of a gardener so I wouldnt know better but a gardener would know -- I thought you always prune away just the dead branches. No, you prune living branches in order to thin them out so that greater fruit will grow, more fruit will be produced. Well, thats what God does to us sometimes. I have some friends whose 10-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. What a terrible thing! You wonder how Gods love could be in that. This beautiful young girl suddenly incapacitated in a wheel chair and the prognosis is she will die. Well, God is pruning that family, helping them to bear even more fruit. God does that to us at various times. Different things happen to us that we might find hard to accept, but if we look deeply, we will know that Gods love is at work in whatever God asks us to accept. God prunes us because God loves us, to help us to bear more fruit, to become more like Jesus who poured forth his life in love for us.
As we celebrate now, continue to celebrate our Eucharist and come forward to receive Holy Communion, I hope we will let these ideas go through our minds. Our Holy Communion is Jesus loving us, giving himself out of love for us and we say, Amen. Yes to Jesus. Yes to everything Jesus asks of us. Yes to loving everyone as Jesus loves them. Yes to the full way of Jesus. Amen. Yes. This is what we must say as we celebrate our Eucharist today, and we do it for the first time with these three young people but all of us are invited to come forward to be filled once more with the love of God in Jesus through the Holy Eucharist when each of us say, Amen, yes Jesus.
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