We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon – Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B- Rev. Catherine Hicks


John 15:1-8

Our time is drawing short.  At the end of June, I will be leaving St Peter’s, a huge change for me, and for this parish as well.  But God does not leave us to muddle through the challenges, changes, and chances in this life without God’s help! 

One of the many gifts we have as we go through changes is the wisdom of scripture, for scripture consists of living words that never fail to apply to the situations that we face in this life.   

So in the sermon today I will be focusing on the changes happening in our parish as we consider the appointed scriptures.  The more directly we all consider these changes by seeing what scripture has to say to us during this transition, the better off we will all be once the calendar pages turn to July and we are no longer sharing this space together. 

Let’s begin by reviewing the seven I AM statements of Jesus.  Today’s gospel centers around one of those statements.

Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus makes several statements that define him.   But the I AM statements do more than tell us about who Jesus is.  They also tell us who we are in relationship to Jesus—how we fit in as disciples of Jesus. 

And knowing who we disciples are in relationship to Jesus is the most important thing we could ever consider in any transition, and certainly for this parish transition that we are going through. So let’s review our roles as disciples of Jesus.   

Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.”  We are the ones who are hungry, who need sustenance, who depend on God for the necessities of this life. Sometimes we get caught up in thinking that we provide the bread and forget our need for God.  But Jesus said,  “I am the bread of life.”  Our job as disciples is to be hungry, and to receive the bread of life.

Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” Sometimes we think that WE are the light, but Jesus asks us to walk in his light, the light of God, the light that Jesus brings to the world.  “I am the light of the world.” Our job as disciples is to walk in the light and let the light of Jesus shine through us.    

Last Sunday, Tom talked about two of the I AM statements of Jesus.  I’m going to add a bit to what he said about those two statements. 

Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep.”  Now Jesus is getting down to the nitty gritty of what he wants to tell us about being disciples, because if there’s anything in this life people love to do, it’s to be constantly making judgements about who is in and who is out.  Who will we let in, and who do we want to keep out?   But hold on, Jesus says, that’s not up to you.  You are not the gatekeepers.  “I am the gate for the sheep.”  Our job as disciples is to be the ones who go through the gate into the sheepfold, placing ourselves in God’s protection, seeking safety and pasture. 

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.”  We disciples are ALL sheep.  Every last one of us!  This I AM statement of Jesus could not be more forthright. Our role as disciples is to accept the fact that we ARE the sheep, and to listen for the voice of Jesus through prayer and scripture and in conversations with one another,  to follow Jesus where he leads, and to enter the sheepfold through Jesus’ gate, trusting that the Jesus will care for us.  It’s our job to trust in the shepherd and to follow the shepherd, and not to run off in our own directions, or to put ourselves in the role of the shepherd, because that role belongs to Jesus alone.  “I am the good shepherd, you are the sheep,” Jesus says.     

Here are the next two I AM statements. 

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  And Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  Jesus said these things about himself because he knew that another of our human tendencies is to come to believe, deep down inside, that we, and only we,  know the way, that is, what we consider to be best.  We know the way, we have the truth, and ultimately, it becomes all about my way or the highway.  When we come to believe this about ourselves, that we are the ones with all the answers, we are limiting who we can be, and who others can be, and we are no longer living resurrection lives, because we’ve substituted our way for God’s way. 

When you say to yourself, “This is the only way I will do this,” and “Everyone else needs to walk in MY way,”  then watch out.  It’s time to remember what Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  I am the way, the truth and the life.”  We disciples are the ones who are to turn to Jesus to discern the truth, and we are the ones who are to walk in the way, following Jesus, and not our own desires.   

Now we come to the last of the I AM statements.  In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.”  Jesus tells us, upfront, that even he is not the gardener.  That’s who God is.  God is the gardener. 

Think back to the beginning of the Bible—who is the one in charge of the Garden of Eden?  It’s God! When Adam and Eve decide to put themselves in the place of God by eating the fruit that God has asked them not to eat, the whole world starts falling apart. 

Jesus knows who he is in relationship to the Father.  Jesus is the vine, and God is the vine grower, the gardener. 

And then Jesus spells out who we are.  If God is the vine grower and Jesus is the vine, then we are the branches.  We are the ones that God prunes so that we can bear more fruit.  We are the ones who will get cut off and withered if we forget to abide in the vine, for the vine is the source of our entire life.  Jesus said, “I am the vine.”  We disciples are the branches. 

So let’s apply this I Am statement of Jesus to our parish life and think about what it says to us in our current transition.  God is an expert vine grower, and so we already know that an important part of what God does is to prune the branches of the life giving vine.  Pruning is a painful process, for it is a cutting away of the branches that have grown and had fruit in the last season, so that now the new branches that will grow can bear much fruit. 

We at St Peter’s have borne much fruit in our time together, because we have been clear about our need to be attached to the vine, to abide in Jesus through worship, study, and prayer, and in our love and respect for one another.  

We have borne much fruit by developing a mission out into the world through our food distribution, through our work in Jamaica, through our work in Sacred Ground, including the scholarships we’ve been able to provide, and in so many other ways that we could have not imagined fourteen years ago.   

And now, it’s time for God’s pruning work.  God is pruning all of us, so that we can bear even more fruit. 

In any pruning, our temptation is to get caught up in the discomfort of the pruning itself, to hold onto and to fight for power in subtle and not so subtle ways to avoid the pruning.   Transitions make us want to dig in our heels, hold on to what’s comfortable with the grip of death, and then say to one another, “My way or the highway,” because my way, in the short run, is what feels most comfortable to me. 

So that’s why Jesus says to the disciples and to us that if we want to live through the pruning of a transition rather than having it destroy us, then the essential thing that we must absolutely do, the first and foremost thing, is to abide in Jesus.

Jesus gives his disciples this stark warning. Listen to his words again. 

“Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I 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.”

“Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.” 

In this transition, we have gotten caught up in what we need to do! There’s so much to do—who is going to do what!  Who is going to make decisions, who is going to have the power.  Headbutting is inevitable.  But–Let’s stop and remember the first and most important thing to do, in any transition,  and especially in this one. 

“Abide in me, as I abide in you.” 

To abide in Jesus is the very first thing we must do.  We must put away our own desires, offer up ourselves for pruning, and remember who we are—the ones who need to be fed, the ones who need light, the ones who need to pass through the gate into safety and shelter, the ones who need to follow the way—the ones who are to abide in Jesus. 

Jesus, the Vine, is the one who truly sustains us, both as a parish and as individuals.  As you talk with the Diocese about this transition, the Diocese will ask about how this small parish will be sustained as we are being pruned.    Remember, even  as we are pruned, Jesus sustains us because Jesus is the Vine.  Be ready to talk about how Jesus will continue to sustain this parish so that you can continue to bear fruit.   Prayerful discernment, study, openness to a different way of doing things, and considering what Jesus would want are a few ways to find sustenance in God as you work toward what’s ahead.        

I will end with the words from John’s first letter, our epistle today.  “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  We can measure the depth of how we are abiding in Jesus, and being the branches, by  our love for one another.  So in the short time we have left together, let’s remember, that even when we are tempted to take care of everything else first, that what God hopes for us, and the best thing we can do for one another, and for ourselves, is to abide in God’s love and to love one another, as we submit in gratitude  to God’s pruning that has already begun.