Worship Service for the 5th Sunday of Easter

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 5th Sunday of Easter, landing on April 28, 2024!

The bulletin for this service can be found here. You may follow along with it or just with the words on your screen. The sermon is also included on this page below the video.

To have a fuller online worship experience, you are invited to have a candle in your space, lit at the beginning of the service and extinguished near the end after the sending hymn, when the altar candles are extinguished. You are also welcome to join in on communion by having something small to eat and drink ready for consumption. Further instruction will be given at the appropriate time.

May God’s eternal and nourishing blessing be on you, this day and always!

Send your Spirit, O God, to lead and guide us through our Word, your ways, and your welcome, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Last Sunday after I got home from church, I thought it’d be a good idea to use all that free time I had to dig up our entire lawn, with the plan that we’ll reseed and start the whole thing over.  The lawn wasn’t in great shape since the end of summer, and became more and more of an eye sore all winter (for those times that it wasn’t covered by snow, at least).  So really, something needed to be done and I, wanting to save money to pay someone, took it upon myself to do it even though I have like no idea what I’m doing.  I did redo a lawn before with my uncle, but I was like in grade 6 at the time so I don’t remember the exact process that we went through.

So I went out there armed with this mystery shovel that I found in our garage, not sure what to expect, and dug the whole darn thing up.  I didn’t find any treasure or anything unfortunately, aside from this random Gatorade bottle cap that promptly went into the trash.  But I made sure all the surviving grass that was there was turned over and completely buried and the weeds that I could get at were taken out, as that is what seemed to make sense to me. 

After about 4 and a half hours and a popped blister the size of a Canadian quarter, I was done.  Our crappy looking lawn… still looked pretty crappy.  I had a long way to go.  A couple days later I took the time to break up whatever clumps that were left and tried to expose all the roots of the grass, thinking that this will kill it all and it will all break down into a nice fertilizer for the new grass that I’ll eventually get to plant.  It seemed like things were on track. 

But then the rains came.  And they stayed.  Then they called some friends over and had a huge party.  I was getting kind of worried as to what would happen to all the freshly dug up dirt.  Like, was it going to turn into a swap?  Were more weeds going to grow?  Am I going to find little critters digging holes and making a home out of what once was a dilapidated lawn?

After a few days of rain and a lot of metaphorical nail biting, the patch of dirt that was formerly known as our lawn actually looked exactly the same.  Like exactly.  The rain that fell didn’t pool up like I kind of expected it to but it drained through pretty nicely.  The piles of dirt didn’t flatten out like I was kind of hoping they would but they remained the little mounds that I left them as.   And much to my dismay, the remaining tufts of grass didn’t die off at all, but they stayed there and maybe even grew a bit from what I could tell.  Resilient little buggers, I tell ya.

Thankfully, for now it’s not out of control or anything, I think I still have a handle on it, but there’s just something to be said about the strength of nature.  It doesn’t take much to keep certain things alive as I’m sure I’ll learn more about as the weeds start to sprout again.  It seems to me now that the grass that I’ve left behind will be able to survive on its own, as long as it has its roots, some life giving water, and a connection to the soil that protects it, feeds it, and nourishes it.

Again, I’m no green thumb by any means, and I could be completely wrong with my assessment, but this is just what I’ve observed so far with my limited experience.  I’ve observed that life, uh, finds a way.

So I wonder if Jesus intentionally uses his plant analogies in today’s gospel reading because he has a knowledge of how all of this works.  I mean, I’m pretty sure he’d know more about plant life than I do, which really isn’t saying much, but what I mean is that he has more knowledge about life, life.  See in this part of John, using one of the 7 identifying “I AM” statements in this gospel, Jesus calls himself the true vine and us, the branches.  We are connected to this vine for life.  And, much like life in nature, If we weren’t connected, then we wouldn’t have life.  He spells all this out with this metaphor, how God is the vinegrower that cuts the non-fruit producing branches off, and how those that are cut off don’t produce fruit.  I should say that Jesus doesn’t say this as a threat, as some might say that if you’re not producing fruit, then you’ll be cut off.  Rather, Jesus says this because it is simply true.  In order to have life, a connection must be had.  It’s not like a branch can force itself to produce fruit so it can remain connected.  It’s the connection that precedes the life.

Let’s look at the Ethiopian eunuch in the first reading.  He wasn’t really producing any fruit.  But he was connected.  And while we don’t know what happened to him after this episode, we know that life was brought to him through his connection, it wasn’t the other way around.

Because if you think about it, he wasn’t in any way the kind of person that one would think would be a follower of Jesus in those days.  By all counts, he didn’t fit in, didn’t seem to belong, wouldn’t be thought of as someone who would be welcome.  I mean, he was a foreigner for one thing, don’t forget that racism was alive and well even in these ancient times.  He was loyal to a different throne.  And he was a eunuch, making him incomplete, not whole, ritualistically unclean in the eyes of “religiously righteous.”

Sound familiar?

Don’t we still size people up like this?  Don’t we see someone that isn’t from here as perhaps someone who doesn’t really belong?  Don’t we feel awkward around people whose culture we’re not familiar or comfortable with?  Don’t we judge people for how they decide to present themselves and give them a label that they probably don’t deserve?

I would imagine Philip having similar thoughts when he encountered this chariot and saw who the Spirit was leading him to.  When the Ethiopian asked what was to prevent him from being baptized, I imagine Philip biting his lip from shouting out “everything!” and citing the numerous scripture passages that preclude this impure outsider from being of the same faith as him.  Philip might have stepped back from the whole situation and maybe asked how this self-mutilated man could ever have a connection with Jesus, and thus how he could ever have life.

But then, maybe Philip did see it.  Just a glimmer at first, but it grew stronger with the relationship between him and this stranger.  Maybe Philip saw a connection in his new Ethiopian friend’s inquisitiveness, openness to learning, desire to listen and follow, and aptitude to love.  This was enough.

It was enough to spark something.  It was enough to reveal God’s grace and mercy in this unlikely candidate.  It was enough to give life, and give it abundantly.

So then when the Ethiopian asked what was to prevent him from being baptized, Philip would not have been able to say anything as there would be nothing to stand in his way toward God’s welcome, care, and peace.  There could be nothing that could bar him from receiving God’s truth, nourishment, and Spirit.  There shall be nothing that could come between him and God’s inclusion, community, and connection.  Connection to Philip.  Connection to the greater kingdom.  Connection to God’s life-giving grace and love.

And as it is for us, it only takes a small connection at first.  Through this connection we see how we are welcomed, brought to live with each other and the saints in community, and led into right relationship and service.  And we see how we are given life.  Even when our world is turned around, it seems like everything is against us, and we can’t see how or where we’ll fit in, God continues to reach God’s hand out to us, allowing us to take root in truth and grace, and be nourished by the Word through our connection through the Spirit to the one body of Christ, strengthening us to be God’s beloved and saved people in the world.

I know life is tough.  I know the times we live in seem uncertain.  I know we as a people seem so divided and oppressive.  But as John says in our second reading from today, God loves us and because of this truth we can in turn love each other.  This doesn’t mean that we’ll always get things right, but it does mean that God has welcomed us, God empowers us, and God connects us all through the Spirit of life, love, and peace.

In this season of Easter, when we are reminded of resurrection and new life, may we embrace the life that is given to us through the connection of community, relationship, and love.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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