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The Rev. Martha Sterne The Rev. Martha Sterne

The Rev. Martha Sterne is an Episcopal priest and author. She lives in Atlanta, GA.

Member of:

The Episcopal Church

Representative of:

Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, GA


Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Easter

John 15:1-8

May 21, 2000

Grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus Christ.

A long time ago, a missionary came to a town. In this town there were buildings in honor of the people's gods, and they had lots and lots of gods. There was a temple for the goddess of beauty and many other shrines--one for the goddess of the home and hearth and family values and another for the god of war and one for the god of sex and the god of doctrinal certainty and the god of romantic love. And there was a temple for the god of feelings in general. And, of course, the goddess of law and order had a temple. And the goddess of athletic prowess whose nickname was Nike. And even back then there was the messenger god--the god of information. And, of course, the god of gold, the god of the bottom line.

Looking at the people in that town, you'd really have to think that they have it all together. They sure do look like they do--very poised, very suave, very savvy. Though, perhaps you'd wonder, do they ever feel worn out? Do they ever feel incompetent or useless? In that town, does anybody ever feel isolated? Do they worry? Do they ever get paralyzed by yearning for something or somebody to keep them safe? Do they wake in the night and think about what they have already botched up or what they are fixing to botch up? Are they ever ashamed of themselves? And with all the busyness of work and leisure activities and selling and buying, with so much to point to of their own doing, does anybody here ever know they need God?

At any rate, a missionary comes to town--a kind of little guy, sort of provincial-looking, kind of a hick. And the missionary walks around the town observing. And he sees all the busy people and all the things that these people in this town have made for themselves. And he looks at all the things and the bustling and the clever faces and all that sophisticated stuff, and, of course, the temples--he sees all the temples. He sees all that, but he sees more. Because he knows the human heart, which is to say he has known the dark. He has known the fear, the blindness, the shame, the lost, the groping, the thorn in the side, the deep and aching vacuum, and he knows that within the human heart there is an alter waiting for the God that nobody can make or explain or use.

"Oh, busy people, proud town," says the missionary, "I see that you are very religious. Look at all the stuff you worship, but God is not a statue to look at or anything to possess or a thought to think or a rule to keep or an errand boy or a power to harness or the sun or the stars or anything else in all of creation. Our God is none other than the Creator of the universe, and our God has chosen to come to us and make a home with us, to live and die for us so that when we yearn and search and grope for God, we might touch God and live, so that we might abide in God."

Now Paul said this a long time ago to the people in Athens because Jesus said to Paul and so to you and me, "Abide in me as I abide in you." Jesus says even to the smartest people, the most competent, self-assured people, "Don't go it alone, don't trust your little gods, no matter how big or fancy or alluring their temples. Your little gods are not strong enough to carry the weight of your life. Instead abide in me. Make your home in me and I will make my home in you. And we will abide together."

Something like a vine--which is to live connected to each other and to the source. Which is to pulse with a life we don't have to manufacture. Which is to trust that life and the source of that life. Which is to grow and become in the fullness of time, fruitful. Abiding in the vine as the vine abides in you.

Where I live just outside Maryville, Tennessee, I wake up every morning and look beyond a clear, little river and through a gap in some high hills and I see towering over our valley the great Smoky Mountains. This year over there, a group of scientists have been walking through the trees and stopping at the streams and climbing up into high meadows and down into hidden hollows. And they're everywhere, the scientists--everywhere in the Smokies, searching, searching for life. They are looking for all kinds of life--flowers and snakes and mushrooms and salamanders and bears and brook trout and giant poplars and little, tiny lichen. They are searching for all that lives in that rich temperate rain forest to catalogue the living things so that maybe we will be wiser stewards of this dear earth and of all God's creatures. Because all that lives, from the lilies of the field to the sparrows of the air to the hairs of your head, all that lives abides together, joined and growing, sort of like a vine, connected through the deep heart of God.

Episcopalians and really Anglicans in general have not had many well-known theologians. Maybe we've been too busy admiring the scenery. But back at the end of the 16th century, an Anglican named Richard Hooker said what the new scientists are telling us today. Richard Hooker said way back then that there is nothing in all of creation that can say to anything else, "I need thee not." And now the scientists say that the whole cosmos, it's all connected, really all relationship, all what we would call abiding. You know now they say that even a tiny butterfly flapping its wings today in Beijing will help make the weather in the Great Smoky Mountains next month--so connected is all there is on so many levels with so many possibilities for creation and destruction.

Now, surely, every creature has a role in the abiding, and I believe our role, our job, is to be the creatures who know that we abide. A cat doesn't know. A mountain doesn't know. A sycamore tree can't know so we are the ones in all the world who have the job of knowing and trusting that no matter what is happening, what is living or dying, through it all, we abide in God.

I want to suggest three things that can help us know and trust that we abide in the life and love of the One who made it all.

First, pray. Sometime during every day stay still and know that God is God. Every day. Preferably some set time during the day. Stay still and for those moments intentionally abide in God. In a conscious way, turn over your life and the lives of those you love and your neighbors and the world you live in to the care and protection of God Almighty. Also, and just as necessary to abide in God, pray for your enemies and ask God every day for the power to be and do just for that day what God has given you to be and do.

Second, say no and say yes. Choose to choose your life so that you may have room in your life to know and then exude that you abide in God. Say no to that which scatters or distracts or enslaves you. Say yes to freedom. Say yes to the power of the truth. Say yes to joy which Teillard de Chardin says is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.

Finally, since we are the ones who can trust how everything and everybody abides in the heart of God, be willing to receive from others and to give to others. In this culture of busyness, do not be too busy to love. We really do belong to each other. We really are part of each other. All the life which comes to you has passed through many lives, many branches. Give up the idol, the lie, of self-sufficiency. Receive all that you are and all that you have with humility because your very life is a gift and so is mine. And then give. Pass life on to those you love and to those you don't even like and to the stranger. Search for ways to receive life and to give life as if we belong to each other. Which we do.

Jesus said, "Abide in me as I abide in you." To us busy people in this busy world, stay still each day and know God. Choose each day to choose your life and choose each day to give your life away and receive life from others. And like the man said, "Abide in me as I abide in you." Something like a vine. Amen.

Let us pray.

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we give you thanks for all your goodness and loving kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life but, above all, for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise not only with our lips but in our lives. By giving up ourselves to your service and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ our Lord to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.


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