Tuesday, April 28, 2015

All that Abides: Jesus, the True Vine...and Justice, the real kind

One from the Heart, Hearth and Head
We are getting ready for the 5th Sunday of Easter. On the backside of the Great 50 Days of celebration that is the season in which the Church marks and rejoices in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, let's take a moment and wonder at just how much work there is for us to do in not only proclaiming the kingdom of our God, but also to answer the call to labor for its righteousness and its justice. Hooray for that?

Sure, why not....

Above, as I ponder them, are grand words. There are big concepts at work up there: Words like justice, righteousness and resurrection, not to mention "the kingdom of God" and of course the name of our Savior...Jesus. Still and all, I feel like those things lie at a distance from my heart this week. I look around the world right now, as every generation in the Church must, and have to ask myself that for all that teaching, grace and hope are we any further down the path to the reality of all those great ideals really being made manifest in our society?

As I write this, another city in the United States has erupted with violence following the death of a young man of color while in police custody. The media is exploding with reports of looting, arson and violence. The leaders in the communities affected are working hard to maintain peace, advocate for reconciliation and prevent violence from leading to more violence. Everyone is being affected. I see it on the social media streams I participate in on a daily basis. I hear it in the requests for prayers from colleagues. I know it from the feelings it provokes in me as I make my way through my own day. It's all right there, and not even below the surface.

Things are not as they should be in our communities, and it is hard work to even just begin to name the experiences that lead to these feelings and reactions...much less to resolve them and begin the process of rebuilding any semblance of a peaceful, common life in communities broken by strife.

Oh, and let's not forget that the rest of the world is still out there. There are race and class conflicts working themselves out all around the globe. Just from my own social media feed, from friends posting in their local communities, I hear of immigrant labor abuse in the Middle East, labor unrest in Europe, medial crises in Africa, political upheaval in Central America, and corruption in the local governments of a half-dozen states here in the US. Topping all of that off, there is also the immense humanitarian crisis unfolding in the wake of the massive earthquake and aftershocks that have hit the country of Nepal and its neighbors.

On mornings like this one, and so many others of late it seems, I become more than uneasy. I find a sense of dread pushing up in me, one that threatens hope and faith that we are going anywhere other than down the drain as a human race.

It's then that I need to hear a Gospel like the one we will be sharing in Church on Sunday. In fact, I need it so badly that I have been re-reading it over and over, even this early in the week:
Jesus said to his disciples, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide 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. 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. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."
John 15:1-8
In these words I rediscover my hope and my faith in a humanity that is able to accomplish two crucial things through God's infusing grace and love. The first is knowing that we are given the good news that we are all connected, organically and incontrovertibly to each other. You can't parse out portions of human beings and divide them (and isolate) them because of race, gender, class, location or any other element and call one set better than another. We are one, as Jesus alludes in the metaphor of the vine with God as the vine-grower. We are grafted into one trunk, the vine is Christ and as branches it is our task to draw sustenance from the main, bear good fruit. We also must accept that when we fall short in that responsibility, we will be pruned. On top of that caveat comes another....even "good" branches will be pruned in order to be even more fruitful.

The second is accepting that's now our job: Abiding  in that love! The true response to the experience of renewal through Jesus' resurrection that we know and remember in Eastertide is to bear that fruit he alludes to in his preaching, the fruit of repentance, reconciliation, justice in the face of sin, conflict and prejudice.

That is how we confront racism, injustice, corruption, and pretty much every other crisis that affects our community, both natural and human-made: we remember that we abide. We abide in each other, and we abide in God, and then we start to do something about it. We become agents of justice, of peace, of reconciliation. If not, then we eject that abiding and we are not really good for much else at all, really.

When we resolve to abide in that manner, to proclaim the Gospel, to seek and serve Christ in ALL persons while loving neighbors as we would our own selves, and spend our time striving for justice and peace, why then...we are abiding in such a way that root, vine and branch are able to bear the rich fruits of the kingdom of God.

The hard part is remembering that in abiding, we are acknowledging that no one is above the fray, and no one should assume that they are on the sidelines of the call for the radical reconciliation that can begin to foster the healing of the divisions that have gotten us as a society to this sorry state. Leaders should lead us toward seeing the human beings behind the masked masses of the mob, to seeing the human beings who are dressed in riot gear trying to preserve at least a passing peace, to knowing that a burning building, a looted store, a young man or woman wounded are not "good television" but instead clarion calls to seek justice here and now. The challenge is to refrain from judgment, name calling and even a willingness to indulge in private prejudice that lies in our hearts instead of on our lips.

If we are to accept that a life of Christ means abiding in his love, then we must admit that NONE of us are off the hook when even one human being experiences injustice and abuse, when even one person in authority winds up desensitized to the humanity acting out its woundedness in front of her. We cannot and never should assume that bad things happening in the world (when they are far from us) are in some way apart from us.

We all abide in that love of God that has overcome all pain, grief and death. We all abide now in a kingdom whose hallmarks are justice, freedom, peace and life. The challenge now is to work with each other to bear fruit worthy of that vine into which the base of all our branches is grafted. The work now is to prune, grow, rely and hope with each other so that another time like this one is a long time rising again.

It's good work, but it will only begin when we are willing and open to seeing the humanity in all parties involved, embrace real justice for ALL involved and then begin the work of reconciliation that brings a peace that is sustainable, rather than a partial effort that results in a respite from a conflict that without justice is never containable.

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