Kirénia Criado Pérez's Message
Sermon John 15. 1-4
I would like to thank God for the opportunity to share this Triennial time and for allowing Cuba Yearly Meeting to be present, acknowledging and thanking the support FUM has always provided.
The truth is that I still wonder why God brought me here? What is he trying to tell me or what is he trying to tell us through me?
First, (I will briefly explain my reasons) the sisters appointed by the Yearly Meeting, as delegates to FUM (none of them were me), they could not come due to visa problems and, coincidentally, I have an official passport that allows me to enter through the airports. I could cover so that Cuba Yearly Meeting would not be absent.
Then the language issue, I immediately wrote to say that I did not speak English and this would be a problem. It was like having a girl who had to be guided in the group of adults. Most of the time I wasn’t going to be understanding anything and I imagined that no one would understand me either.
And finally, they let me know that I must do everything that corresponded to the sisters in Cuba who would not arrive here and this included the message tonight. They send me the theme: “Come, abide and go” I wrote a message to help with time for the translation and when it was ready… they called me and told me: exactly, it is not the whole subject that you must address but a part of it… the moment that speaks of abiding! So, I let the Spirit take care of everything and I still walk around wondering what God wants to say to me and why he invited me to come here.
God of life, pour out your Spirit and let us hear your voice. Amen
The first thing I would like to place, because it can shed light for us, is the context of the book of John itself where our text is written. The writing covers several years, from the 90s to the year 100 in the Palestinian region, although the final writing was a bit late, around the year 110 AD in Ephesus.
The church received threats of all kinds: the infiltration of the way of thinking of the Gnostics, persecutions coming from outside the Church: Around the year 90, Pharisees and scribes who led Judaism from the synagogues expelled the Jews who also participated of the Christian churches. It was a time of pain and fear. The Roman emperor Domitian also undertakes a fierce persecution of Christians and to make matters worse, tensions of the models of being church begin, there is pressure towards small communities, in homes "domestic calls" to reinforce the authoritarian and patriarchal models of their time that provoked conflicts with the models of discipleship and community that they had inherited from the Jesus movement itself.
The churches, due to all these pressures, ran the risk of dividing and disappearing. It wasn't much fun embracing a faith and facing so many obstacles and fears. The 4th. Gospel then, wants, above all, to strengthen the adherence, and centrality of the faith, of believing in Jesus Christ to resist all these persecutions and pressures, maintaining fidelity to his life project, and to his commitment to the Kingdom.
The passage that invites us today is found in chapter 15 of John, 1, 2 and 4. And it says:
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you.
This chapter is part of what is known as the farewell texts and we see that there is a certain nostalgia in the words of Jesus and an attempt to say everything so that nothing is left unsaid. They are alert, advice on the relationship that his disciples should have with him, on the relationships between them and with the world. (the church outwards and the church inwards)
The chapter already begins provocatively "I am". This is the 7th "I am" that Jesus uses in the gospel and this has a very strong meaning. Jesus himself assumes the name of God "YHWH" and without fear declares his divine nature and recalls the moment of conformation of the people of God. I am and you are.
In this 7th "I am" Jesus recognizes himself as "the true vine". The vine was a very strong figure in the First Testament. Israel is recognized as the vine, but the prophets declare that it fails to produce fruits of justice, recalling the prophet Isaiah
1 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.
3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?
5 Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled.
6 I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.”
7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Israel is not the vine, the only true vine is Jesus and only in him can we bear fruit.
The text continues by saying The Father is the vinedresser, who cares for the vineyard. The grace of God is manifested in this text, the close tenderness of God who cares, cleans, or eliminates and cuts the branches that hinder and do not bear fruit.
And here is our verse that God invites us to listen to in this Triennial: "Remain in me and I will remain in you." God's faithfulness is one of his qualities, I will remain in you... but here what the verse says is to remain in me, so that I can remain in you.
Looking for the meaning of the word remain, this can be interpreted as "stay still in the same place" "remain unchanged". This could be seen as something static, without mobility.
But to remain in the book of John, who uses it 41 times in the Gospel, is the verb menein and has to do with relationships, with bonds. So, to remain also means to be in. Be still in it.
For those of us who are hyperactive, being still is a difficulty, being still is a challenge. These days, believe me, being still, quiet, waiting, has been a great challenge. Waiting on God, being in God, is a gift of news that God wants to share with us.
Two Quaker texts from the first centuries come to me very strongly: Isaac Penington and Job Scott.
The first is a text from the year 1661 and says:
Give over thine own willing; give over thine own running; give over thine own desiring to know or to be anything, and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee, and be in thee, and breathe in thee, and act in thee, and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that, and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of life
And Scott's text from 1751 reminds us again:
if I rely wholly on Him, and remain to be given up to be just where and what he pleases, go at his command, and come at his command, and at his command stand still, he will not fail or forsake me; but will bear up, support and preserve, through all tossings, tempests and dangers, both inward and outward.
Remaining is an invitation that God makes us to calm down and listen to his will, discover his purposes and trust his word. Not everything depends on our forces, capabilities and resources. We are branches of a vine that nourishes, cares and feeds us.
To remain in God is to know that we are sheltered by God at all times.
The text ends by saying, remain so that they can bear fruit. It is a condition and a reason for being. It is the sap of God who feeds us, nourishes us and makes us produce fruit. Plants take water from the soil and are nourished. What do our soils have that continues to drive God's justice in us to produce fruit? Is it the poverty and hunger of our countries that hurt? Families separated by war, migration, and absence of peace? Are they the women violated and killed by so much femicide? Is it a Palestine that demands justice and asks that those who have caused so much death be held accountable? Is it a Cuba that asks for the embargo to be lifted and to be able to buy food and electricity for its children?
May our fruits of love have the taste of hope. May our fruits of love be indignant at injustice, may our fruits of love care deeply for the pains of the earth even if they are not ours. To remain and bear fruit is to be useful to God and to his project of a complete life.
I would not want to end without placing an element of the text that I believe is important for the life and dreams of being a United Church to Christ. Fox and the other friends talked about the seed imprisoned inside, that doesn't come out, that doesn't bear fruit. They were referring to something inside of us that prevents the inner seed of Christ from growing. A danger to the Spirit of Christ in us, to remain in him. One of those inner dangers is the spirit of separation. That spirit that rejoices in struggles and conflicts, the spirit that rejoices in my own triumph above the triumph over other members of the body, and in this case of other branches of the vine even at the cost of driving them away...
We cannot bear fruit if we do not remain on the vine and this requires not only my relationship with Jesus Christ, our true vine, but also the connection between its branches and the richness of feeding us and sharing our sap with each other. We are only branches in need of a trunk that is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
May God allow us to remain in Him, quiet ourselves at His will and drink from His sap to give the world the fruits it needs.
Thank you, Jesus, for being the vine. Nothing can the branches do without you!
You can not bear fruit, without your branches!
Fill me with your love, to share it with those who need love.
Give me new life, so that I can take it to whom is
depressed or frustrated.
Increase my faith, so that I may act as your true disciple.
Increase my hope, so I can give it to those who lacks it.
I want to be a branch well inserted in you.
May your sap always run through me! that the life that I receive from you
translates into beautiful and sweet fruits!
Thank you, Jesus, for the honor of inviting me to be a branch of you.