Sermon for May 2, 2021: "Our Grapevine Didn't Make It" -- Beth Voigt

“Our Grapevine Didn't Make It”

May 2, 2021

Beth Voigt


Our grapevine didn’t make it. The hoped for shade and green and possible fruit is a brown stick winding around the pergola. We are confused and disappointed. We placed a bucket around the bottom to keep the mower from murder. We used special twine to gently support its climb. We praised and patted. Our vine comes from good stock, from a friend who has a several years established yard. We are looking forward to many vintages of the Grapes of Pfaff - his family name.

Our best guess is the chipmunks. The chipmunks! They nibble the seed from the birdfeeder and live under the cement patio, burrowed deep. It may is possible...we theorize...they ate the roots.

I googled roots. The top site listed Roots USA & International - Sweatpants, Leather Bags, Clothing. The second described Roots; the 1977 Drama. And the third explained mathematical roots - a root is a value for which a given function equals zero. No botanical  literature. But common sense tells me a plant cannot live without it’s roots. Not sure about the sweatpants.

Grounded. Rooted. Planted. This language describes our garden and our relationship with God. Dirt. We are made of it, life breathed into our nostrils. Faith in Christ and one another...even in unseen things.

For this fifth Sunday of Easter, the lectionary gives us earthy stories. “An angel from the Lord spoke to Philip, ‘At noon, take the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a desert road).” Dusty.  A traveler, an Ethiopian who hails from the ends of the earth, reads from Isaiah, “Who can tell the story of his descendants?” Are these word seeds? Will they grow? “Cultivate them in me” he says. And Philip does. And they move to the water. To wash.

In this season of resurrection contemplated and ascension realized, the idea that growth and change happen when roots are deep may strike us as strange. Jesus uprooted norms. Jesus turned things over, disturbing the tamped down.

And yet...don’t we carefully shift the dirt around our established plants, aerating and giving the anchored matter room?

We do this with the story, with the familiar words that anchor us, told during this Easter season.  The happenings of this world, our towns and families have shifted. Time does this as well. Our bodies have wizened since we last heard about the traveler, the disciple and the Spirit. We will hear and think and feel a new thing, possibly extend in a different direction, made possible by the strength of care God through Christ dug deep within.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper.”  These are the words Jesus sows within those who have gathered in the room for Passover supping.

 “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself…” Plants need sunshine and rain, even wind for the above ground part. Plants need nitrogen and earthworms, even decay for the below ground part. So do we. Nadia Bolz Weber writes, “Christianity is a lousy religion for the “I’ll do it myself” set. We are meant to be tangled up together. We are meant to live lives of profound interdependence, growing into, around, and out of each other - the words of theologian Debi Thomas. She goes on to write, “I am inextricably connected to a larger whole, and apart from that whole, my spirituality - profound and precious though it might feel to me - is without value. Apart from the vine, I am not only barren; I am dead.”

I meet monthly with clergy peers - we are a community of practice. Really. That is what we call ourselves. There are other COP’s - the United Church of Christ promotes this among it’s associations and conferences. This month, this week in fact, we spoke of the resurrection. It was nestled within a larger conversation about our congregations re-opening, re-entering, re-orienting after a year that felt very isolating. The question posed was “What can you imagine might lie ahead for you? For your congregation, in your Galilee, the place where you learned from and learned to follow Jesus and to serve the world God loves?” The assumption is we know where we’ve been and what we’ve done. But this new threshold? What is on the other side? We reminded one another that resurrection is not something we do. Jesus was raised from the dead. He didn’t raise himself. Resurrection is God’s work. And God is always ready to get muddy.

Our grapevine is not coming back. It didn’t make it. No grapes for us. When the roots are severed, regeneration is unlikely. Maybe part of the message for today is that Jesus fulfilled, that we fulfill the old made new, the immense network of fibrous, tap, adventitious, creeping rooted generations that told stories about God, and creation (it was good!), and neighborly love. The convictions impervious to the nibbling of chipmunks. I think I will let our bare vine stay for awhile on the pergola post. And then I will twist it into a wreath. Reformed. Amen.