Easter V

Ivan Generalić, Dancing in the Vineyards, 1968. Gallery of Naive Art, Hlebine, Croatia

Gathered through the power of the Holy Spirit, we worship God with gladness. We encourage you to pray over the words that follow, and follow the links within the liturgy. Thanks this week to Carmen, Cor, and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Jesus Calls Us Here to Meet Him” (Iona Community)

OPENING PRAYER:

You are the vine, Lord, and we are the branches.
Though apart, we are connected–one to another–
by your presence:
living vine
cup of blessing
shepherd of the sheep.
Draw our hearts together, Lord
so that even in these troubled times
we will share the love you give.
Speak to us, today:
Through word and song
prayer and praise.
We trust we are never far apart
when we abide in your love. Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Like the murmur of the dove’s song”

Like the murmur of the dove’s song,
like the challenge of her flight,
like the vigour of the wind’s rush,
like the new flame’s eager might:
come, Holy Spirit, come.

To the members of Christ’s body,
to the branches of the Vine,
to the church in faith assembled,
to our midst as gift and sign:
come, Holy Spirit, come.

With the healing of division,
with the ceaseless voice of prayer,
with the power to love and witness,
with the peace beyond compare:
come, Holy Spirit, come.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Hear us, God as we pray:
We confess we have too much of some things
and too little of others.
We could use less worry, less news,
less judgement, less self-justification.
We could use more calm, more quiet,
more compassion, more understanding.
Help us find a balance,
help us find the middle path.
help as we pray. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God will give us what we need:
strength for today,
hope for tomorrow,
and forgiveness
for all that is past.
Amen.

SPECIAL MUSIC: “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” (Dorsey)

FIRST READING: Psalm 22

From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

SECOND READING: John 15.1-8

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful.You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “We have this ministry”

We have this ministry, and we are not discouraged,
It is by God’s own power that we may live and serve
Openly we share God’s word, speaking truth as we believe
Praying that the shadowed world may healing light receive.
We have this ministry, O God receive our living.

O Christ the tree of life, our end and our beginning
We grow to fullest flower when rooted in your love.
Brothers, sisters, clergy, lay, called to service by your grace
Different cultures, different gifts, the young and old a place.
We have this ministry, O God receive our giving.

The yoke of Christ is ours, the whole world is our parish
We daily take the cross, the burden and the joy.
Bearing hurts of those we serve, wounded, bruised and bowed with pain
Holy Spirit, bread and wine, we die and rise again.
We have this ministry, O God receive our loving.

Decorative Inlay, 12th or 13th century, Pergamonmuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

REFLECTION

Any anxiety you feel about cleanliness likely comes from television.

Do you worry that your whites are not whiter than white? Your colours are not brighter than bright? Are your paper towels absorbent enough? Does your broom reach those hard-to-reach places? Do you need to dip your entire house in CLR? Does it even work?

Obviously, the Bible has a lot to say about being clean. But before I give you my one-minute overview, I want to dispel a popular myth. Nowhere in scripture does it say “cleanliness is next to godliness.” These words come from one of John Wesley’s sermons, given late in his life, and likely related to some sort of controversy around neatness and dress. In effect, he tells his followers that God condemns neither the sloppy nor the well-dressed, but in general, cleanliness is next to godliness. In other words, if you’ve been wearing track-pants for the last 400 days that’s okay, as long as they are clean.

So, what does the Bible say about being clean?

In Genesis, it’s animals for sacrifice, clean and unclean.
In Leviticus, it’s food, disease, and even the mould in your house.
In Numbers, it’s about ritual, and being ceremonially clean.
In the history books, it’s about being rewarded and restored.
In the wisdom books, it’s about a clean heart and clean hands.
In the prophets, it’s about cleansing the sin of Israel as a nation.
For Jesus, it’s about making lepers clean, and being clean on the inside (and not just on the outside).
And in Acts, and the letters of Paul, it’s about food, and declaring that nothing God has created can be named unclean.

I share all this because I’m interested in one of one of the most neglected lines in our passage about the vine and the branches. Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” There amid all the talk of fruitfulness, and all the connections, and all the potential pruning, we get this simple declarative statement: “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”

Following my summary, Jesus is all about being clean on the inside, and not the countless ways people are considered clean on the outside. And I might go even a step further, to suggest that if we stumbled upon Jesus’ dog-eared Bible, there is one page (from Psalm 51) where the corner would decidedly be turned down: “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” the psalmist said, “and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

Do I have more evidence? Three other short verses, in fact. One that echoes Psalm 51, one that makes these heart-sayings a little more tangible, and one that belongs on a t-shirt:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5.8)
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12.34)
For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of (Luke 6.45)

I told you it belongs in a t-shirt. Wear it to Mar-a-Lago, I dare you. (Okay, enough of that). But I think you see the progression here: Jesus blesses those rare ones among us who are pure in heart. Then he warns us about the treasure store we’re building up in life, and the extent to which it reflects the content of our hearts. And then a little brutal honesty, which Jesus only seems to resort to when the twelve were being particularly thick in the head.

And then he said “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” The scripture he shared, the hymns they sang, the Word he gave them—taken together these words made them clean. Attend a master class in cleanliness given by the Master himself, and you will graduate with an honours in having a clean heart. But then what?

In many ways, the “then what” is the sum of Christian living. We can align ourselves with the words, we can be cleansed by the words, we can even recite the words to others, but unless they remain within us, we’ll soon find treasure elsewhere. This is why the psalmist’s prayer is twofold: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” The most difficult part—the clean heart—has already been given, and given freely. This leaves us with the desire for steadfast spirit, something that God will also freely give.

The desire for purity is something that never goes away. Moralists on the right and activists on the left, everyone wants a particular kind of purity. Everyone is seeking a purer form of the treasure they store. But God seeks a pure heart, a heart made new through the grace of Jesus Christ, and a heart that desires constant renewal, renewal in love and mercy.

Brian Wren describes the way God found us, summed up with the simple words “forgiven, loved and free.” All the bright colours and better brooms cannot compare to the purity that God gives, the purity within us, and the purity within others, when we truly see. Amen.

Richard Correll, Vineyard March, 1970, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

The Moderator, the Rt. Rev. Richard Bott, wrote this prayer at the beginning of the pandemicwords that still resonate.

In this time of COVID-19, we pray:
When we aren’t sure, God,
help us be calm;
when information comes
from all sides, correct and not,
help us to discern;
when fear makes it hard to breathe,
and anxiety seems to be the order of the day,
slow us down, God;
help us to reach out with our hearts,
when we can’t touch with our hands;
help us to be socially connected,
when we have to be socially distant;
help us to love as perfectly as we can,
knowing that “perfect love casts out all fear.”

For the doctors, we pray,
for the nurses, we pray,
for the technicians and the janitors and the
aides and the caregivers, we pray,
for the researchers and theorists,
the epidemiologists and investigators,
for those who are sick,
and those who are grieving, we pray,
for all who are affected,
all around the world…
we pray
for safety,
for health,
for wholeness.

May we feed the hungry,
give drink to the thirsty,
clothe the naked and house those without homes;
may we walk with those who feel they are alone,
and may we do all that we can to heal
the sick—
in spite of the epidemic,
in spite of the fear.

Help us, O God,
that we might help each other.

In the love of the Creator,
in the name of the Healer,
in the life of the Holy Spirit that is in all and with all,
we pray.

May it be so. Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

HYMN: “In loving partnership we come”

In loving partnership we come,
seeking, O God, your will to do.
Our prayers and actions now receive;
we freely offer them to you.

We are the hands and feet of Christ,
serving by grace each other’s need.
We dare to risk and sacrifice
with truthful word and faithful deed.

Loving community we seek;
your hope and strength within us move.
The poor and rich, the strong and weak
are brought together in your love.

In loving partnership, O God,
help us your future to proclaim.
Justice and peace be our desire,
we humbly pray in Jesus’ name.

BLESSING

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way,
and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless
until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. Amen.
—1 Thessalonians 5:23

God be with you till we meet again;
loving counsels guide, uphold you,
with a shepherd’s care enfold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

Win Vine Vineyards, LIFE Photo Collection

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