Whether we have traveled the world or not, learning about the world and its peoples, expanding our connections to those in our own community that have diverse backgrounds and experiences, is part of the Journey of Love to which we are called.
June 25, 2023
“The Awakened Traveler”
Returning Home (Part 4)
John 15: 1-17
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Returning Home John 15: 1-17
As we bring our series on travel to a close, we contemplate what it means to return home. After stretching our spirits and our love to include more of the glorious creation and its peoples, we return to a home that will never be the same to us. We have returned with “guests”–memories of new friends and new perspectives. We also return with new convictions to be more active and loving citizens of humanity right where we reside. The beauty of travel as a spiritual act is that our prized souvenirs are the “strands of different cultures we decide to knit into our own character.”
Of course, the rhythms of home with work and school are not like the rhythms of vacation and yet, even at home, even at work, even at school, we can seek to carve out moments when our lives are enriched by this “travelers mindset” we’ve explored over the last few weeks. As awakened travelers, we understand that returning home is not the end of the journey. Returning to “business as usual” too quickly can rob us of important moments of integrating what we have experienced into our hearts and knowing what implications it can have for our lives.”
With that in mind, I invite us to watch another installment of “Why We Travel” from Rick Steves.
Video available at https://youtu.be/pXYVGKgVpXY
As we focus this week on returning home, I want to share a quote from Rick Steves.. He said… “My travels have taught me to have a healthy skepticism towards those who peddle fear. And in so many cases, I’ve learned that the flip side of fear is understanding. Or in theological terms, there is a deep interconnection we all share–part of one vine. We are to love one another because what affects one, affects us all.
Which brings me to our Scripture today….Gospel of John 15: 1-17
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples. “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you.
Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you. You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. I give you these commandments so that you can love each other.
Our Scripture starts out with one of the “I AM” Statements found within the Gospel of John. For John’s readers and hopefully for us, when we hear these “I Am” statements, we remember the story of Moses talking with God following the burning bush incident. In that story, God tells Moses to go and set God’s people free. Moses looks around, wondering who God is talking to in that moment, thinking surely God is not talking to him. This back and forth goes on for a while until Moses finally asks THE question. Moses asks God when the people want to know who sent me, what name should I give them?
Now God’s response to this question is brilliant. God simply says, “I AM WHO I Am” or better translated, “I Will be who I will Be”. In this exchange between Moses and God, by saying the name in this way, God gives a promise to God’s people. The promise is that God is and will be all we ever need.
In the Gospel of John, whenever Jesus says one of these “I AM” Statements, he is building on this one moment in Israelites’ history Through these statements, Jesus once again says to the people God is and will be all we ever need. Jesus uses these “I Am” statements to remind them that the Word is Made flesh in and among the people, connecting them once more to the larger narrative of God’s saving love and grace.
John builds upon this moment, he emphasizes this promise because he knows that “when communities of faith forget their mission, forget their attachment, their connection, their very understanding of who Jesus is as their source of life, if and when communities of faith forget all of this, we simply become another institution that accommodates the world rather than transforming it.” Let me say that again: When communities of faith forget our connection to Jesus Christ, we become another institution that accommodates the world rather than transform it. When this happens, we become empty shells of ourselves and in no way reflect the light of the Kingdom of God. By forgetting our connection to Jesus as communities of faith, as Jesus’ disciples, when we ignore our source of life, we become dried up branches, disconnected from the True Vine.
What John does in this passage is to invite us to consider how we will live our lives as Jesus’ disciples in this new reality following the resurrection. John wants us to fully embrace who we are and whose we are because….these things remind us of the “intimate interdependence between God and us. [They remind us that] while God’s existence doesn’t depend on our fruitfulness, our bearing fruit, our becoming whole enhances God’s life and mission in the world. [Our staying connected to our source of life makes the Kingdom of God real in this world for us and for so many others.] In tending to the branches –[tending to our own branch and tending to the branches of others – we experience the privilege of sharing] in God’s healing presence in the world. [By staying connected to the True Vine, we advance God’s vision of reconciliation in our time, here and now for all of God’s children.
Or let me say it this way… As people of faith, we are part of, we are connected to a global community. Whether we have traveled the world, or not, learning about the world and its peoples, expanding our connections to those in our own communities that have diverse backgrounds and experiences, is part of the Journey of Love to which we are called. As people of faith, as we return home from our travels whether that be from summer vacations or coming back to a deeper understanding of who we are and whose we are, we are reminded to savor, to wonder, to love the world and its peoples. To love our neighbors… to love ourselves, knowing that as awakened travelers, we are constantly creating moments that nurture us spiritually so that we can give of ourselves freely and gladly, with compassion and grace.
So as we return home, transformed with broader perspectives and a deeper understanding of our connections to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, may we never forget whose we are and who we are no matter where our journeys may take us. May we never stop being amazed by the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. May we never stop being open to the complexities of viewpoints and ways of life this world has to offer. But most importantly, may we never stop seeking understanding as we become the people of love and grace this world needs us to be.
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