"I am the vine...you are the branches"
May 3, 2015
The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
Fifth Sunday of Easter – Year B
Were you ever the kid on the playground that was picked last for a game of dodge ball? Or maybe the teenager in science class no one wanted to partner-up with for a project? Were you ever the young family that moved to a new home and found yourself not “fitting in” with the existing neighborhood click? Or maybe even the new priest in a parish with a culture and a way of life vastly different from your own experience? Were you ever the woman abandoned by your husband? Or maybe the man whose wife had an affair? Were you ever the person picked on for being overweight, ugly, unintelligent, or in any way different? While we may not have had all of these experiences ourselves, I think it’s fair to say that we have all shared in the common experience that underlies them: the feeling of being left out, left behind, and discarded…the feeling of being abandoned, rejected, and unwanted. The devastation of “not-belonging” can begin very early in life and can follow us all the way to the end. We want to be wanted…we desire to be desired…we long to belong. Recognizing that we are created in God’s image and likeness, and ruminating on His decree that “it is not good for man to be alone,” we can begin to understand where this comes from. As the poet John Donne eloquently states, “no man is an island.” We were not made for isolation or to be lone wolves. We were made to be with each other, to support each other, and to love each other. We were made to belong.
This may be how we were created, and it may be what we all truly long for, but we know all too well that this is not how we behave. Because of our sinful nature and the lasting effects of sin in the world and in our own hearts, we go to great lengths to separate ourselves. Sometimes we separate ourselves at the expense of someone else: by exalting ourselves in pride and putting others down, by squandering material and even spiritual goods for ourselves without considering those in need, or by becoming click-ish, arrogant, and self-centered. Other times we separate ourselves at own expense: by isolating ourselves, by building up emotional walls around our hearts, and by convincing ourselves that we are worthless and have nothing to offer anyone. Sin is the great separator – it blinds us to who we really are and what we really want, ultimately pitting us against God and against each other. Sin is the cause of our loneliness, of our feelings of abandonment, and of our experience of not belonging.
But in the midst of all this muck, we hear a voice that says, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” These are the words of our Lord to the disciples in today’s gospel. They are meant to evoke the image of a beautiful, strong grape vine with many and vast branches. But far from simply being a metaphor, I think that these words are a prescription for the illness of separation that we have been talking about. The sense of belonging that we desire is not something that is going to come about by mere human efforts – there is not a humanistic ‘we are the world’ or ‘let’s all hug and get along’ solution for our separateness. We tore ourselves apart through sin, and only Christ can put us back together. He entered into our world, into the dirt of humanity, and He planted Himself, becoming the single vine that would unite and give life to all of the separated, barren, fruitless branches. He grafted and fused these lifeless branches to Himself, bringing unity where there was discord, love where there was hatred, and life where there was death.
This parable of the vine and the branches shows us that the answer to our desire for connectedness and belonging rests solely in Christ. We can make ourselves prettier and more attractive, we can change our personalities to fit in with the ‘cool kids,’ we can compromise our values and change who we are so that others will like us, we can find any number of ways to fit in, but the only way we will ever truly belong is when we allow ourselves to belong to Christ. He is the source of our belonging from the beginning; He is the One who eradicates what separates us; and He is the new vine Who unites us back to Himself and back to each other.
If you’re feeling lonely, rejected, or unwanted, don’t turn to the things of this world to fill you up, and don’t turn in on yourself and retreat into isolation…turn, rather, to Christ. Let Him connect you to His vine. Let Him breathe new life into you through His Sacraments. Let Him help you to see that you have been grafted into His Church through your baptism, that you are a member of His Body, and because of this you have the potential to bear great fruit. You are wanted, you are desired, and you do belong…not to a click, not to some collective human community, but to the Body of Christ. Live in this truth as a branch connected to the true vine, and you will belong forever.