Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sermon: Reaffirmation of Vows

Sermon for the Reaffirmation of Marriage Vows
and Commitment Promises
St. Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse, Saturday, February 15, 2014
For Readings, click here - Colossians 3:12-17 and John 15:9-12
I speak to you in the name of one God+, loving Creator,
redeeming Christ, and sustaining Spirit. Amen.

Today is a special day for y’all! 
It is your day; you have lived in covenant with each other
and revealed your love
as a reflection of Christ’s love for the Church. 

Today is also our special day,
as members of your faith community!
We gather to witness the reaffirmation of marriage vows
and the commitment promises that y’all have made. 

What is unique about today is that God has called you
to re-make these vows,
to re-member them,
to re-call that day when you first said “I do”. 
So, this makes it a very special day for God, as well.

One of my favorite love poems by Rumi
sets the tone for today’s celebration. 
 “The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don't finally meet somewhere,
they're in each other all along.”[1]

The Gospel reading today captures this sense of
“being in each other all along.” 
In these short verses, part of
Jesus’ Farewell Discourse offered to his disciples,
he says,
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you;
abide in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,
just as I have kept my Father's commandments and
abide in his love.

Jesus invites the disciples to be in him, to abide in him,
as an example of God’s mutual love for Jesus. 

Leading up to this passage, Jesus used the
familiar-to-his-hearers imagery of vine and branches,
which of course abide in each other.
There, God was gardener and Jesus himself was the vine,
with his disciples as the branches. 

In this vine-and-branches metaphor,
Jesus intertwines their agricultural lives (tending grapevines)
with theological language. 
He does so to highlight the intimate and intricate nature
of the relationship between Jesus and his followers
       and so, between God and us.
It turns out, you may know, that it is very complex[2]
to grow fruit-bearing grapevines. 
(Not unlike tending to sacred relationships!)

Grapes are very labor-intensive and
the Tucson area provides
an especially challenging environment for growing grapes.[3] 

“…Like roses, they require a lot of care,
such as proper pruning, feeding, insect control
and training…
most grapevines require a… winter chill
to produce good crops…
Grapes need good air circulation…,
something to grow on…good soil….
and regular water to produce fruit.”

For the first three years,
a grapevine is not allowed to produce fruit.
It is pruned extensively to direct all the nutrients into the vine. 

After that time, grapevines constantly require tending
to prevent wild vines. 
These wild vines will strip the fruit-bearing branches
of the water and nutrients it needs. 
Without pruning, the small grapes are of poor quality. 

So, the vine grower, the Gardener,
has an important role of constant care and nurturing. 

Knowing a bit about grapevine growing
helps us understand the power of this allegorical
vine and branches illustration
that Jesus used with his disciples and it informs us today,
because it is complex to grow fruit-bearing relationships.
They are labor intensive.
They require pruning, feeding, insect control.
They sometimes need a winter chill to bear tasty fruit!

Fruit-bearing relationships need constant care and nurture – you know that!
Where God is the gardener and vine-grower,
Jesus is the central vine stock
through which the branches are nurtured. 

We, as followers of Jesus, are the branches –
as are these relationships, branches of Jesus’ love, that are
nurtured, interconnected and growing alongside each other.
We ALL are connected and growing out of that central vine. 

The result of this intimate arrangement?
The production of good fruit,
as we heard in the reading from Colossians,
“compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience…”
As well as forgiveness, harmony and gratitude.

You know what it takes to have a fruit-bearing relationship. You know to be mindful about “pruning” –
about constantly caring and nurturing your relationship. 
You know that Gardener God is faithfully providing nutrients
through the central vine of Jesus.
Jesus said to his disciples,
“I have said these things to you
so that my joy may be in you, and
that your joy may be complete.”

He’s not mincing words to his 21st century disciples,
here gathered!

Jesus nurtures your love relationship
so that your joy to be complete.

Jesus calls you to abide in him individually
and in your relationships.

Jesus finds joy in your joy –
such complete joy that it displaces any competing realities
or wild vines that rival the centrality of Christ in your lives. 

That’s how Gardener God is active in your lives!

God loves you through the vine of Jesus,
who offers his life
so that your joy may grow fruitfully and abundantly.

Just as Gardener God loves Jesus,
So Jesus loves you.  Remember,
“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,
they are in each other all along.”
Therefore, you are in union – communion –
with Christ in the sacramental marriage and covenantal vows. 

Friends, God’s love abides in you,
in your love for each other,
in this faithful, vibrant and alive community of faith. 

And that is reason enough for joy joy joy!


[1] Coleman Barks, translator, The Essential Rumi, (San Francisco, HarperOne, 1995)
[2] Portions inspired from The Rev. Todd B. Freeman’s sermon, “Lessons Learned from Grapevines,” May 10, 2009 cited at on February 13, 2014
[3] Sunset Western Garden Book, Sunset Publishing Corp. 2001, from cited on February 13, 2014

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