University Congregational Church
December, 31, 2017
John 15: 1-8
The house I lived in as a child was mysterious and magic. It was small, to be certain – built in 1905. A two-bedroom house with a parlor. When I was 10 or 11, my parents built an upstairs where the attic had been. The upstairs was one huge room above the entire remainder of the house. In this magical room were dormer windows looking out over the street, a whole wall of closets with shelves and cupboards, a stereo system, two double beds and lots of other furniture, including an old-fashioned stand-alone bathtub, lined with blue fur. (I used it for a conversation piece and for reading). When we were teens and had passed a magical age of readiness (only my mom knew exactly what that age was), we had a major rite of passage and got to move from the bedroom on the main floor to the huge upstairs room. The possession of this magnificent room was almost worth going through adolescence! Besides, it had all kinds of privacy that a small house seldom gives.
Deep in the recesses of the dirt floor basement of the same house was a box. Inside the box were jeans – every pair of jeans we ever wore or wore out – piled there for a project. There were our very first pair of jeans when we were toddlers, the prize bell bottoms I talked my mom into buying when I was in 8th grade, and all the jeans in-between. Mom saved the jeans over our childhood years for one purpose: to make a jean quilt to surprise us with when we were able to move to the upstairs room. The jean quilt had squares of every pocket, loop hole and patch we had worn on our jeans from the time we were born. It was a rite of passage on its own. She tied the jean quilt with yarn the color of which we choose to decorate the upstairs room. Mine was a light faded blue jean collage tied with bright yellow yarn. My brother’s jeans were darker blue and he chose the underside of the quilt to be flannel plaid – the whole quilt was tied with fire engine red yarn. The quilts told a story of the lives we led, the styles we loved, the sports we played, the personality we developed. The quilts were presented to us, one at a time, near the time we got to move into the great room upstairs. You see why this quilt and that room were major events – sacred rites of passage.
Quilts are symbols of life. Ask any person who makes a quilt to tell you about it and you will have to take a seat before she is finished with the story. The quilt on the communion table is one that my friend, Diane Miller, and I made to help our daughters learn to sew. In it are squares of fabric we pulled from our stock piles of scraps. Here is a square from the dress Erin wore to my brother’s wedding. There is a square from Katherine’s Easter dress or Jessica’s outfit for the prom. Here is a square from a stuffed animal I worked on. There is a shirt that matches this square. Into this quilt, and every quilt made, a story is woven.
Stories of birth, of youth, of dating and proms…
Stories of marriage…
Stories of illness, poverty, death…
Stories of good times and hard times.
While some people record history in books, others record herstory in quilts. A family quilt is a marvelous symbol for that family’s sacred journey. I still have a quilt I made for my grandparents that was on their bed until my grandpa died and my grandma was in her 90’s. It has all my cousins’ names on it – and something to remind our grandparents of each one. Now, our grandparents are long gone… we are all married… some of us are grandparents on our own… but this quilt has the memories of the 1960’s – 1980’s in it.
After a quilt is sewn together, the individual pieces are still recognizable, but they submit themselves to a greater picture. When you look at the quilt on the table, you probably don’t see individual pieces, but a movement of color into another color. This greater picture, or movement of color, is actually another good symbol.
This quilt is actually an Epiphany quilt. The quilted stitches are sunbursts from the light sections bursting outward into the darker sections. Epiphany – the season we will begin next week – is a season of light in the darkness.
There is a poem which says that life is like a woven tapestry and that the person whose life it is can only see the underside of the weaving, which is not pretty and does not show the artwork of the Weaver. The person complains that sometimes darker colors are woven in, even ugly colors. However, once the person is able to see the weaving from the top side, he realizes that the Weaver made a beautiful design with all of the colors blending into one tapestry.
There are times in life when we do not understand the why of our life story. We do not understand the death of children, the pain of ill health, the suffering of innocent people, the loss of jobs, the hopelessness of poverty, the questions of faith. These are the dark sections of our life quilt. Yet, when we see them in conjunction with the larger design, we find that they served a purpose and that the darker colors bring out the lighter colors of joy and happiness.
Actually, that is the point of our scripture lesson today. The context of this scripture falls between the last supper in which Jesus acknowledged the betrayal of Judas and his discussion with the disciples about his crucifixion. In this text, Jesus tells the disciples that he is the vine and they are the branches. He goes on to explain that the branches must be intimately connected to the vine so that they can have life but that those branches which are not intimately connected ultimately wither and die.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 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. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. John 15:1-18.
It makes sense that a branch has to hold on tight to the vine in order to live and grow. But Jesus takes the time to explain this in detail. His words are interesting. It would have been normal to say that the branch had to “stay connected” to the vine or that the branch had to be “attached” to the vine or even that the branch “drew life” from the vine. Instead, he says that the branch and the vine must “abide in” each other. The implication is clear – it is not a tangential relationship we are to have with Jesus – not a one-day a week connection – not a church connection – not an occasional get together we are to have with Jesus. We are to be sewn into the same quilt as Jesus. We are to be intimately connected into a relationship which makes us inseparable.
Abide in me and I will abide in you. Are you sewn together in relationship with your family? Are you sewn together with a spouse, a child, a friend? Are you sewn together in a relationship with the ideas and teachings of Jesus?
It’s good news for people like you and me when life is a bit harried, a bit unorganized, a little too crazy, or unloving, or depressing, or overwhelming. Yes, those aspects are part of the fabric of our lives, but they do not make up the whole picture. Because in the bigger scheme of things, Jesus abides in and within us and that changes the whole picture into one big, beautiful weaving.