All are rooted in God’s love in Christ, flowing love up into the creation, through all seasons and into the life to come.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24; Romans 8:35-39; John 15:1-17
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The branch growing from the trunk of the vine probably doesn’t understand the seasons.
It likely doesn’t plan for spring rains or summer heat, anticipate the drying up inside that comes with autumn, or the blasts of winter cold.
The branch doesn’t know why buds along its length turn into clusters of small fruits which fill with juice, until some fall with ripeness. It doesn’t comprehend the life in the vine’s ancient bole, holding it and feeding it with all it needs to produce grapes.
But here is God’s mystery: even without knowing a single thing, that branch draws the nutritious sap, drinks in the dew and rain, luxuriates in the warm sun, and does what it was made to do. It bears fruit. The only thing that could stop it from that is to be cut off from the vine.
The branch doesn’t know this. But wouldn’t it be a blessing if it did?
Jesus told those who loved him they were branches on his vine.
This wasn’t a careless metaphor. Jesus loved to speak of his own connection within the inner life of God, his oneness with the One he called Father and with the Spirit he promised to send. But he also loved to tell those who loved him they had the same connection.
He called it “abiding.” Abide in me as I abide in God’s life, he’d say. And you will have life. My love will flow up this vine and into you and you will bear the fruit of love.
And that love will sustain you, he said, whatever happens, good or bad, because I will take it through death into life. That love will connect you to all God’s children, and when you love as I love, it will shape all of your life, transform you into someone who is God’s Christ in the world.
And Jesus’ late-comer, his servant Paul, added this joy: nothing, nothing can separate you from that love of God in Christ Jesus.
Not things present or things to come, or even past regrets. Not any malicious powers, systems, or structures in this broken world. Nothing in creation can cut you off from the Vine that is God’s love in Christ Jesus. Not even life, hard as it can be. Not even death, terrifying and unknown as it can be.
Ecclesiastes says there is a season to everything. There are spring times in our lives where things are budding, summers when everything is gold-tinted and flourishing. But there are also autumns, where energy fades, and changes are coming; there are winters when things grow cold and die. There’s a time to seek and a time to lose, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to be born, and a time to die.
Yes, that’s true, Paul says. But still: nothing, nothing in any of those seasons of your life can separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus.
You are branches of the Vine of Christ, dear friends, and you are deeply connected to the flow of God’s infinite love in the world and you always will be. No matter what season you find yourself in.
But here’s God’s mystery all over again: all this is true even if you’re not aware of it.
Just like the vine’s branches, even if you live your life unaware of God’s love, you still are deeply loved by God, and God grows love’s fruit in you. The cosmic, all-encompassing love of God is not limited by doctrine or human decision or organization or even awareness. The Holy Spirit we proclaim goes wherever and whenever she wants to, and joins all people to God’s love, knowing or unknowing.
That’s the love Susan knew and trusted. Today, as we carry her to the hands of the God she trusted and loved her whole life, we rejoice in this love of God she so beautifully proclaimed in hymn after hymn, in reflections and poems and essays and prayers. And in person.
A love she describes this way:
[God’s love] that flows up into us
from Christ the Vine
. . . is absolutely limitless,
. . . a never-ceasing well
of living water.
God’s love is
and God never says
“Oh, I’m sorry,
I’ve used up
all my love for today . . .”
God’s love constantly
flows up into us
like energy into a tree
to be beautiful
Susan embodied clearly and insistently the all-embracing arms of the Triune God for the whole creation. Not just all humans, but all creatures. Not just all creatures, but the smallest atom and the vastest galaxies. Whether any of these know it or not.
But wouldn’t it be a blessing if all God’s children did know?
Susan seemed to think so.
She taught us to sing this love. To pray this love. To reflect on this love. So we’d know it. Trust it.
Because if your whole life is joined into the love of God forever, and God’s love flows in you like sap in a vine, giving you fruit to bear, and literally nothing in the universe can stop that love of God for you, wouldn’t it be a blessing to know it?
And if you know it, Jesus says, you can live it, share it in a world that desperately needs it. You can take this fruit God grows in you and bear it in your family, your work, your world. So that God’s inseparable love for all things can start healing all things, as God dreams.
Today we grieve that Susan has come to her wintertime season.
She was such a blessing to her family, to this community of faith, to so many in the Church, and her season of winter did not arrive at a time any of us wanted.
But Susan herself has been reassuring us for decades that these seasons do come. Reminding you that you are never alone in whatever season you are. You can trust God’s resurrection love is always with you, whether you’re in the summer and it’s all going beautifully, or your heart is wintry and cold and fearful.
In the beautiful psalm we sang, the psalmist says there’s nowhere you can go God will not be, nowhere you can be God has not been, nowhere you can get lost God cannot find. The psalmist promises that every day of your life, from before you were born until the day your life here ends, you are God’s.
And then, on that day, God will welcome you to the place that has been “expect[ing] your return for years,” as W. H. Auden’s beautiful hymn says.
Our sister’s legacy of reassuring God’s children of the inseparable love of God for them will last far beyond all of our lives.
Susan will be drawing people to know the Vine of God’s love and grace for many years to come.
And so, thanks to her, we, too, gather here in our sadness and tears with this hope: we know she faced her wintertime without fear of it, and clinging to the trust she sang about and generously shared with us. She knew God’s love was still surrounding her to the end, and that God’s love would take her from here to the place that’s been expecting her return for years.
That is your joy today. You are connected to God’s undying love, to that Vine, always and forever. No matter the season. Let that fill you, and flow through you always in this world, until that day God brings you on your way to the place expecting your return for years, where those who have gone before you will have prepared your welcome home.
In the name of Jesus. Amen
 From the poem “Revealing,” part VI. Love; in Glory Into Glory: Reflections for worship, pp. 124-125; copyright © 2009 MorningStar Music Publishers, Fenton, Missouri