April 29, 2018 Fifth Sunday of Easter Deacon Steve Whiteman

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 ACTS 9:26-31

 Responsorial Psalm PS 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32

  1. (26a)I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people.

Reading 2 1 JN 3:18-24

Alleluia JN 15:4A, 5B

Remain in me as I remain in you, says the Lord.
Whoever remains in me will bear much fruit.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 15:1-8

Fifth Sunday of Easter
I have a story for you today:

I have a friend named Joseph. He has an uncle named Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson is retired and lost his wife a few years ago. He has children and grandchildren but they live out of state and he doesn’t see them much. Mr. Johnson and his wife used to be very active in their parish but when his wife got sick they had to give up their volunteer work.

After his wife died, Mr. Johnson had a very difficult time grieving. His family and friends encouraged him to join a grief support group but he said he “wasn’t ready for that”. He seemed to withdraw into himself a little more each month until finally he stopped coming to Mass. Joseph noticed he was missing and after a couple of weeks he called his uncle to see if he was alright. His uncle assured Joseph he was OK and would be back at Mass the next weekend. When Mr. Johnson missed Mass again, Joseph became concerned and decided to visit his uncle one night after supper.

Joseph knocked on the door, and to his surprise, his uncle opened it and gestured for him to come in.  They walked over to the fireplace and sat down. Neither one knew what to say, so for quite some time, they simply sat in silence, staring at the fire.  After a while, Joseph got inspired. He stood up and walked over to the fireplace.  Using the tongs, he reached into the pile of hot embers glowing at the heart of the fire.  He pulled out a single ember, glowing red-hot and placed it on the stone hearth.  His uncle watched, wondering what he was doing, but still said nothing.  Both men stared at the ember as it began to fade from glowing red to a dull black.  When it had cooled enough, Joseph stooped down and picked it up with his hand.  He held it for moment, then threw it back into the fire.  Almost immediately, it began to burn red-hot again. Joseph gave his uncle a hug and told him “we burn brighter when we stay together”. His uncle smiled with tears in his eyes and quietly said, “I’ll see you Sunday at Mass.”

I’ve always like this story because it shows the importance of a parish community and the need to reach out to people in loneliness or pain. Like the glowing embers in the story, we burn brighter when we stay together and practice our faith as one Body in Christ. Coming together for the Eucharist at Mass is the fuel that keeps our fire burning.

Our Gospel today gives us another metaphor for community that may be more appropriate for this time of year: the vine and branches.

The nation of Israel is often described as a vineyard in the Old Testament. The disciples listening to Jesus would have recognized the symbolism and known that vineyards take a lot of care and attention before they can produce the best fruit. They would have embraced the idea of being a branch nourished by the vine, Jesus. Having God the Father as the master gardener gives us the best chance of bearing fruit and as you may know from first-hand experience, pruning is a necessary step.

A parish community growing like branches and bearing fruit on a Sacramental vine is a blessing we are fortunate to have at Nativity. We have the chance to celebrate together our joyful milestones such as baptisms, 1st Communions or Weddings. We also have the chance to comfort each other during times of sickness, crises and death.

One of our responsibilities as a member of this parish is to watch out for each other. If someone suddenly stops coming to Mass for no apparent reason it may be a warning sign. If we notice a withering branch in our parish vineyard we need to respond. The Gospel tells us that those who lose their connection to Jesus will eventually wither and be thrown into the fire. Even if we haven’t worked in a vineyard, the symbolism of hell is clear.

Our 2nd reading today gives us some clear direction: let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. For Mr. Johnson, a phone call from Joseph was not enough. If you notice someone missing from Mass, consider reaching out to them in a loving way or contact a member of the parish staff. Karen Leisen is our designated parish visitor and Becky Krapfl is our parish nurse. Father Jim, myself and several volunteers visit parishioners and bring Communion to those not able to attend Mass. If this is a ministry you are interested in, consider talking to Father Jim about being a Eucharistic Minister to the homebound. It’s a rewarding ministry with benefits that are out of this world.

So as we strive to bear our best fruit in the vineyard of our parish, let us remember the lesson of Mr. Johnson: together we burn brighter.