Grafted by God

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Community Eucharist

The written version of the sermon is here:

If we were a different sort of church, one that was used to all kinds of things happening in the place of the sermon, then at this point, on this day, I would love to invite us all to go outside into the church garden. There, I would turn things over to a guest from the New York Botanical Garden or the Central Park Conservancy or somewhere, would then then show us, tell us, and teach us all about grafting.

Grafting, is of course, that way of propagating plants where a part of one plant is fused with, inserted in, or joined with, another plant. Sometimes a cut is made in the hosting plant and a bud from another plant is inserted. Sometimes plants simply grow very closely, eventually growing into each other, much like a couple that lives and loves together over many years. At other times in grafting, the main plant (the stock) is simply split, and the other plant (the scion) is then inserted into the cleft. The place where they are joined is then covered with a grafting compound so that the new bond can build and grow and strengthen.

Grafting is used to create beauty, sometimes to create hardiness, for repair, and sometimes to create more pollen. And so, if we were that other sort of church, and we were all outside right now, having received a show-and-tell lesson on grafting, I would then have someone read the Gospel for today.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. . . . I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. . . . 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.”

Jesus is the vine onto which we, all of us, are grafted. A place is made for us. Sometimes that place is made through difficulty, through painful changes, through what feel like growing pains. And sometimes we’re grafted into Christ’s Body, which is the Church, in ways that feel a little crowded at first, a little like we’re not getting all the individual attention we deserve. But with faith and time, we grow into realizing that he is the vine.

We grow into being the branches.

We see how this begins to happen in today’s first reading, as Philip tries to answer the questions of the Ethiopian eunuch. God is the master gardener here, sending Philip toward Gaza, having Philip meet the Ethiopian, and then out of the meeting of these two very different people, from very different places and backgrounds, God makes something new. The Ethiopian is baptized. He is grafted on to the life of God in this world, the very life of Christ in this world. As the Ethiopian is baptized, he begins to become a little more like Jesus. But at the same time, the Body of Christ (the Church) begins to change ever so slightly as it takes on the complexion, the character, and even the possible complications of including this newest member of the Church, an Ethiopian eunuch.

This grafting, this joining, this adding of members to Christ’s body still begins with baptism. Back in October, several of us gathered in the garden to baptize a baby whose birth was not at all certain. Once he was here, his parents very much wanted a baptism, but the virus was bad in their Brooklyn neighborhood and they weren’t sure how safety get from there to here. We worked out a garden baptism. We grafted little Samuel on to the Body of Christ. His family has come a couple of times since and they’ll be here when things are safer. But who knows what kind of beauty he will bring. We as the branches that enfold and support and shield and strengthen, and on that day, he became a part of the vine, and God has begun doing something new again in Samuel, and his family.

We could still go outside and look closely at the garden. We could see what God is doing out there, and hear the Gospel in that context. But with eyes of faith, we can see the same thing right here.

Especially during the pandemic, we’ve been busy gardening. People of faith all over have gardened—or not gardened. Some have done the equivalent of digging up the plants, putting them into the basement for safety, saying a prayer, and hoping for the best. I hope something grows, as well, once things are brought back into daylight. 

Others of us have experimented and gotten dirty.  Now I don’t want to get smug or proud, but I am grateful that you and the vestry have joined me in using the tools we have, digging in some new ways, and being open to what new practices, perspectives, and people God might graft onto this particular vine. Some of what we’ve tried has not always grown. God will continue to do some weeding and pruning. Of course—that’s part of the experience, part of the growth.

We’ve got a lot to learn with changes in climate and growth patterns. We will need some new tools.  And we always need more gardeners to help and invite and assist in God’s work of graceful grafting.

We can look around and see the variety and beauty of God’s gardening work, as God has grafted us on to his Church. Sometimes the graft takes beautifully, and sometimes it needs a little more care, but whatever the case, the scriptures today remind us that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, and God will tend us and watch over us until we grow into the very perfection of his love. Thanks be to God.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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