28th April 2024 10.30am – 5th Sunday of Easter – Eucharist

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The Readings

Acts 8.26-40

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’

The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.


John 15.1-8

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 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.

Scripture Quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Catherine, Reader at St Mary's.

“I am the true vine, my Father is the Vine-grower. He removes every branch in
me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes, to make it bear
more fruit.”

Like last week’s readings about shepherds and sheep, we have a well-used
biblical metaphor. This time it’s the Vine. As with the sheep metaphor, we we
can interpret it in a way that isn’t particularly helpful, and even seems
threatening. Are we the branches that bear no fruit? Are we in danger of being
pruned out?

I grow strawberries and rhubarb, but I’ve never grown a vine. So I looked
online to see what the experts recommend. I also wanted to see how the vine
metaphor might be understood more helpfully. And I found at least 6 things to

1. Vines are hungry plants. They need a lot of manure to produce a good
harvest of healthy fruit.

Christians need regular feeding too. Where do you get your nourishment?
From the Bible perhaps. Maybe from reading, TV or radio programmes or
podcasts. Perhaps through the example of saints who have gone before us, or
discussion at a study group.

2. Vines don’t, however, need too much water. If they get too wet, they drown
and go mouldy. Are we as a church getting oversaturated and drowning in
things to do? (I know we sometimes find ourselves with a leaky roof, but that’s
another story...)

3. Vines are vigorous climbers whose branches need permanent support. A
Vine must have a trellis or similar structure to grow up, supporting its branches
all the way.

What supports us? Perhaps it’s the church building, where we gather for
worship. A focal point in the community, a place of shelter and rest. Maybe
it’s the structure of regular weekly worship. Perhaps it’s the structure of the
liturgy with its mixture of songs, Bible readings, prayers and Eucharist. Maybe
it’s the structure of the liturgical year, helping us to focus on a different aspect
of our faith at a particular time. And don’t forget the support we can and
should provide for each other.

4. Vines do need pruning. Dead and diseased branches are removed to keep the
rest of the plant healthy. Other branches need removing too, to help fresh air
circulate and sunlight reach the plant. The fruit won’t ripen without sunlight.
Once the grapes have started to form, there are too many of them, so they need
thinning out too. This allows those left to have the space to grow big and
juicy. So in our own lives, and in our church life, what things might be better
dropped in order to give other areas space to flourish?

5. There are many different types of grape – red, green, big, small, those which
are good to eat, those which are good to make wine. There are many different
wine grape varieties, leading an abundance of different wines. No one vine can
produce all these grapes!

So no one church can do everything – it’s good to have a handful of things to
do really well, in the knowledge that a neighbouring church will have different
strengths to complement ours.

6. The different grape varieties are not strong enough to grow all by
themselves. So they are grafted on to a rootstock. This might be a hardy,
wilder vine that produces small, sour fruit, but whose very strength is that it can
survive through the tough times and conditions. The hardy rootstock nourishes,
and supports the grafted branches and gives them what they need to produce
good, healthy grapes for eating or wine making.

Jesus is this tough rootstock, supporting us, the grafted branches of the church
and her people through the trials of life. We find it difficult to produce the fruit
of God’s kingdom without being firmly grafted to Jesus the vine, abiding in

Six ways in which the Vine metaphor might help us understand how to live our
lives as God’s people.

How might the Ethiopian Eunuch have been encouraged by this metaphor if he
heard it? In a very physical human sense, he was unable to bear fruit –
deprived of his manhood, he could never have his own children. He would
have been excluded from fully participating in worship at the temple too.
But through his encounter with Philip, he realises that God does love and want
him. He can be grafted on to the vine and bear fruit. Indeed, there have been
Christians in Ethiopia from very early in church history. As the Eunuch was
grafted into Christ the vine at his baptism, so we are grafted into Christ. Let us
take care of God’s vine. And let us bear good fruit.

The Prayers
Prepared by Kath, to be added shortly.



Common Worship: Times and Seasons, material from which is used here is copyright (c) 2010 The Archbishops' Council