31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
October 22, 2023
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Knowing that the First Fruits Garden would soon be turned over for its winter rest, I felt comfortable cutting off a piece of squash vine to use as a background slide for our Season of Generosity videos. I took it home imagining I would clean off the dining room table and use that as a backdrop. I was in a rush though, so I left the vine in the garage, and by the time I was able to get back to it, you can imagine what it looked like.
It was withered. It was lifeless. It was sad.
There are many metaphors in the Bible that are hard to comprehend in our modern times; however we understand vines and branches. We understand that when you cut the branch off the vine, when you disconnect the branch from that which provides it nutrients and sustenance, the branch withers. The branch is lifeless. The branch dies.
We are just like those squash branches that flourished in the First Fruits Garden all summer long. We need to be connected to the vine. We need to be tended and nurtured in order to survive, in order to blossom, in order to bear fruit. We need to be connected to the vine to live and thrive. We need to be connected to the vine that is Jesus.
Jesus knew that we not only needed to be connected to him. Jesus also knew his followers would need a community to nurture that connection. Jesus knew we would need the Church.
Throughout my life, the Church has connected me to the vine that is Jesus Christ in so many ways. I was baptized into the faith and family of Jesus Christ at a small United Methodist Church in Rocky Hill where as a baby and toddler, members of that church held me and rocked me in the Church nursery. As a child and teenager, I was part of a church in Glastonbury that invested such serious resources into children and youth that each of these age groups had their own full-time dedicated minister.
The ministry of that church nurtured my Christian faith journey through worship, youth group, Children’s Ministry, Confirmation classes, retreats, and mission trips and enabled me to hear and understand when God called me to ordained ministry on a high school youth retreat. And that church continued to nurture my faith and my gifts, providing incredible support for my seminary and ordination journey.
The church of my college years also affirmed my calling to ordained ministry, and they entrusted me with their youth. For anyone who has ever worked with children and youth at church, you know that as you “teach” them, you find yourself learning and growing, too.
That same church in Ann Arbor, Michigan connected me to the vine that is Jesus Christ by introducing me to the Maundy Thursday Service of Tenebrae. This service of worship that is traditional for many churches including our own is a service of light and darkness, where we experience Jesus’ journey to the cross and know again Christ’s sacrificial love for all.
The importance of having our connections to Jesus nurtured does not end as we step into adulthood. In the trials and tribulations that come with adult life, it is particularly important to be connected to Jesus and sustained by his love.
I am thankful for the churches I have belonged to as an adult. I am thankful for all of the ways they have celebrated with me in moments of joy. I am even more grateful for their support and prayers and reminders of God’s eternal presence and unconditional love in the moments of grief and sorrow, in the moments that have tested my connection to Jesus, in the moments where I might have been in danger of being cut off from the vine.
Especially in those moments, the Church, the community of Christ has prayed for me; prayed with me; prayed over me. Through the Church, I have heard beautiful and inspiring anthems and sung comforting hymns, all of this music reminding me of God’s amazing grace.
The Church has grounded my roots ever deeper in God’s Word through Bible study, and leading Confirmation and Children’s Ministry. And the Church has reminded me to rejoice when I am in danger of getting overly stressed out; to laugh when I am taking myself too seriously; to pause and be thankful for the wonders, the abundance, the incredible blessings of my life and the world.
The Church of Jesus Christ nurtures my connection with Jesus, nurtures my awareness of God and God’s love, nurtures my faith, and nurtures my hope.
You are here because either you are searching for something, searching to be connected to the vine, looking for Christ’s peace and love to abide, to live, to thrive in your life;
Or you are here because you, too, know that the Church, this church nurtures and nourishes your faith, connecting you ever more deeply to God and God’s love.
You have your own stories of how the Church has carried you through the joyous times and those moments of challenge, of sorrow and despair that happen in everyone’s lives.
You are here because you have experienced God’s still speaking voice through the power of music or through the words of a spoken message. You here; you are connected to the vine because you have felt the energy of the Holy Spirit moving in this Sanctuary or moving over the miles to where you are worshipping.
In ways we might never be able to explain, we have felt the strength of God’s love surrounding us and filling us because of the worship of this community of faith, because of the dedicated prayer ministry of this church, because of the authentic, supportive relationships that make this a community of Christ’s love.
We are nurtured. We are connected to the vine, the vine that is Jesus Christ, connected to God’s unconditional love because of the ministry of this church, because of the people of this church, because of all of the ways God’s love abides, lives and thrives in this community of faith.
We are who we are, we are able to do what we do – all because we are connected to Jesus through the supportive, loving, faith nourishing ministry of this community of Christ we call the First Congregational Church.