COMING IN AT NUMBER #81 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 Songs of All Time is the classic, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”
The song was made famous in 1968 by soul singer, Marvin Gaye, who recorded for the Motown label, but it was written two years earlier by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.
These two collaborators of the song’s lyric said they came up with the idea for the song after spending time in Chicago where they overheard people on the street saying they heard news, “through the grapevine,” a slang phrase meaning, they’d heard it by word of mouth; from people passing it on to other people who then passed it on to still more people.
In the lyric, the singer tells us his Beloved is going to leave him and he is especially heartbroken because he hasn’t heard it directly from her. He heard the news from other people. He heard it through the grapevine.
THE GOSPEL STORY OF GOD’S LOVE, favor, and kindness toward us has come down to us “through the grapevine,” so to speak.
We’ve heard the gospel story through the words and witness of parents who loved us, grandparents who taught us to pray, Sunday school teachers who shared the stories of the Bible, the preaching of faithful pastors, and friends who supported us, especially in times of struggle.
We have heard the story from women, men, and children who themselves heard about Jesus from other people, and therefore came to look for him and see him in their own lives, and so, told us of the difference Jesus makes.
LAST WEEK IN WORSHIP, THE EPIPHANY YOUTH GROUP shared the Gospel with us in many ways: in the sermons the seniors gave, in song, and in beautifully crafted prayers. And they shared the Gospel in action as they displayed what God’s love and grace look like:
During the anthem, the youth walked down the center aisle toward a cross set up in the center of the chancel, carrying with them leaves made from green construction paper. They hung the leaves on what looked like a brown rope hung on the cross, and when they sat down we could see, the rope around the cross, had become a lavish and lush vine heavy with leaves.
We saw Jesus’ words: “I am the vine, you are the branches,” come to life before our very eyes. As the youth hung their leaves to make the vine, they sang words meant to be spoken by God and addressed to us:
I’ll be by your side wherever you fall
In the dead of night whenever you call
And please don’t fight these hands that are holding you
My hands are holding you
I love you, and I want you to know
That I love you, and I’ll never let you go.
So we saw and we heard the gospel story: God loves us. God chooses us. God promises to be with us when we stumble and fall, in our deepest darkest night, and nothing we do and nothing the world can do to us will ever stop God from loving us.
And this cross in our midst today helps us see that the cross is a tree of life. We saw that this instrument of death, because of Jesus, has become the place from which we receive life.
IN THE FIFTEENTH CHAPTER OF JOHN’S GOSPEL Jesus tells us that our life in him is like a grapevine, and through this picture, Jesus helps us understand three things: who God is, who Jesus is, and, just as importantly, who we are.
God is the vine-grower, our source of life. Jesus is the vine, who connects us to God. We are the branches. And all three are essential elements to producing fruit. You must have the vine-grower. You must have the vine. You must have the branches. If you take any one element away, you will not have any fruit.
We are only connected to God through Jesus, and in him, we find our health and well-being, and yield the sweet fruit we are designed to produce. Apart from him, our life will wither and nothing we produce will be of any true, lasting significance.
THERE IS SOMETHING SPECIAL ON THESE LEAVES. You may not be able to see it unless you are sitting very close to the front of the nave, but the youth have decorated and written on these leaves.
Each youth has written their name, and listed gifts or “fruit” that God has given them. Some of the gifts drawn and written down on the leaves includes:
leadership, faith, commitment/ humor, painting, praying/ friendships, hope, creativity/ organization, sharing my voice, the love of science/ leading worship, writing, sports/ love, honesty, intelligence/ sharing, caring, singing, serving others, and making people smile.
God has been gracious to give these young men and women such unique and personal gifts for life and ministry. And these young men and women are blessed to be a part of a community that has helped them cultivate these gifts and recognize these gifts in themselves.
God gives each of us gifts for the good of the community. Each of us is given particular gifts, but no one person has all the gifts. No one person and no one group can do all the good.
Instead, in the beauty of God’s plan for our life together, we need one another. God has made each of us with unique gifts to share in the life we have together in Jesus Christ. But that’s not what we hear most of the time.
THE CULTURE AROUND US ENCOURAGES US to live for ourselves; to achieve, acquire and accumulate for ourselves; and to protect ourselves. Watch television, pay attention to the radio, be online; listen to the stories and conversations that come to you through the grapevine at work and school and in the community, and you’ll hear a message that advocates and celebrates autonomy, personal choice, and a self-centered life.
But Jesus encourages us to live for others and to love with a love like his: to care for and protect others, especially the most vulnerable and the weakest in our community.
THE CROSS REMINDS US GOD HAS LOVED US FIRST AND God sends us out to share a love that takes the shape of the cross…..
And so God sends us out to the public schools to make a difference in the lives of teachers who are overworked and students who have no one to greet them at home.
God sends us out to gather food from garden and grocery store to feed the hungry.
God sends us out to invite friends and neighbors back to this community of faith where we are gathered around the table of the Lord to receive his body and blood so that we learn what real love is.
WE ARE CALLED TO LOVE and we can love one another, especially those in need because Christ has shown us how.
We can share the Gospel by word of mouth, through the grapevine, so to speak, by obeying his commands, by caring for creation, by loving for one another especially in times of need, and by using the unique gifts God has given us. We pass love on to people who may pass it on to other people, who then pass it on to still more people.
The love we share comes from Christ who layed his life down for us on the cross, who chose us, called us friends, gathered us through baptism into a community of self-sacrifice, kindness, and friendship, and love. And today our Lord calls us to his table.
So come to God’s table and be nourished by the fruit of the vine. We find our real life in the true vine who welcomes us and in an embrace of love and grace.