I. My father died three months ago today. His health, for a 96-year-old, was remarkable, declining only in the last few months. When he moved into assisted living, and then into nursing care, we had many opportunities for good, but sometimes difficult, conversations. In the end, when he was more confused, he said something to me one day that I’ll never forget: He said, “When you’re not here, I don’t know who I am.” “When you’re not here, I don’t know who I am.”
II. Jesus’ image of the vine and the branches in St. John’s gospel is rich. The vine would not be the vine, there would be no vine, without the branches: the vine is its branches. We are one with Jesus. As a Christian, of course, I would not exist without Jesus. My deepest me is Christ. When I’m not attached to Jesus, I don’t know who I am.
III. It is equally true that, without one another—our Christian community—we would not know who we are. Our Ascension community, and our Northside community, give us our purpose. Our mission statement reads that we honor people as they are, that we’re welcoming and caring; we live in gratitude with respect and mutuality; and, we are engaged in our community. Christianity is not a private matter between Jesus and me. Encounter with Jesus Christ is always entwined in our encounter with others. The communal celebration of the Eucharist Sunday after Sunday undoes the delusion that we can make it on our own without others; and the delusion that the others, they, can make it on their own. We engage in our community by getting to know and love and reach out to our Northside neighbors. We engage in our community by surrounding our immigrant brothers and sisters with love and concern and assistance in these trying times. We engage in our community Sunday after Sunday to give and receive life support.
And because we engage in our community, because we care about who lives, works and worships here in Hennepin County, I ask you to join me in talking with our Hennepin County Commissioner candidates this afternoon from 1:00—3:00 here in the church. Commissioners have a great deal of power in setting the priorities for our tax dollars in the county, and they need to hear from us about our concerns for our Ascension neighborhood and families.
We cannot and will not make it if we are separate from the Lord or each other. “Without me,” Jesus says today, “you can do nothing.” Without him, we don’t know who we are.