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. – John 15: 5
Sometimes it is helpful to be reminded that I am not the vine.
It seems obvious, but when one is part of the dominant culture and granted all the privileges therein, it is awfully easy forget what part I play in God’s dream. I have been cast in the role of a branch.
Vineyard imagery is abundant in both the Old and the New Testament of the Bible. God’s people are often equated to a vineyard, whether thriving or languishing, fruitful or barren. God is the landowner, the vine tender, the source of all goodness. Jesus is the vine, the stout central trunk grounding the plant amid the storms, sending nourishment through branches large and small, lifting the fruit into the sunlight.
We are the fruit bearing branches. Empowered by life in the risen Christ, we bring delight, sustenance, creativity, imagination, invention, love and hope into the world; each branch imbued with all the love the vineyard owner can impart. We grow alongside and celebrate one another’s fruitful contribution; growing more abundant when a branch wearies beside us, trusting that when we are weary; our neighbor will share the load.
With the death of Daunte Wright in mid-April, I began to wonder: Does not the whole vine shudder when any branch is severed? Certainly, Jesus cries out with Daunte’s mother, son, and family, feeling the blow of an axe hew away a branch that was alive in the sun, ready to bear fruit for many seasons to come. A branch cannot die without us feeling it in the core of who we are. Daunte was our brother, his mother our sister, his son our son. Daunte was part of God’s vineyard dream.
It is normal to feel grief, frustration, and helplessness in the aftermath of such a needless tragedy. It is normal to feel paralyzed by inaction because we do not know what to do. But we don’t have to stay in that place of helplessness and inaction. Our faith calls us forward.
We can look to leaders from the Minnesota Council of Churches, Presiding Elder Stacey Smith (President), Rev. Dr. Curtiss Paul DeYoung (CEO), and Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs (Director of Racial Justice).
Prayers – As people of faith we must pray for the family and friends of Daunte Wright who are mourning and weeping. They are mourning for their child Daunte and weeping for his now fatherless child. We must pray for our neighbors in Brooklyn Center where this injustice occurred. We must pray for African Americans and People of Color who are once again feeling fear, rage, grief, and hopelessness. And we must pray for justice in the ongoing trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin who killed George Floyd in Minneapolis. We must pray for racial justice and equity in our city, state, and nation.
Prayer is our most powerful collective act of faith, professing our belief in a God who engages and invites us into relationship and is impacted by our prayer.
Presence – Prayers must become presence. In moments like this, outrage is a natural part of grief, which is best processed in community. We invite you to stand with African American church leaders and members in this moment. Stand with the NAACP, Urban League, and other black-led civil rights and community organizations. Stand with courageous young activists who have relentlessly pressed the issues through the senseless police killings of Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, George Floyd, and now Daunte Wright.
Our commitment to accompaniment in mission calls us to come alongside our neighbors, listen to them and with them, and find our story and theirs within God’s story.
Prophesy – Presence must turn into prophesy. Refuse to be comforted. Refuse to rationalize this killing. Speak truth to power. Call for police accountability. Call for Minnesota legislators to act on proposed police reform bills. Call for a system-wide transformation of policing in Minnesota.
Our call as Lutheran Christians is, as Martin Luther instructed, to call a thing what it is and to serve the best interest of the most vulnerable among us.
It is normal to feel powerless. We are not powerless. In partnership with other communities of faith and our neighbors, God can work mighty power through us, pushing us to a future that comes ever closer to God’s dream.
In the journey together, branch to branch, branch to vine,
For more concrete ways to be engaged, please visit the Racial Justice Ministry Team page on our web site.