The Vineyard – May 6, 2012 – John 15: 1 – 8

Over the past 6 weeks, we’ve been reading from the Gospel of John.   I can sum up this gospel in 2 words, community and mission.  I have preached about the community of Jesus’ followers, especially what the community did at Jesus’ death and following his resurrection.

In Chapter 20, we read about the cowering community that locked themselves in the house for fear of the Jews’ questioning them about who Jesus was.   They feared that if they publically confessed that Jesus was the Messiah they would be kicked out of the synagogue.  Behind closed doors, they were trying to figure out who their community was.  They knew they’d be unwelcome in the synagogue as a follower of Jesus’ Way, but they needed the community of a religious gathering to remember the stories about Jesus.

Finally, in Chapter 21, once they emerged from the house, they went fishing.  Simon Peter and the Disciple guys went fishing.  It was the first time that they had all been together since their last supper with Jesus.  The fishing trip was a metaphor for the community’s continuing mission of Christ’s work and gathering all the fish of the world to believe in Christ.

Now, we back up a little bit to the time before Christ’s death.  This Scripture is set in the time known as the Farewell Discourse.  Throughout these teachings, Jesus is preparing the Disciples to be a community without Him, yet keeping Him central to their movement.

In the Farewell Discourse, there are several “I Am” sayings.  These are distinct to the Gospel of John.  I’ll give you a quick Greek lesson.  “I Am” in Greek is ego eimi.  The statement “I Am” in and of itself makes a claim of Jesus’ relationship to God.  “I Am” is the name God gives to Moses when Moses asks “Who shall I say sent me?”  God is the Great I Am.  The “I Am” statements that Jesus makes are all meant not only to say something about His relationship to God; they also point to the relationships of Jesus to the world and the Disciples to themselves and their neighbors.  Jesus says, I am the Bread of Life, I am the Light of the World, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.   These are all familiar metaphors to this 1st century community.[1]   Now, Jesus says I am the Vine. 

The key points of this message are that the branches need to abide in the Vine and be pruned by the Vinedresser.  Probably most important is for the branches to abide with the Vine.  Jesus uses the Greek word meno (μένω) 10 times in 6 verses referring to the need for the branches to abide in Him.  His command to abide with Him is to be in union with Christ and depend on Him.[2]

In order for the Vinedresser, that is God, to prune us that we may bear fruit, we first need to abide in the Vine.   This takes a great commitment and a lot of work on our part.  An active prayer life is the best means by which to maintain our connection to the Vine.  Regular bedtime prayers or reading a daily devotion allow us to connect with God on a daily basis.  Prayer before meals is an healthy habit giving thanks to God 3 times a day.  Meal prayers with a night time prayer and daily devotional is 5 brief moments abiding in the Vine.  Still, prayer just 5 times a day takes commitment.

I have been reading about the ancient practice of praying the hours, also known as observing the Divine office.  At the center of the Divine Hours is reciting the Psalms in regular intervals throughout the day.  There is some evidence that Jesus was praying the hours while hanging on the cross.  For example, the Gospels tell of the time on that Friday with some detail of the morning, noon, 3 pm, evening, and night.  Further, the words that the different Gospels have Him saying while on the cross can all be found in the Psalms.   Monks and some clergy do this daily practice of praying the hours.

For nearly a year, I have been trying to observe the Divine Hours.  I’ve tried different ways.  I started with setting an alarm on my phone for 6 am, 9 am, noon, 3 pm, 6 pm and 9 pm.  That 6 am hour was a little too early for me and I didn’t regularly do anything at that hour.  I tried to keep it simple.  Every time the alarmed sounded I simply prayed, “I love you, Jesus.”  Other than the 6 am wake up, I did pretty good at this for about a month.  If you think about it that’s only 6 times a day.  I also read a Psalm every night at bed.  And, trust me, I still talked God’s ear off at bedtime, so that makes 7 prayers a day.

Then, I decided to step it up a bit.  That’s when the practice fell by the way side.  There are books, podcasts, and websites to guide the process of the full observance of the Divine office.  There is a pattern of prayer, a song, a Scriptural refrain, a reading from a Psalm, another Scripture reading, the Lord’s prayer, and a closing prayer. 

I have a book called the Book of Common Prayer that includes a plan for praying the hours.  I tried to have a friend explain using the book, but I got all confused.  Maybe there’s a reason, we of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) say “No Book but the Bible.”  I also tried a podcast but being read to didn’t feel like prayer; it is still prayer, but it didn’t feel right for me.  I found a website that posts the readings and refrains and songs on a regular basis throughout the day.  But, then, I had to grab my phone or log onto my computer and pull up the website – that proved to be too daunting.  So, I gave up my attempt to pray the Divine Hours.

I’m going to try it again.  I’ve started off again with the simple prayer alarms.  I decided not to set that 6 am alarm.  I know I’m only going to curse the phone at that early hour.  Instead, I set a midnight alarm.  I hope some of you will try it with me.

Staying connected to the Vine through prayer is our commitment to Christ.  We abide in Christ through an active prayer life.  Jesus is the Vine from which we grow.  Jesus is always our source.  The Vine continues to nourish the branch that is healthy and growing.  We can trust that Jesus is ever connected to us as the Vine, sustaining and nurturing the branches as we grow in love and trust that we can abide in God’s love.[3] 

We are pruned each time we encounter God’s Word through the Scriptures.  God the Vinedresser prunes the branches of Jesus’ Vine.  The narratives of the Hebrew people and Israel’s prophets in the first part of the Bible remind us of God’s everlasting care.  God makes a covenant to be the people’s God.  The stories of the first testament people, the first ones who covenant with God, are the stories of human experiences of God as the God of a community.  The people experienced God individually and the individuals experienced God as part of a community.  God honors this covenant still today caring for every human being on earth.  Through these stories, we know the goodness of growing in the Vineyard.

The messages of the prophets tell of God’s correction of the people.  The people time after time sin and stray from God and time after time God offers to take them back as the chosen people.  Prophets were lifted up to speak the truth of God so that the people may turn back to the path of righteousness.  The stories of the Bible tell us of the Lord’s redemptive work throughout all of history to draw the people closer to God.  Over and over again, God showers the people with grace and justice.  Through these messages, we are pruned to grow on the path of righteousness and our sinful ways are trimmed back.

Jesus invites us to be in a covenant that the God of all creation shall be our God and that we shall belong to God.  Jesus teaches us to live as people of the expanded covenant, that was new to the Gentiles.  As people of the new covenant, we grow in the vineyard with Jesus as the Vine on which we grow.  Jesus’ reflection of God’s love is our nourishment; His light makes us grow.  Jesus teaches us to grow in the way of love and our attempts to follow the ways of the world are trimmed back. 

We are pruned by God’s Word.  The message gives us the nutrients we need to grow.  The stories help us grow in the right direction.  Our leaves are fullest at the point where we are connected to the Vine and continue to grow green at the furthest edge.  Our sin is trimmed back.  We turn away from our sin and grow toward the perfection of love.  Our branch does not wither and our leaves do not become brown and brittle by sin.

Sin can distort our life, it does not however destroy our capacity to experience God’s presence, power, and love.[4]  We are so dependent upon and connected to God that every moment of life is an experience of God.[5]  We are because of God; we don’t exist apart from the God.  We remember this when we abide in the Vine through prayer and are pruned by the Vinedresser through the Scriptures.  Through both spiritual practices, we abide in the Vine and are pruned to grow to the perfection of love by the Vinedresser. 

Abiding in the Vine and being pruned by the Vinedresser, we can bear fruit.  Galatians Chapter 5 verses 22 – 23 tells us that the fruit of a branch connected to the Vine is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  The Christian life bearing good fruit is evident to others in the way we live.  Our grapes are sweet, not sour, as it is the love of Christ that sweetens us.  Our fruitful life draws others to want to be connected to the Vine.

Sin can not only make our branch wither; sin can also make us sour.  How easy is it for us to become a sour grape.  When we don’t know our Source of Light and Nutrients and Water, it is easy to become spiteful, jealous, mean, and ill-willed.  Sour grapes are judgmental.  Bad fruit complains about not having enough and wanting what others have.

Abiding in the Vine and being cared for by the Vinedresser also keeps us safe from the spoil of evil.  Too often, we are drawn to grow off to this way or that way.  We think our fruit will grow if we go here or there.  Something seems that it will bring us pleasure but only draws us away from God.  Being pruned to grow close to the Vine, our fruit cannot be stolen by those who wish to harm us.

I am reminded of Aesop’s Fable, The Fox and the Grapes.[6]  It goes:

One hot summer’s day, a Fox was strolling through a vineyard till he came to a bunch of grapes just ripening on a branch which had been trained to grow close to the vine.  He thought, “Just the thing to quench my thirst.”  He drew back a few paces, he ran and jumped, and just missed the bunch.  Turning around again, with a one, two, three, he jumped up, but with no greater success.  Again and again he tried after the tempting fruit, but at last had to give it up and walked away saying, “I am sure they are sour.”

Jesus is the Vine on which we grow in the vineyard.  When we abide in the Vine through prayer and are pruned by the Vinedresser through the Scriptures, we bear good sweet fruit that is safe from harm.  

May your fruitfulness be evident to all.  Amen.

 

 


[1] FotW, 473

[4] Cooper, 136.

[5] Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke, How to Think Theologically (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1996), 51.

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