There’s something really wonderful about playing in the dirt...whether you are a master gardener, you grow your own vegetables, or you just like to tinker with flowers in pots, playing in the dirt, smelling the soil, pulling the weeds...there’s something joyous about it. Some years I’m a better at it than others. Some years I spend hours tending to my little patch outside the back door, talking to the ever growing sage and lavender, wondering to whom I can give away clippings of my monstrous rosemary plant, carefully watering each daffodil, tulip, and flower pot. Other years, it’s a wonder nothing dies...the little patch gets no attention at all. My grandparents were much better gardeners than I will ever be.
My grandmother never wore gloves when she gardened. Her hands were callused, dirt under the fingernails, her knees damp from the soil. My grandfather loved his vegetables and in the summer would set up a little road-side stand to sell you a variety of beans, carrots, squash, and tomatoes. But his love was wine! In his later years, he would set up his road-side vegetable stand, get you engaged in talking about the weather, politics, sports--whatever you seemed interested in--he’d sell you some vegetables, and then just as you were about to leave, he’d ask if you were interested in trying some of his homemade wine. If you had time to pass, you’d come in, sit at the kitchen table, continuing the conversation you’d started out by the road, and enjoy a glass or two of grandpa’s wine. He’d send you home with a bottle--for free--in hopes that you would return soon. The next time you came by, the wine was $10--cash only, no checks.
My grandfather loved the land and all that it produced. He was proud to watch his garden, and his vineyard, grow. One afternoon I remember going out to look at the little vineyard with him.
The vine is the part that grows out of the ground from the roots. It’s a little thicker and not really tall. But what I realized is that the vine is what nurtures the branches. It is through the vine that the branches get water, nutrients from the soil, and the ability to thrive. The branches depend on the vine. But the branches also have work to do. They are responsible for growing, becoming entangled with one another for support, and producing the buds which will lead to fruit. Sometimes, they have to be pruned in order to continue to grow. Without pruning, they can’t prosper.
In particular I found the branches to be really interesting. Unless you look really carefully, it’s hard to tell where one vine and its branches end and another begins…they’re all tangled up. And they’re long…it’s as if they’re reach extends forever.
I can’t help but wonder what Jesus thought about when he shared this pseudo-parable with his disciples. Did he have a particular vineyard in mind?
In the Message translation of this particular passage, Jesus says, “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.”
I love this image of being joined in an intimate and organic relationship with Jesus. When the gospel of John was written down, much time had passed since Jesus’ death and resurrection, the early Christian community was still trying to figure out who and what they were all about. Chances are there were no eye-witnesses to the Jesus event still alive, so those early Christians were basing their beliefs and their community on stories, hope and love. Even though time had passed, they still believed that they were intimately connected with Jesus and abided in his love.
To “abide” in the Biblical sense means to dwell or to stay. Dwell in love. Stay in love. God’s love dwells within us. Our love for each other is based on God’s love which stays in us. This is the message we receive from the reading of 1 John. That we are Beloved. All week this reading has been with me in my heart and in my mind because it is so intimate. It’s like a love letter. It’s poetic and beautiful. It’s a reassuring message to hear that we are the recipients of the most wonderful, living giving perfect love.
Jesus is our vine…he gives us life, he nurtures us, he grows us.
So what do we do with this love? How do we abide in Christ?
On a grand scale, I witness the outpouring of love and concern for those affected by natural disasters, such as our collective response to Nepal’s devastating earthquake, or the earthquake in Haiti a few years ago, or Hurricane Katrina. Our response is an outward sign of abiding in Christ.
On a smaller scale, I witness the outpouring of love and concern, and a desire to serve, when I read news reports of men and women being arrested for feeding the homeless in their communities. They are a living in God’s love.
On an even smaller, more immediate scale, I see the love and care that we here offer one another in times of crisis, in times of great sadness, in times of joy. Your willingness to help and serve others in the community--to provide clothing for children, shelter for the homeless, food to the hungry and aid to those in need.
Are there other examples of how we live and grow in Christ that you can think of?
Jesus said, “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.”
We are the branches…we get tangled up together, supporting one another, extending our reach through one another, growing and changing the world around us.
Let us pray:
Jesus, you are the true vine and we are the branches. By your Spirit, produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, and patience in us for others to taste and enjoy. Keep us from hanging on to love for ourselves. Prune all selfishness from us and fill us with your love. Keep us firm and steadfast in our faith that we might remain in you and bear much fruit. Amen.
(prayer adapted from https://ctkpalmcoast.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/daily-devotion-on-john-151-8/ and http://re-worship.blogspot.com/2012/04/prayers-of-people-john-15-1-8.html)
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.