29 April 2018

Easter 5 B 2018 - The True Vine

Sermon by the Rev. Canon H. Stuart Pike
Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski on Flickr.com

Easter 5B - The Vineyard
St. Luke’s, Burlington
John 15: 1-8

            My parish just before this one was located at the gateway to the Niagara Peninsula and it was a regular occurrence as I did my regular visiting in the parish or in the region that I would see row after row of grape vines. When we had guests anytime from the late Spring to the early Fall, we would often jump in the car and take them to visit several vineyards and to taste some of their produce. And along with the vineyards were farm after farm of fruit farms. I was so grateful to be living in such a fruitful corner of the world. I would thank God that we lived in Niagara and that we could experience the beauty of grape and apple and cherry and peach growing together.

            I appreciate good gardens, but I don’t suppose that I will ever be a good gardener myself. I must have realized this early on when I was a young boy and my maternal grandmother, who could and did grow anything, was teaching my brother and me how to weed the garden beds. Well, you see, I felt sorry for the weeds! Still to this day whenever I get the chance to weed our garden, my sense of accomplishment is always tinged with a hint of regret for the unwanted green refuse simply cast aside and thrown into the compost bin. If you know how I felt about weeding, you can imagine what the concept of pruning did to my psyche!

            Between the ages of 11 and 14 years, I lived in England where my father was teaching at a Royal Air Force staff college. We lived in a marvellous house with two sets of French doors that opened out into a beautiful back garden which was filled with about 15 rose beds. There were more rose beds in the front. My father, like most of the officers at the staff college, hired a gardener to care for it all.

            Mr. Jenkins was very old and bent and kind and he would show my brother and me how he pruned the roses and cared for the rest of the garden. He seems kind, I thought, but he certainly was vicious with a set of pruning shears.

            After watching me cut a quarter of an inch off the ends of a couple of branches, he explained to me that pruning was good for the plant. It allowed it to flourish and to produce far more flowers. Short term pain for long term gain.

            When Luke was writing the book of Acts and John was writing the Gospel of John the Church was going through persecution. Many were imprisoned and tortured and executed just for being Christians. Many Christians believed that God was in control of their lives and many must have found it difficult to understand how they could be experiencing so much evil while they had such a strong faith in God. Many would have been tempted to renounce their faith, or to simply keep it a very personal faith, and not to proclaim it publicly.

            It is within this context that we must hear the story of the vineyard. This image of the vineyard was one which was very familiar to the Hebrews. In much of the Old Testament the children of Israel were compared to a vineyard which was tended by God.

            In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells his followers that God will prune the faithful to make them produce even more fruit. I think that the early followers of Jesus who were so persecuted understood that it was through their suffering that they became even stronger in their faith. I remember my other grandmother, my father’s mother, explaining to me that her great faith hadn’t been grown when everything in her life was going smoothly. It had grown during the struggles in her life which were many.

            And in remembering our time at the Royal Air Force staff college I am reminded of the motto of the RAF and of the Commonwealth air forces, including our own. “Per Ardua ad Astra.” which can be translated as “Through adversity to the stars.”

            Many people here know this truth about struggle and growth. Still, many others find that life’s challenges cause them to doubt their faith and some seem to lose their faith in adversity. How can the bad in our life possibly cause us to be more fruitful?

            We can only understand it if we experience the other aspect of gardening which we hear in today’s Gospel. More gardening lessons! Mr. Jenkins showed my brother and me how to graft a shoot of one rose onto another rose bush. He especially liked to do this if there was a problem with the root system of a rose bush and it was dying. He could not only keep the shoot alive, but it could flourish growing on a healthy bush even if its original rose bush died. We had all kinds of rose bushes with roses of different colours blooming from them. We even had an apple tree which had small green apples on one half and small red ones on the other.

            Jesus tells us that he is the true vine, and that we have been grafted into him. It is he who provides us with our spiritual life. He gives us spiritual food that we might not only survive, even in adversity, but that we will thrive and produce fruit.

            The way in which we are grafted into Jesus, the true vine is by our baptism. It is through baptism that we become full members of the body of Christ. Remaining rooted in Christ is the only way in which we can live out our baptismal covenant. It is not something which we can do alone. It is the only way in which we can flourish. That is why we are baptized into a Church community. Just as a vine has many branches, so we are grafted into a community with many members and we support each other and are all fed by Christ.

            Jesus speaks about this connectedness to him as “abiding” in him. Jesus is our vine into whom we have been grafted. Abiding in Jesus means recognizing our rootedness in Him. It means living out our life drawing from our connectedness to our faith. Abiding means living in Jesus – daily. It means that it is Jesus who feeds us, who motivates us and guides our thoughts and actions.

            What does it mean in practical terms to you? How can you tell if you are abiding in Jesus? Well, you can tell a tree by its fruit. What kind of fruit are you bearing and what does it say about you? If we are abiding in Jesus, then we will be doing the things that Jesus did – we will be working for others good, rather than just our own. We will be valuing other people as Jesus did. And we will be working to overturn structures that oppress, or exclude or are life-destroying.

            There are examples of what happens to people when they do not abide in their faith, or in their deepest selves. It is an extreme example, certainly, but, sadly there are more and more examples like it: the senseless destruction of life perpetrated by Alek Minassian in Toronto last week. The fact that these types of tragedies are happening more and more frequently is an indication, to me, that people are living more and more disconnected lives. Disconnected from other people, and certainly disconnected from a deep faith, or from the true vine, which feeds us, and gives us direction for living fruitful lives, and for making a difference for good, that we might me builders of God’s kingdom in the here and now.

            I invite you to look at all the ministries that we do here at St. Luke’s and to find a way to be more deeply rooted into Jesus, the true vine. You will find many ways to bear fruit by being engaged in some of our ministries, or you may bear fruit in most other areas of your life, if you live your faith as one who is fed by Jesus, the true vine. Let your love of Jesus give you insight into what God would have you do. Let Jesus be the one who directs your decisions and actions.

            I pray that we will each remain rooted in Christ, that we will continue to grow in faith and that we will bear much fruit. Amen

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