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Easter Five - Living in the Flow of God

The image of God as the vine-grower and Jesus as the true vine (and us also as branches of the vine) is a powerfully earthy yet ancient description of being invited to abide/dwell/live in the flow of God’s abundant life. (Easter Five. John 15:1-11; Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98 and 1 John 5:1-12.) The image works on its own as a horticultural/gardening image with its organic wisdom. And understanding or at least recognising some of the ancient Hebrew resonances of the vineyard metaphor only adds potency to the image.

You may wish to read what I wrote three years ago.

 


In the first weeks of the Easter season the readings focus on the appearance stories of the resurrected Jesus and provide proof of his resurrection and reassurance to the disciples then and to us now. We are now focused more on the ongoing presence of Jesus with the disciples after his death and resurrection,  and our own lives and dilemmas as people of faith now. We see this at work in the Acts of the Apostles and the very early church and we reflect on the words of Jesus just before his death and hear them with new ears.

 

In the readings from the gospel of John and the letters of John we hear several related themes in a great circle of unending love and inclusion that begins in God, flows through the Son and now sweeps us up and is expressed through us to one another and the world in need. We hear that the death and departure of Jesus is not the end for he continues to be present and has gifted us with the Advocate, the Holy Spirit; the presence of the Spirit is the very presence of God; and the Spirit is expressed in love for us and through us. Which leads us to the wonderful and challenging image of God as vine-grower and our part in the vine.

 

This image works well on its own as a metaphor for the spiritual life and the individual journey of faith. It is also about our part in the faith community and for this understanding it is good to know a little about the reoccurring image of the vineyard of God. The Song of the Vineyard can be found in Isaiah 5 and the people of Israel are likened to a vineyard that God has given everything necessary to. Other prophets such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea also refer to Israel as a vineyard.

 

The gospel of John frequently uses the word that can be translated as abiding/dwelling/remaining or simply as living in to describe our relationship with God. With Jesus as the true vine it is a beautiful and earthy image that we are described as branches of that vine. We can feel included in an essential way, as a very part of the resurrected one. We might reflect that to be a branch means that our purpose is to fruit or flourish. It may be more challenging to remember that pruning is part of the way that the branch is encouraged or stimulated to grow in the direction and way that the vine-grower wants us to. Pruning need only be a negative judgement to the extent that we need correcting and stimulating to be fruitful. It is loving purposefulness on the part of the vine-grower that leads to pruning not punishment. If we understand then those painful moments and losses in life as having the potential to be about pruning rather than punishment or being discarded then we can take courage and grow through what is difficult toward flourishing. It might help to think of God as both the sap that flows through the vine and as the gardener who prunes and works upon the vine, as both within and without us.

 

And of course a vine does not flourish only for its own sake but to produce fruit that attracts and nourishes others. The vineyard is an image of the established faithful people of God provided for by God. In Isaiah 5 we hear that God has done everything to establish and care for a vineyard but that wild grapes were produced - not good fruit. So when Jesus is described as the true vine we are being reminded that he is the good and fullest expression of God and that we are being invited to live in him and through him. And yet later in Isaiah Israel is again claimed as the Lords with the promise that God will tend them and protect them. We are urged to produce good fruit that is an expression of God’s life and love that flows through us to others. It is not a once only call but a beckoning throughout our lives. This image is a call to live fully and generously for our own sake and for the sake of others. It is not one or the other but both. As Jesus said in verse 11 it is all so that joy may be complete in us.

 

So let us stay connected to the vine, feel the life force of God flowing through us, and allow the corrective pruning that will lead to our flourishing so that we and all may know joy.

This reflection on the vine and its careful pruning by a loving vine-grower is dedicated to the memory of my dear colleague and brother Reverend John Jones who is laid to rest this week. He was a horticulturalist before becoming an Anglican priest and his life and work has been a blessing to many and will continue to bear much fruit. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

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