In today’s lesson from John’s gospel, Jesus is in the midst of his farewell discourse; his final meal with the disciples before his arrest, trial, death, and burial. Jesus repeatedly draws from the natural world to illustrate the character of God, and God’s care for us. Tonight is no different.
Jesus tells the disciples, “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” (15:5).
Throughout the entire discourse, Jesus actually uses the word ‘abide’ nine different times. Somehow he must know the fear that will consume the disciples in the days ahead. Even though they do not realize it at this moment, soon the disciples will scatter, abandon the cause, deny him, and hide out together in a state of complete fear.
Yet Jesus is the vine; and as followers of the Way, we are the branches. We are called to abide in that relationship. The disciples carried these words within, and eventually they could lean in and be present with an openness and willingness once again. When we are able to be present to God in our own journey and when we are able to be present to God as a community, we will bear much fruit. Fruit that will last. The Vinegrower sees what is possible when we are open and willing to God and one another.
We have experienced this before as a community. In December 2016, we opened our hearts to the possibility of growing deeper in our relationship as former St. James and St. Andrew. Four months later, we emerged as a new community-- as James and Andrew. That would not have been possible had any of us resisted. Had any one of the pastors or vestry leaders or groups of parishioners said, NO, and put up walls, we would not be here today. Instead we leaned in; we chose to abide; and we were open to see what might be possible. We trusted the process, and let the Spirit be our guide. Only the Vinegrower could have possibly seen such potential in us.
Jesus goes on to tell his disciples, “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (15:6).
While it has been interpreted this way, Jesus is not referring to hell. Rather Jesus is describing the state of fear and feeling of being cut off the disciples will experience when they scatter in the days ahead. Jesus is telling the disciples and us, this is what happens when we resist authentic relationships; when we choose to cut ourselves off from Christ or community.
A funny thing happens when we close ourselves off to protect or defend ourselves from vulnerability or chance. The more we put up walls and resist, the more distance we put between ourselves and what we long for. We become a fortress, preventing transformation and possibility, closing ourselves off from the potential God knows rests within our branches. The end result of such self-sabotage is loneliness, as we struggle to have our own way instead of God’s way.
It is a little bit like being lost. I have been known to get lost in the woods. Some times that has left me feeling a bit anxious or uncertain, other times it has been scary, and a couple of times it has become downright dangerous. Yet there have been many more times when I have gone into the woods and I get lost in the beauty of the trees I walk beside. The trees become my companions, and together we get lost in the majesty and glory of our mutual Creator. In those moments of being lost, I feel whole and completely connected to the vine. I feel myself open to whatever possibilities might lay before me. I am able to trust God’s process, and feel really compelled to lean into my relationships with those I care for and community life.
Another way to think about it is our body’s posture as we approach God. Are our hands out in front of us, indicating to God or our community that they must STOP and stay back. Or are we able to try on that orans position we refer to in liturgy, where we hold our arms up and open to God and possibilities. When we abide, we keep our arms wide open.
What posture are we holding towards God today?
When has our own ego, or anxiety, or fear closed us off from the possibilities God dreams for us?
When in our lives have we offered ourselves willingly to God?
What possibilities grew from that openness?
As followers of the Way of Love, Jesus is our vine, and the Creator is our Vinegrower. We are the branches. As branches we are called to approach our relationship with God and our community of faith with a real openness. A willingness to be vulnerable and be changed, to embrace the possibilities of our potential.
As we walk into the next week, I want to invite each of us into some reflection.
Where are we on this vine?
How do we feel about that place and posture?
What might the Vinegrower be asking of us?
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