April 28, 2024

SERMON ‘A Viney Kind of Love’

Rev. Jane Courtright

 

How many of you have vines growing on your property?

I have had vines growing up walls, trellises and trees

in other homes in which I lived.

Right now, we have many plants growing in our yard.

I will plant cucumber & tomato vines come May!

But the only vine I know about is the philodendron

hanging above our kitchen table!

 

In a Bird & Bloom magazine, there was a letter describing

a volunteer vine which had grown in a woman’s yard.

She described the vine as beautiful – producing lovely flowers

and then berries which the birds flocked to eat.

 

The expert gardener at the magazine wrote back

that the vine was an invasive type, which spread quickly

because its seeds were spread by the birds….in nature’s way!

 

The woman was advised to remove the vine from her property

before it spread to crowd out her other plants,

as well as her neighbor’s!

 

I remember as a little girl, that just behind our back yard

(on someone else’s property) there was an extensive grape vine.

It had thick, gnarled branches.

It was obvious that it had been growing there for a LONG time~

In the summer, us kids would gorge ourselves

on those sweet, delicious grapes.

 

“I am the vine,” Jesus said.  “You are the branches.

Those who abide in me, and I in them, bear much fruit,

because apart from me you can do nothing.”

 

Have you ever noticed that a vine branch

which produces a lot of fruit is hard to spot?

It’s so covered with leaves & fruit that the branch is kind of hidden.

You can see the leaves and the fruit, but not much of the branch.

 

The purpose of any branch is to deliver nourishment from the soil,

via the vine, to the fruit so that the fruit can grow.

The branch carries the weight of grapes and supports them.

And with the leaves, it shelters them.

The clusters of fruit hang mostly underneath the branches.

 

But one branch can’t do this by itself!

However, a well-established, mature vine

Has a network of branches, like a hedge,

All supporting one another.

All working closely together.

 

The branches which produce the most fruitr

are mostly the older branches at the center of the vine.

They’ve been at it for a long time!

They don’t produce much fruit at first.

But as the years roll by and they become

more established and mature,

They really become great bearers of fruit!

GREAT news for US as we grow more mature!

Our fruit is called wisdom!

 

At the same time, it’s also true that the dead branches

are generally found in the middle of the vine.

The new, delicate branches that just don’t make it,

tend to break off the vine by themselves.

The older, stronger branches in the middle

die off more gradually.

It’s as though something is blocking their nourishment

and they dry up slowly.

 

Of course, in the winter, all the branches

on the vine look pretty much the same.

Sure, some are thicker & stronger than others,

because they’re more mature.

But NONE of them have leaves or fruit.

 

It’s hard to tell which branches are likely to bear fruit,

or even which branches are dead.

It’s only when spring arrives,

when the leaf & fruit appear,

that y0u can tell which branches are dead.

 

We are all branches of the vine.

We all do Christian ministry.

Young branches, whether individual people

or churches or other ministries,

sometimes don’t bear much fruit

because they are not mature.

 

Those branches can be delicate & easily broken.

They’re on the outside,

not yet a part of the strong branches in the middle.

Reaching the middle takes time, sometimes years.

Those young delicate branches need to be

nourished, encouraged, supported, protected…

but NOT pushed.

 

I believe that it’s dangerous

to predict deadness in Christianity –

It’s a condition that only becomes clear after years of ministry.

 

So many times, it’s hidden in the middle of the vine,

where it’s hard to see.

It’s the gardener, with a view of the whole vine,

who can tell which branches are dead.

 

Jesus words about those dead branches

being collected like garbage,

thrown on the bonfire & burned,

make me very uncomfortable.

Because surely, EVERYONE

has a certain degree of deadness inside them.

WE’RE ONLY HUMAN!

 

And we’ve been taught that God, who created us,

understands us, and forgives us.

Could be that Jesus was speaking metaphorically

about Christians who have lost their connection to God…

who don’t deliver any goodness at all

to themselves or other people.

 

I believe that there is goodness,

a divine spark in everyone;

and our task, as people with choice,

is to let the good choices win out over the bad choices.

 

Jesus reserved his harshest words for hypocrites!

Those people who project an image

of being pillars of the community,

but have little connection to God.

Oh, they make the right religious noises,

speak church language, but are pretty empty inside.

 

How can we know whether or not

our religion is an empty shell?

After years go by, they SHOULD be hidden

under the weight of the fruit,

But these dead branches are still easily spotted.

 

Instead of being in the background,

Supporting, nourishing & protecting others,

They are mostly concerned about themselves & their image.

 

They don’t nourish.

Oh, they may do church work as always,

But they don’t feed themselves or others.

They don’t grow.  They don’t change much at all.

Their opinions remain the same as they were years ago.

and those opinions tend to be harsh & judgmental.

 

They haven’t grown inside themselves.

Despite their mature appearance,

they remain in their inner being,

still the delicate branches they were years ago.

Easily broken, brittle, quick to take offense,

because they’ve somehow become

cutoff from nourishment.

 

Jesus says, “Cut off from me, you can do NOTHING.”

 

The purpose of branches is to produce a lot of fruit,

& withered up branches just can’t do that!

They need to be pruned, cleared away,

not by the other branches, but by the GARDENER,

so that growth of the live branches & abundant fruit

CAN THRIVE!

 

Today’s gospel passage is saying that only one thing

matters for Christians:

Abiding and remaining in the vine,

in whichever way is right for YOU!

 

If we are in the vine, fruit will be produced through us.

We don’t have to DO anything!

 

Because if we’re in the vine,

we can’t help but respond to people in need.

 

We won’t do good works as duty, we’ll just ACT.

 

We won’t give money to the church

just because we think we SHOULD,

We give in response.

 

We don’t HAVE to go to church, we simply WANT to.

 

All we have to do to abide in the vine

is to give quality time to God.

We’re all different & so our responses to God are different.

 

& Let’s remember that vines need rain as well as sunshine!

 

In case you’re wondering,

the word ABIDE is mentioned 8X in our gospel reading.

I looked up the word ABIDE

in my handy Funk & Wagnalls dictionary.

I found many words for abide:

remain, continue, prevail, stay, last & endure.

Some of these words have tones of struggle:

like prevail, last, endure & stay.

 

Abiding in the vine sounds simple & sweet,

but it isn’t necessarily so.

Jesus knows the challenge of what he’s called us to do.

Jesus knows that abiding in the vine

takes endurance & a network of support for each other,

because branches DO NOT bear fruit by themselves.

 

Each one of us, everyone of us, is called to do ministry.

WHY?

It’s as simple as John 15, verse 15:

“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you,

And that your joy may be complete.”

GOD SPEED!  Amen.

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