MORE WINE, VICAR?
A sermon preached at the church of the ANNUNCIATION BRIGHTON on 3rd May 2005 Text: JOHN XV 1-8 I am the vine, you are the branches
In our little pocket-handkerchief patio garden abutting the grounds of Park Crescent, we have a magnificent cherry blossom tree – well it’s magnificent for as long as two weeks a year if the wind and rain don’t get it and it is in full flower just at the moment.
Next to the cherry blossom we are lucky enough to have a peony which is also currently in bloom with lots of beautiful yellow flowers – but only because Ellie recently spent some time and effort pruning it.
Aha, you see the connection! Jesus Christ talks in the gospel about pruning his disciples who are the branches of his vine. We need to ask what it means for us to be pruned, and we’ll come to that in a minute but first it has always struck me as a bit odd that he chose to use the metaphor of a vine rather than a tree.
Our peony tree, like any tree, has regular branches but a vine only has very short branches and grows more via tendrils which are trained along trellises or canes.
Never mind. The point is Our Lord has been using the imagery of a vineyard in His teaching (remember the parable of the wicked tenants) and at the Last Supper has been talking about wine as His own blood and saying “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until I share it with you anew in my Father’s kingdom.”
So it’s not surprising that He keeps to the theme and now talks of Himself as the VINE, rather than a tree.
You know, the ancients were pretty keen on the fermented grape. The ancient Greeks (who knew a thing or two) were some of the earliest wine buffs. They even invented a god of wine called Bacchus, who had a legendary capacity for non-stop celebration and a ruddy countenance to prove it.
The Greeks saw in the vine a symbol of immortality simply because of the ecstasy it could induce. In a state of euphoric intoxication, you were released from earthly cares - at least until the onset of the hangover.
This is all good fun. But there is a strong element of Christian truth in it. Every blessing on earth is given to us as part of God’s bounty and wine is no exception.
Hilaire Belloc had a handy, happy verse for it:
Where’er the Catholic sun doth shine,
there’s music and laughter and good red wine.
At least, I’ve always thought it so -
Now, Jesus Christ is the greatest gift that humanity has ever received and when, in a few minutes’ time, we drink His blood under the form of wine, we are enjoying the most unspeakable privilege and honour.
This true vine is special. It is unique. It is heavenly and everlasting. And each of us, you and you and you and me, are the branches or tendrils of it because we are God’s people. So listen up.
God the Father is the vinedresser and
Each branch in me that bears no fruit He cuts away.
Each branch that does bear fruit He prunes to make it bear even more.
Oh dear. Which is it going to be in our case?
Shall we be branches that bear no worthwhile fruit? Well that’s easy enough! All we have to do is go on being lazy, selfish, chip-on-the-shoulder,”Why should I?” I’ve got the perfect expression for that: Sour grapes. Are we Christians going to produce sour grapes for God?
Whinging and bickering and sniping at each other? Prejudice. Suspicion. Intolerance.
Oh yes, they’re all good old-fashioned human failings. CHRIST DIED BECAUSE OF THEM but don’t forget the penalty: to be cut off from God - branches cut away and burnt because they are no use whatever to the God of love and compassion.
So let’s go back to the alternative: Each branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more.
Do we want to bear fruit for God? Of course we do. But then we must be ready to be pruned.
And, you know, that can only mean one thing: we must be prepared to suffer if and when we are called upon to do so. To suffer whatever God needs you or me to experience (whether it be bereavement, divorce, injury, illness, poverty, failure, humiliation, bullying, persecution) so that we can know a little something of the cross and help Him in our special way to build up His kingdom.
Jesus then says: It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit.
Remember the passion according to S.John. Remember how it says that Jesus glorified His Father’s name by His death.
We may not be called to martyrdom - probably not, I hope not - but we can and must, if we want to be Christians, glorify the Father’s name
by letting Jesus live in us, by loving Jesus and loving LIKE Jesus - loving the unloved, loving the unlovely.
When He fed the 5000, Jesus told His disciples to gather up all the scraps so that nothing would be wasted.
Do you think that God will not attach equal importance to what ever little scrap we each can do for Him?
Every one of us is a branch and He will put to use whatever fruit we can bear. He will not waste a single sweet and juicy grape.
Whatever good fruit you can yield: a little kindness to a stranger/a little swallowed pride/a little forgiveness of a hurt
will GLORIFY God’s name and bring you the joy of knowing that your life will not have been wasted.
So come to the communion rail this morning and drink of the blood of the true vine and then go out and bear fruit for Him - not sour grapes but the sweetness of bringing His love, whatever it costs us, into someone else’s life.