Easter 5 (2009) Year B RCL Principal
Pruning & Growing
As anyone who has talked to me about growing, sowing, weeding and reaping will know, I am not a gardener – and one of the attractions of moving to the Five Alive Mission Community was a generous offer by one of the parishioners in Kilmington to take care of the Vicarage lawn so that I didn’t have to make the time for garden upkeep.
So I will mow the lawn or strim if necessary – and I have started the process of clearing the new bit of Garden that we have been able to adopt at the end of the current Vicarage space. Having said this, the aforementioned garden care parishioner crept into our garden yesterday afternoon and did more with a proper strimmer in half an hour than I had managed in three hours the day before! The only other thing I will do in any garden is prune.
Well, not so much prune as hack, slash, clip, cut and slice. I have a bit of a reputation in my wife’s family – many of whom are keen gardeners – as somewhat over enthusiastic in my approach to pruning. In theological college I had a reputation for being ‘the Clematis killer of Westcott House’ after a very exciting session with some secateurs and the once bushy Clematis outside our flat. To be fair, the clematis grew back rather well, until it was blown down in the Winter gales a few years back – seven years after I left!
But the nurture, weeding and feeding of plants is beyond me, I’m afraid. I start out with good intentions and it all disappears. Give me a good bit of clearing to do, some chopping, preferably with a good bonfire at the end of it, and I’m happy.
But as any gardener knows, pruning – real pruning, thoughtful pruning – is an important part of the regime of garden care. It allows new growth, it prevents plants becoming misshapen, it helps guard against pests and disease, it removes dead and dying parts of a plant. As part of the whole regime, pruning is essential to the health of a garden.
And it is of course pertinent because of the Gospel reading for this morning, which begins with Jesus saying ‘I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower’. And he goes on to use this illustration to talk of God’s relationship with us, through and in Christ himself. But more of that in a moment.
If you’ve heard the Gospel readings in the past few weeks, you might have notices that we have been looking through the ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus. We know them so well – I am the Good shepherd, I am the way, the truth and the life, I am the light of the world etc etc. These sayings are unique to the Gospel of John and quite deliberately link to the Old Testament where God describes himself to Moses when he speaks from the burning bush as ‘I am who I am’.
In John’s Gospel, when Jesus uses the phrase ‘I am’ it makes a statement not just about Jesus as a man, or a teacher, or a spiritual leader. It is meant to deliberately lead us to make the connection between this man Jesus and the fact that he is God. Just as in the very beginning of John’s Gospel we are told ‘In the beginning was the Word’ and it goes on to say ‘the word was made flesh and lived among us’.
John uses the ‘I am’ sayings very carefully and only seven times in his Gospel. When they are used they are to be taken seriously. They say something that is not just good advice, or comforting words, they seek to offer us the wisdom of God.
And so we come back to today’s reading. ‘I am the true vine.’ A strong image of life, and growth – something we are all to share in. ‘Abide in me as I abide in you’ Jesus commands, and later he says ‘I am the vine, and you are the branches.’
These are images of dependence, trust, intimacy and closeness. Not words we use a huge amount in the Church, actually – but here in the image of vine and branches, it is highlighted how close we should be to our Lord and Saviour Jesus. We are to be grafted in to him, dependant on him for our life and health, our very essence coming from him.
And like so many of these ‘I am’ sayings, this is a passage that challenges us to consider our relationship with Christ. Do we trust? Do we seek to be closer to Him? This is an intensely personal challenge – demanding that each one of us consider our own relationship to him – not as a Church, but as individual Christians.
And the consequences of allowing our relationship to wither are spelled out in strong and challenging terms. All who do not bear fruit in their relationship to the Vine, will be pruned, in a method that is reminiscent of my own approach to Gardening, they will be cut from the vine and burned.
Now I would counsel against taking that image too literally, but I would recommend that we take it seriously. We are called to bear fruit, living lives that show the love and grace of Christ, in order to Glorify God. We are called to be close to Christ and to grow in our faith in and love for him. We are called to live in Christ.
And we are called to live in Christ here and now, in our everyday lives, in the relationships we have, in our friendships, at home, at work, at play. This is the Christian life, to be in Christ. It is both a privilege and a responsibility.
And it is not one to be take lightly. Like a gardener God demands growth. He will prune, but like a Gardener God cares for, nurtures, feeds and protects us. In this very meal, this holy feast of Communion we are fed and nurtured in our Spirits through God’s grace and love. Meeting Him here in bread and wine, to be sent out again to live our lives, bearing the fruit of the true vine.
God is not a capricious gardener, caring only when it suits him, cutting on a whim. God is a gardener that takes time to look after each branch, bringing from it the best fruit it can bear. He allows us to grow in our own way – but he does demand that we grow and continue to grow.
And the challenge for us today is to consider our own lives, and the fruit we are bearing. To take seriously God’s calling upon our lives and to seek to be those people God wants us to be.
If we are willing to trust, to pray, to seek God’s will then he will care for us and help us to grow. If we are abiding in Christ then we will bear fruit, that is the way of vines, they bear fruit year after year, often for many years.
So let us pray that we will remain in Christ, and whatever may keeps us from growing, let us be willing to tackle it and with God’s help to deal with anything that prevents us from bearing fruit, fruit that will last.