Sermon 2-28-2016: ‘Vine and Branches’ John 15:1-11 Glenn Reece, “Friends and the Holy Spirit”, Study Booklet for Five Years Meeting, 1960. Thomas R. Kelly, “The Blessed Community” from ‘A Testament of Devotion’, Harper and Row, 1986.
Years ago, Jon and I biked through the vineyards of Napa Valley. We haven’t been back since, and I’d love to visit again… mile after mile of beautiful vineyards standing neatly in row after row of growing grapes. Fields full of life, and lovely places to stop for refreshment. We had to make one stop that we hadn’t planned on… Bullhead thorns were everywhere - nasty, sharp things that could and did, puncture bike tires. We stopped at what seemed to be a lovely farm home to ask to use the phone to call the bike rental company for help. It turned out to be a drug rehab site, and they weren’t particularly happy to let us in.
Jesus uses a common agrarian metaphor to teach his listeners, and us, about a deep experience of life – a God-in-us life. Vineyards, grapes, vinedressers, vines, fruit... God. Christ. Us. This story could stand three readings – one for the vinedresser, one for the vine, and one for the grapes. Each plays a part in the outcome.
God is the vinedresser here. It’s God’s vineyard, after all. God has made the investment in the land, chosen the variety of grape to plant, and is responsible for the success of the vineyard.
The Vine – Christ – has been planted. All growth will come from this one stalk. The vinedresser tends it carefully, cutting away all dead branches, and pruning those branches that bear fruit so they’ll produce even more. The branches and vine must remain connected in order to produce fruit. ‘Only when the sap of the vine flows through the branches are they living branches.’ [Sandra Cronk] If, for any reason, the sap no longer runs, the branch dies.
It’s the vinedresser’s intention to keep the sap running! God wants to see the vineyard flourish… God’s creation thrive! This is why Christ the Vine was chosen… the Best Vine – the strongest, most enduring, most satisfying, most productive varietal known. And what is it - what is the ‘sap’ that runs its course through this Vine to the Branches, producing fruit so abundantly? Christ tell us… “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” The force that moves, abides in, continues, through the Vine, through the Branches, into the Fruit, is LOVE. The abiding presence of God’s love is what courses through the vine and branches, bringing on a rich harvest.
Reading from ‘Friends and the Holy Spirit’ by Friend Glenn Reece: ‘George Fox’s life and message were pervaded by joyous abiding confidence in God, a deep sense of moral victory and of spiritual power which he attributed to the ever-living Christ within. To him, as to his followers, this power and that of the Holy Spirit were synonymous. They had witnessed the Spirit as He guided people to obedience, righteousness, freedom from sin, unity with God and Christ and one another. In this unity they formed a deeply Christian fellowship, the ‘Blessed Community’, the ‘Body of Christ’. To continue in such fellowship one must be receptive and responsive to the Holy Spirit and to the factors which make for growth in Christ, such as ‘love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control.’
The fruit of our lives will be evident when we live in the abiding presence and power of Christ within - in the spiritual power of the Holy Spirit. What this means is that when we walk through the vineyards of our personal lives, when we walk through the vineyard of our Meeting’s life, love should be evident. God’s presence should be evident. Receptivity to God’s Spirit should be clearly displayed. Patience and gentleness, humility and self-control will be obvious. A willingness to abide and continue in God’s love will dominate our sense of direction. That sense that George Fox had of ‘joyous abiding confidence in God’ will be pervasive in our lives!
Sadly, branches break off. It’s frightening to read the history of many Christian denominations, including our own, and discover the detritus of divisions left behind. Glenn Reece prescribes an antidote as being cultivation of the Spirit… ‘A growing tenderness and loving understanding is increasingly in evidence within the body of Christ when the Holy Spirit indwells and motivates it.’ Christ’s answer was this:
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. And this is my commandment; that you love one another as I have loved you.” It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Just one thing – to love each other. But that’s not what Christ asks of us. Christ asks us to love each other in the same way Christ loves us. In the same way God loves him. We have to withstand pruning, cutting, tough winds, harvest seasons, dormancy, flowering, setting on fruit… we have to love each other through all of that.
Sandra Cronk, once again: "Early Friends stressed that God's new order was not present simply because people did all the 'right' things in an outward sense; rather, God's new order, gospel order, was present when people lived out of the fullness of their living relationship with Christ. Truth is not found by professing correct beliefs and correct actions while actually living outside the life and power of Christ. Only this life and power makes a church-community part of the true church. Only when the sap of the vine flows through the branches are they living branches." (Sandra Cronk)
It doesn’t matter if you and I make all the right decisions, follow proper Quaker practice, can name all the Quaker heroes of faith, or the books of the Bible, are highly intellectual in our approach or very simple in our understanding of God. None of that matters. Puritans were able to follow procedure, rules, liturgy, law, and lived a foreign, outward life of faith. Unless we can live inwardly - in the sap that runs – in the presence of the Living God and the power of the Holy Spirit – unless we can remain there - we will break. Early Quakers couldn’t afford to live this way and neither can we.
Many of us live in metaphorical prisons today. Farm homes are really drug rehab centers. Government rhetoric sounds nothing like Gospel Order. Choices are made between family and workplace, between our own safety and that of others. Quakers today face concerns just as real as those who began our Religious Society in 1652. Can the Blessed Community afford to be any less vibrant? Can the Blessed Community afford to be any less loving? Can the Blessed Community afford to be any less giving, compassionate, attentive, mindful, centered, quiet, receptive?
Quakers took John 15:14 as their ‘heart verse’…. ‘You are my friends if you do what I command you.” “If you love one another just as I love you, you’re my friends.” Not tolerating each other as servants. Not using each other for our own gain. But loving each other, in the same way God loves us – with a nurturing, sustaining, life-giving, selfsacrificing kind of love. That is where the sap is running. That is where the vineyard flourishes. And that is a lovely thing to see and experience. How can I, how can you, continue to love each other, as Christ has loved us? How can we remain in the lifestream of God’s love for us more attentively? How can we flourish as individuals, as a Meeting, under the spiritual power and guidance of God’s good Spirit? How can we continue to grow as God’s Friends – and loving friends of one another?