Sermon by Bishop Dominic, 3 May 2015
Well this week is going to be an interesting week – or maybe, you wish you could just go away and come back and find it all over. We shall hear politicians trying to entice the yet undecided with promises of what will happen if they are elected and telling us why they are right and all the others are wrong. They will all be telling us of the importance of building a better society and healthy communities – and then there will be Thursday night when some of us may sit up watching the TV and waiting for the votes to come in. Maybe by this time next week we shall have a new government or maybe the various parties will still be wheeling and dealing to see what kind of coalition or alliances they can manage.
Well, this morning in the gospel we have shades of an election speech. Jesus says, ‘I am the true vine, my father is the vine dresser – and you are the branches’. Jesus says something like, ‘If you vote for me then great things will happen – together we shall bear much fruit, but if you don’t vote for me nothing good will happen’. And of course, he uses imagery which would have been familiar to them – the image of the vine.
They would all have known that when you grow a vine you have to cut off the branches that do not bear fruit and only drain the vine of its goodness – those branches you throw away and after they have withered and died you put them on a bonfire.
But what is significant is that Jesus does NOT say, ‘I am the stem; you are the branches’. He says, ‘I am the vine (I am the complete plant); you are the branches’ – in other words he is saying that we are part of him.
And he expresses this relationship by saying ‘Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit’…’If you abide in me and I in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you’. That word ‘abide’ is sometimes translated as ‘remain’ or ‘dwell’ – abide in me, remain in me,dwell in me.
A branch that is cut off from a tree cannot survive very long – it soon withers and dies because it is not being fed from the roots and stems of the plant, so as Christians we can only survive if we remain, abide and dwell in Jesus. Like a healthy plant we need to be fed and watered – we need to be nourished and supported. You can of course take the imagery even further – a vine needs to be trained and supported by a trellis of some kind and we also need to be trained and supported and St John alone uses a word for the Holy Spirit – parakletos – meaning someone who comforts and supports and who leads us into all truth.
Now when the Jews heard this teaching, it may have raised their heckles and they may have felt a bit uncomfortable because the imagery of the vine had another meaning – because the people of Israel were referred to as the vine – in fact, it was their national symbol. They wore it on their tee shirts – or they would have done if they had had tee shirts. Psalm 80 refers the Jews as the vine brought out of Egypt – but now Jesus is saying that he himself is the true vine. The prophet Jeremiah had warned the people of Israel that they had become a degenerate vine and here is Jesus agreeing with them by saying that he is the true vine. If they want to be God’s people they need to follow him and abide in him.
So what does this all say to us today? Well, three things come to mind. Firstly, it teaches us that we need to abide, dwell and remain in Christ if we are to flourish and grow rather than wither and die. That means we need to be fed by word and sacrament and to find time to be with God in prayer each day.
Secondly, it means that we should ‘chillax’. I think that is the modern word! We should be able to relax and enjoy being in the love and care of Jesus – to know that we are grafted in him through baptism and as St Paul says – ‘nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus’. So don’t get stressed and fret – relax, rejoice for you abide in him.
And thirdly, we need to recognise how we partake of the vine today and every Sunday – ‘Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink’ – the fruit of the vine is transformed into the our spiritual drink so that we may be transformed into Christ – that we may live in him and he in us – abiding in his love, for if we abide in his love, we shall bear much fruit’ – and amid all the promises that we shall hear this week, that is one that deserves our vote. Amen.