The True Vine

Sermon by Revd Janet Bromley, Sunday 29th April 2018 given at Group Service at St Thomas.

This morning after the sermon Fr David is going to commission three new people to be Eucharistic Ministers, and he will ask all our current Eucharistic Ministers to come forward to recommit themselves to this ministry. What is a Eucharistic minister? Someone who has been called by God to administer the chalice at services of Holy Communion and to take communion out to the housebound, who for reasons of frailty or temporary illness cannot be with us, when we gather together week by week. The Eucharistic Ministers have all responded to God’s call and are setting out as part of their Christian journey to act lovingly towards their fellow pilgrims. As a Christian community we are called to support and encourage them and each other in all the different ministries that we have….. as indeed we are called to support all who are baptised, who are God’s children.

Each one of us here has received the gift of life through the wonder of God’s creative power and our parents. And parents go on giving to their children – many material things which make their lives easier, richer and more comfortable – BUT it is their giving that comes from within that is more costly – it brings pain as well as unbelievable joys – and it cannot be measured in monetary values. These are the gifts of love – tenderness – patience – hope – forgiveness – trust and faith.

We all received another gift in the sacrament of baptism –the opportunity to take hold of life that really is life – it was at baptism that we marked our joining a church family and the beginning of a relationship with our heavenly Father. And this was made possible by the greatest gift that ever has been given – the gift of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. It is through his death and resurrection that we are assured of our Father’s love, compassion and forgiveness. A costly gift indeed, for a father to give his son and for the son to give his life for us – but remember – there was no other good enough to pay the price of the world’s sin.

And the night before Jesus died for us – he gathered his friends together to offer another gift and today at the climax of the Eucharist we will receive that gift – Christ’s body and blood in bread and wine – so when the bread and wine is lifted high – look up – and realise what it is you are about to receive. As the people of God we will be incorporated into the life and death and resurrection of Jesus – it is through the bread and wine that we are nurtured and sustained and are given a common sense of purpose and commitment.

This morning we have read about Abraham and his difficult journey of faith with his son, Isaac. Imagine for a moment some of the thoughts that would have been going through Abraham’s head: he is not privy to the secrets of God’s mind when he is asked by God to: ‘take his son, his only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’ We are not told anything about Abraham’s feelings at all, as God’s words just add horror to horror. Instead we are given the down to earth matter of facts – he gets up early, he saddles his ass, he cuts the wood, he sets off on the journey and on nearing the place, more factual information. Abraham just keeps going with God’s instruction – when he says to Isaac: ‘God will provide’ is he believing that God will provide an alternative sacrifice – or that God has already asked him to provide Isaac?
Surely he must have been struggling to understand why on earth having sacrificed his past to make the journey from his birth place, he should now be asked to sacrifice the future that God had promised – that he would make of him a great nation –and implicit in that promise is the birth of a son – his son, his only son, Isaac.

The story of Abraham and Isaac teaches us that we should not underestimate the demands of God. It also teaches us not to underestimate the sheer abundance of the world of God’s promise. The words of Jesus in John’s Gospel help our understanding of this story: ‘I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.’ We are indeed fortunate to have the teaching and words of Jesus to support us in our faith journeys and the body and blood of Jesus to sustain, strengthen and nourish us as we travel.

In our Gospel reading today we heard the seventh of the seven great I AM sayings of Jesus. Jesus says I AM the bread, the light, the door, the good shepherd, the resurrection, the way – and today – THE VINE – each one enlightens us as to the gifts which God brings us through his Son – nourishment – illumination – protection – shelter – direction and new life. In saying that he is the true vine Jesus represents himself as the root – as the source of the nourishment and growth of the people of God – you and me. And as he gives us life – he invites us to abide in him – to stay in his love and receive his food – so that we can bear fruit and be his disciples. We are to willingly, loyally and sometimes courageously to walk in his ways and grow day by day in our relationship with him and with his Father. This is not merely a surrender of ourselves – it is much more a case of willing co-operation – of persistence in the life of faith – of active discipleship.

There is no promise that this way will be straightforward or easy – we have all experienced times of difficulty in our faith journeys – moments when it is hard to keep on praying or to even know what to pray about – situations which seem impossible to work through with others in love – but what we do know is that we want to carry on the struggle – we want to remain in God’s love – we want to stay committed to the journey – we want to bear fruit.

In the story from Acts, Philip is an example of abiding in the vine – he is sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and so comes alongside the Ethiopian as he is struggling to respond to the gospel. And because Philip remains in the vine – the truth of the gospel abides in him – and he is able to proclaim the good news to the Ethiopian and bring him to baptism. Philip bears fruit – confirms his own discipleship and helps another to set out on his faith journey – but none of this would have been possible without the nourishment and sustenance gained from abiding in Jesus, the vine.

If we abide in the vine, we will be given similar opportunities to grow and bear fruit – as individuals and as the Body of Christ. It may not be in the same way as Philip – through dramatic conversions – for as in any family, members of this church will be called to do and to give different things – we have between us a great variety of gifts, talents and resources and we are called to use them to serve God, each other and the community in which we live and work. How appropriate it is that this morning Carole, Barbara and Beryl are setting out to become part of the team who bring the nourishment of bread and wine to fellow travellers to God’s kingdom. And remember, although we might sometimes think that it is ourselves who are being generous – we can only give – that which has already been given to us by God. God who owes us nothing and yet gives us everything – and all that we offer back is a symbol of our love for him and our commitment to him.

And so we come to this and every Eucharist with our praise – with our sins and weaknesses – with our gifts – with our thanks – with our prayers and with our commitment …………… and we receive through God’s word and through bread and wine – the sustenance and nourishment that enables us to remain in God’s love and to do God’s work.

So let us pray for all our Eucharistic Ministers and for ourselves – that together we will grow in our commitment to the teaching of Jesus and in our determination to live in way that shows his love and generosity to every child – woman and man – and that shows our love for him and for each other day by day. AMEN

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