I will be the first to admit that I am not a patient patient. I don’t like being sick. I don’t have the time for it and I will annoy anyone willing to listen to me complain about it. Few have patience for that. So, while on vacation, having tangled with several non-friendly vines and contracting a pretty severe case of poison ivy, I just wanted to crawl away and lament Job-like, to anyone who would listen, how truly unfair it all was. I find it necessary to state unequivocally, now on the other side of a pretty bad ten days of itching miserably and creaming myself head to foot with a nauseous smelling, but admittedly, soothing lotion that not all vines are created equal. The one we hear described in our gospel today is life giving, life enriching, and a blessing for our lives.
Jesus described himself, and is described by others, in a variety of ways: bread, light, lamb, shepherd, and in this scripture, as the True Vine. Jesus is the Vine; we are the branches. Once again, a pastoral image, which would have been familiar to Christ’s first hearers serves to define more clearly the role Christ had with God the Father and the role Christ has for those who choose to follow him. Always pointing beyond himself Christ sought to reveal more clearly the intimacy of relationship upon which true discipleship existed. Without the vine, there would be no branches; without the branches there would be no fruit. But bearing fruit, nurturing that intimate relationship between the divine spirit and our own spirits was in itself both art and gift. In other words, relationships don’t always come easily; to often they fall prey to misunderstanding and human folly. We are after all, subject to our own drives, desires, and, if we are honest, sins, making the vine and branches metaphor perfectly descriptive. It isn’t easy to grow a good vineyard.
As I found out, while traveling in Italy, growing grapes for good wine is both an art and a science. I’m fascinated by the processes, which yield a crop of grapes suitable to produce the kinds of wine for which Italy is known – dry and rich in taste. But growing those grapes requires time, patience; the cooperation between soil and sun and a willingness to sacrifice some of the plant to help the rest of the plant become stronger and more productive. It is necessary to prune the branches in order to strength the whole.
This is where it gets tough for us. We know life can seem quite unfair – nice people get sick and die. Fortunes are won and lost. Relationships are made and broken. In some cases, we can see where our neglect or indifference can cause some of the tragedies in life, but too often, only God knows the whys and wherefores of life’s chaotic stream. But our strength, our ability to move gracefully with the breezes of life’s distresses doesn’t come from our own abilities; it comes from our willingness to cling to the Vine. Staying open to new possibilities and to the certainty that the Vine Grower has only our best interests in mind when pruning away our resistance to change is the way forward to increase our growth and produce good fruit.
So here are some thoughts put together by Theologian/Pastor/Author Bruce Epperly? When asking the question: “What does it mean to abide in me as I abide in you?” Epperly offers this.
- God moves energetically in all of our lives.
- God’s desire is that we flourish.
- Flourishing is the result a divine human partnership, in which God’s energy of love calls us to maximal creativity and freedom congruent with God’s vision for us and the world.
- When we abide consciously in God’s energy of love, we become more transparent to God’s vision, bear greater fruit, and enable the “vine” of divine energy to be more active in our lives.
- God prunes us with challenging possibilities intended for our growth, not diminishment or punishment.
- God does not compete but seeks creative, responsible, and lively responsiveness and freedom.
So, we pick up our lives after several weeks of stress and distress. Perhaps in the course of the last few weeks and in addition to the pain of loss we have encountered as a church, some of you may very well have had to deal with personal loss, bad news, a split relationship in your family, a new diagnosis, some rash of personal uneasiness that has you itching for answers, solutions, and ultimately for hope. Wherever we find ourselves on the Vine, we know we are attached to something stronger than ourselves, which will, in time, in God’s time, bring us closer to the Vine Grower and closer to one another. God created us in love; formed us into a people for whom intimate connection is life giving, continues to heal us from the cuts and bruises life throws at us, and invites us to bear good fruit. Jesus reminds us of God’s ever present grace and love with these words:
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
We give thanks to the One who calls us, prunes us for our greater good, claims us and always, always, loves us. Amen.
 Bruce Epperly, The Adventurous Lectionary: Flourishing with God. May 6, 2012.