I realize I didn’t blog last week for my sermon on “I am the True Vine,” so here it is. I talked quite a bit about grape growing. The truth is I don’t know much about grapes. I know I like them. I enjoy the occasional visit to a vineyard, even the occasional wine tasting. But if you put me to work in a vineyard, I would be lost. Here’s what I do know, there’s a lot of work involved.
In my sermon, I focused on the role of the branches in growing grapes. I said that the branches grow from the vine around each other; they wrap around each other, twisting and turning, supporting and being supported. Here’s what I didn’t say, the branches aren’t responsible for creating fruit. They bear the fruit, but they do not create it; the vine does. The branches are there to hold the fruit, even to help nourish it, you might say, but it is the vine’s responsibility or scope to create it. It takes the whole plant and the vinegrower working together to get good fruit.
What does this mean for us, who are the branches? What is our job in fruit production?
1) We are supposed to stay connected to vine, not grow out on our own. Those branches that grow out of the bundle, they fall to the ground, get dirty, and are susceptible to all kinds of fungi and diseases. And I think, if we leave the metaphor for a minute, it takes work to stay in the bundle. Sometimes other branches poke us, maybe even it feels like they’re choking us, and we have to decide over and over again to honor our vows, that these people are our church. We have to decide over and over again that we will remain faithful to these people of our church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. It is a choice.
2) We are supposed to help support other branches, in the way they need to be supported. So often we feel like we know the right way to help people, and so our help comes with strings. I’ll pay this bill, if you’ll just do what I tell you. I’ll pray for you, if you will completely change your life for me. I’ll help you but you have to start coming to church, my church. I think this may be human nature. We really do want to help, and we think we have the answers, the right answer. If you’ll just do it my way, things will be better. The truth is that I am not you and you are not me, and my answer may or may not work for you. My job is not to fix you, but to support you, the way you need to be supported. This does not mean that we need to let other branches demand so much support that we are broken. In the famous serenity prayer we ask for courage to change what we can, serenity to accept what we can’t change and wisdom to know the difference. Again, we are not responsible for the creating the fruit, but bearing it.
3) We have to remain open to receive sunlight and water. There are times when we would rather not let any light shine on us, when the dark seems more comfortable. But the truth is that the dark will kill us. We need light. In this metaphor, I think the darkness is shame, sin, depression, etc. The thing about sin and shame is that they lie to us. They tell us that the light doesn’t want us. If we are branches with a wound, and we let that wound hide in the dark, it will fester. Other germs and fungi will get in there. We need sunlight and water, and the vinegrower knows how to ensure we get just the right amount of each. We have to be willing to let the vinegrower see that wound, bring it out in the sunlight. That’s the only way it gets healed.
Anyway, these are just a few scraps that didn’t make it into my sermon. They weren’t any less important, but I always have choices to make about what I include and what it left out. Enjoy my thoughts with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.