Stay in touch with God as the vine branches are in touch with the vine

Mary Copping, 2 May 2021

Acts 8: 26–40; 1 John 4: 7–21; John 15: 1–8

Our gospel reading about the vine reminds me so much of my late husband Pete, who was a great gardener. He loved anything to do with nature, so gardening was the perfect job for him to do when he left the army. When he was a boy in a Doctor Barnardo’s home they nurtured this passion, giving him opportunities to look after their grounds, and it never left him. It was fascinating to watch him tackle a jungle of a garden and bring out the beauty of it; his clients used to sit for hours watching him at work. And he always had birds hopping round him, waiting for the worms. I too enjoyed watching him garden (rather than joining in, may I say?), but I used to get a bit concerned about how he used to cut plants, especially roses, severely back. His clients used to be very worried that he’d killed the plants, but of course the next season they blossomed and flourished even more wonderfully.

Vines and vineyards were familiar to Jesus’ followers. People passed vineyards as they walked from place to place. Some owned their own vineyard or worked in one. They were able to see the fruitful branches from those old ones that would drain the vine’s energy. They trimmed the unfruitful branches, all the while knowing that they were doing the vine some good. The pruning might seem cruel, but it renewed the vine’s vitality. Useless vines drain the plant’s strength and reduce the value of the vineyard. The vine grower cut away unfruitful branches and, finding them unusable, burned them.

We can all feel perhaps that through this time of Covid, going through difficulty, pain, loneliness, loss that in the process we have indeed been pruned of many things in our lives. But perhaps in this process also we’ve been discerning what is most important to us, and what is not so important. I think this time has given us an appreciation of what is valuable and what is not.

This time has brought into focus the important things. The value of our families and friends: we have seen families out walking together, parents having time to spend with their children, the elderly so desperate to see their relatives and now able to do so. The importance of God’s creation and the seriousness of needing to take care of it: we have had so many walks looking at the beauty around us, which has spurred us on even more to take care of this beauty. The needs of those who have little: during this pandemic some have had even less and there has been such kindness in people sharing with others what they have and vowing to do more of the same, to distribute the goods more equally. And the importance of racial equality, with so many injustices being highlighted. This time has pared down what we value, what is of vital importance and what we realise just doesn’t matter any more.

Where is the Church in all of this? As a church, we have realised how important community is. Services online have been great, and still are great – so good to be able to live-stream these services so people can watch at home – but it’s so good to start being able to be together again.

We are a fruitful church which the vine grower has been pruning during this time. I wonder what fruit God wants to bring forth from us as a church community. I wonder what he is asking each of us as church members. Ours is to go one step at a time into the new future that God has for us, discerning along the way what it is God is asking of each one of us, and ours is to stay in contact with the main stem, with our nourishment, with God.

When Pete was cutting back the roses, the important thing was that the branches remained joined to the stem to receive the goodness that the stem brought from the ground and from the leaves. So with us, ours is to remain connected to the source of our spiritual life, God in Jesus, through prayer, through the reading of his word, through fellowship with others, through giving time to listen to God’s still, small voice.

I have always thought that Martha gets a bit of a rough deal in the account of Jesus visiting Martha and Mary’s house and Mary remaining at Jesus’ feet, with Jesus saying she has chosen the better thing. Yes, we do know that Mary did choose the better thing. But I feel that this account tells us that, of course, it’s good for us to spend time with Jesus. If we can do this in the morning, for however long we can, we can then be ready to go out into the day with him. We can rush headlong into the day, doing whatever comes to hand, or we can spend time with God, becoming attuned to him and his voice, and from there go into the day in peace, being led by the Holy Spirit, rather than being driven by our activities. So perhaps Martha could have spent a few minutes resting at Jesus’ feet and then gone into the day less hassled, less frazzled – and Mary could have then helped her, and I’m sure she did.

A quote from the theologian and religious reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546): ‘I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer’. Well, three hours is pushing it a bit, but let’s find some time to be in touch with God and stay in touch with him as the vine branches are in touch with the vine. As Jesus said, ‘If a man/a woman remains in me and I in them, they will bear much fruit’.

We need God’s guidance at all times, but even more so as we come into this new future that God has for each of us and for our churches. Some of us may feel fearful of what lies ahead, some still in pain, bereaved or lonely. Ours for each of us is to stay in touch with God, whatever that means. God loves us, he wants the best for each one of us, and if we can spend that time with him, we can allow him to nourish us, feed us spiritually and guide us in the way he wants us to bear fruit for him, whatever that may mean for us.

In the reading from 1 John 4, John urges us: Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God. This is how we bear fruit for God. During the past months we have found a special love for family, for creation, for people from every race and nationality, for those in need. Let us keep showing God’s love in word and deed as we remain connected to him, who is our nourishment and our life. Amen.