Sermons from St Faith's     

Pruning Time
Revd Sue Lucas, May 3rd, 2015

‘Everyone under their own vine, everyone under their own fig tree.’  It’s an image of contentment, of plenty, of flourishing; a sense of well-being, of Sabbath rest – for me, it’s more often to be found at the business end of pint glass in a still sunny garden at the end of a working day!  It’s an image of what God wants for the people of Israel in the Hebrew scriptures – a very real, material, down to earth peace and plenty, in which people have enough not simply to survive or get by, but enough to dream, to know the kids are alright, to hope for the future.

The vine was an image of this well-being because it was a luxury crop – a crop that took many years of careful tending, of pruning and cutting, to fruit.  If you’ve ever had one in your garden – you’ll know!

So in the Old Testament it is sometimes an image of judgement as well – vines must be pruned, unfruitful branches sometimes thrown into the fire.

It is the image at the heart of our Gospel today – an image that, itself like a vine, is given extraordinary new shape, and full fruition in Jesus.

First, whilst the idea of pruning is there – it is an image of the most extraordinary generosity; to be in Christ is to be fruitful – to be fruitful in quantity and quality beyond what we can imagine.

Second, it is worth meditating on I AM the vine and you are the branches; for, if you imagine a vine, it is not that it is a tree with a central trunk with branches emerging out of it; no the vine IS the branches, the branches just ARE the vine.  The extraordinary, audacious challenge here is – WE are branches, so we ARE Christ –

We are, as in Teresa of Avila’s famous prayer – now Christ’s body on earth; now the hands to do his work, now the feet to go his way, now the eyes through which to see the world.

It is, in one sense, a commonplace of being the Church; we ARE the Body of Christ, we say at the peace, by one Spirit we were all baptised into one body – yet, perhaps today’s Gospel brings home to us how extraordinary and challenging that is.
What then, does it mean to be the branches of the vine in this sense?

Well, in Acts – we are reminded that we are made into the Body of Christ in baptism; in fact, some scholars think that the words of the Eunuch ‘what is to prevent me?’ are in fact words from an early baptismal liturgy – a bit of liturgy coming at us out of scripture, just as, of course, liturgy is itself scripture enacted.

What is significant here is there is nothing to prevent the baptism of an Ethiopian Eunuch – a stranger, a gentile, an outsider; to be in Christ is to welcome the stranger – above all to welcome those who make us most uncomfortable, those who challenge our most cherished beliefs, those we make into ‘the other’ –

And to be in Christ is to be pruned – and that means, to have our corners knocked off, our most treasured preconceptions challenged; it is to let go of the urge to control, to fix, to be only amongst those we like, and to allow ourselves to be open to the fiery love of God that will have none of our puny preoccupations.

And above all – as our Epistle says quite clearly – to be in Christ is to love one another.  And that doesn’t mean just loving those like us, those we like – it means loving those we like, yes, but also recognising our call to love those we dislike, those we despise, those who seek to do us wrong, those we perceive have hurt us.

An impossible seeming vocation?  Well – yes, for us; yet our Gospel insists we ARE branches of the vine – touched by the grace of our baptism even when we can’t see it.  That grace is at work in us constantly; and sometimes, by grace, we even catch a glimmer of it at work, and begin to work with it – and we realise we begin to love the stranger, the odd, the mad, the bad, the dangerous to know when we pray for them; and in praying realise that God loves them with the same relentless committed love, the love that in Christ did not even shrink at the Cross, that God loves us.

And it is in this relentless committed love that we begin to perceive the truth about ourselves – that there are bits of us that need pruning!  And yet we need not fear this – for when we fear that truth condemns us, we learn we are indeed branches of the vine – the true Vine in whom truth and love are one.  Amen.

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