A homily preached by Graham Low at the Wednesday Eucharist on 5 May 2021.
Some years ago we enjoyed a lovely and lengthy lunch with friends at rural and rustic restaurant high above Lake Como in northern Italy. Everything on the menu except the wine was grown and prepared within a few hundred metres of the restaurant. The land was step and stony. The owner had decided to plant some vines and had prepared topsoil and posts for the vines to grow up and horizontal supports for the branches to be trained on. It was fenced against wild animals, it had been pruned, and the first crop was due before long.
The vine depended for its life on the owner, the vine-grower, but equally he depended on the vine. The vines could do what he could not: they could take the rain falling on the hillside and convert it into grapes, for harvest, pressing, fermentation and eventually wine for enjoyment in his restaurant. The vine-grower and the vine were mutually dependent for turning water into wine. This illustrates something of the last of the great I AM sayings of Jesus: I AM the true vine and my Father is the vine-grower.
Jesus continues by saying that He is the vine and we are the branches. Abide in me as I abide in you. If the branch abides in the vine then the life of the vine dwells in the branch. Then the sap from the roots passes through the stem to the branches and thus to their living function as bearers of grapes. So it will be with you and me, says Jesus. You will bear no fruit if you do not abide in me. You will be cast away. By dwelling in me, then my very being, will flow through you, and you will bear much fruit.
We know that vines yield poorly if they are not pruned. Now we are likened to the vine: pruning of ourselves is also needed for us to bear fruit. Those branches which bear little or no fruit are to be cast off and those that bear fruit require cleansing, before they can bear more fruit.
Thus, as John reminds us, letting the spring of life flow through us seems at times to need some painful treatment. But if we let this spring of life flow then our words and actions will begin to be shaped by God, rather than by our own desires, compulsions, prejudices, fears, or wounds.
At various points in our lives most of us face accidents, or illness, or loss of work, or the death of someone we love. These painful experiences, make us feel desolate and lifeless. We feel empty, depressed and inhibited. Life no longer flows through us. These prunings wound us, and like a pruned vine, we have to wait patiently for renewal. These prunings challenge us to look prayerfully for ways of renewing ourselves for lives that are more God-centred, lives that have time to dwell in God and for God to dwell in us. While some of this pruning comes unexpectedly and even violently, some comes gradually, as we grow older: pressures to do things reduce, and desires for success, or wealth, or reputation or power, lessen. There can then be more time and space for God, and to pay more attention to the centre of our being. Some of the necessary pruning is material and practical. We know we need to prune things. And so, sometimes reluctantly, we have to take steps to do it. The most fundamental pruning is called for when we sense an increasing desire to allow God’s love to be present in us and for this love to flow from us to others.
This passage is a call to us to seek gradual acceptance of past prunings, not only as individuals, but also as church communities. Thus we may hope to have new freedom enabling us to abide more deeply in God. As Jesus says in verses 7 and 8, by doing this we may allow God’s love to flow into us and through us to become more fruitful disciples to everyone we meet. Amen.