I have been privileged to spend a few days on a ministers retreat this week where the main speaker was Rown Williams (not Rowan Atkinson!) He gave three sessions around three powerful women who had become Christians and gone on to make a difference in their countries. They were Mother Maria Skobtsova, a Russian who died in Ravensbruck concentration camp, the second Dorothy Day who set up Houses of Hospitality in the US (much like the Richmond Fellowship today) and the third was Madeleine Delbrel who was director of Social Services in Paris. Dorothy Day’s motto was “to engage with the world to make it easier to be good in”.She believed the Christian Life was not about doing good to others but to be by their side. She described life as like a night in a disorderly inn. In church we gather to be reminded of who we are. We are the body of the Prince of Peace. We find beauty being alongside people. We can bring beauty into the most unlovely of places. (Abi yesterday). We must trust God always to be with us. God and the state, God and capitalism are not the same. We must act as if God exists. A prophetic church asks difficult questions. It says “It doesn’t have to be like this”. It restores us as people and society back to what is natural and good. Evil is not natural and is hard work and ultimately self destructive. As the church we are a sign of being different. God sends us people who see things differently and give us insight. Our current form of church is dying as churches have done in history. (in North Africa and Central Asia) but God is not dying. The one who created the universe is not and never will die. What is needed is everyday holiness, to call us back to the centre. We say you are welcome to everyone because that is our calling. Jesus was with the poor and the outcasts and that’s where you will find the best of church. Gods presence is physical. It makes a difference to us and others and it draws people to God. This is what living in the True Vine is about. It is not spiritual without substance. It makes a difference to us, others and society often in small creative ways that are inspirational and fragile.
I am a relatively new gardener but even I know the importance of looking after my plants. First it has to have the correct soil not too acid or too alkaline. Then it has to be adjusted depending on whether its sandy or clay by adding loam, compost and manure. Then you have to plant it in the right place in sun or shade and give the water it needs but not too much. If I don’t prune my fruit trees they would grow wild and bear little poor fruit.
Jesus in John's 15 likens himself to the True Vine! A surprise perhaps. God is the Vinegrower. Jesus paints a symbiotic picture. He lives in us and we in him. We are like branches of the main vine and we cannot exist apart from it.
If we have that symbiosis and are aware of God’s presence in our lives, then we will know what is of God and we are promised that God will bless us. The main ingredient of this symbiosis, this sap, is of course God's love and how do we know what is Gods love? It is shown through Jesus commandments which he asks us to keep. According to Jesus it is summed up in loving God and loving our neighbour as ourself-and the fruit we bear is love.
We have to trust that if we keep close to God and give our lives to Gods work, what is happening to us will eventually enrich us and we will bear more fruit. Of course Gods fruit is not money or possessions or success. It is of a much humbler deeper quality of life.
My vine is young, a Siegrebe. I need to protect her and feed her just like I need to protect and feed my relationship with God and what is of God in my life so I can bear fruit. Its knowing how to protect that life and what feeds it and the discernment that is needed that is important. In the same way I and the church need to discern what creates an environment where it is possible to do more good. Amen.