Sunday 2 May – 5th Sunday of Easter
The service is now live-streamed and can be found on the church Facebook page.
your wounds declare your love for the world
and the wonder of your risen life:
give us compassion and courage
to risk ourselves for those we serve,
to the glory of God the Father.
An angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’
So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.’ The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.’
Post Communion Prayer
whose Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life:
grant us to walk in his way,
to rejoice in his truth,
and to share his risen life;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.
It is fascinating to me that some people in our religious culture, place such a strong emphasis upon literal interpretation of scripture. Interestingly, Jesus so often did not speak literally, but figuratively. He spoke in allegories and images. He painted word pictures. Instead of literally coming out and saying what he meant, he so often would tell a story and let people draw their own conclusion. Indeed, these hidden messages of Jesus frequently frustrated his disciples. They wished that he would speak literally and not be quite so subtle.
This morning we heard in our Gospel reading, one of the “I Am” sayings of Jesus. Jesus said: I am the true vine. Obviously, if we are to understand what Jesus was getting at here, we must look beyond the surface and do some exploring. We have to go beyond the actual words and discover Jesus’ meaning.
When Jesus spoke about vineyards, the people of Judea knew what he was talking about. It was an industry that had been carefully cultivated throughout the country for centuries. It was crucial because it was a cash crop as opposed to grain, which was raised purely for consumption. In early America the essential crop was corn, but the cash crop was tobacco. It was, therefore, vital to the economy of the land.
Quite frankly I must admit that I know very little about the particulars of the wine industry – except, that is for the finished product. In preparation for this homily I did some reading in this area and it was really quite fascinating. The vines are a very rugged crop in a way and in another sense it is a very delicate fruit and requires being treated with kid gloves. A young vine is not permitted to bear fruit for the first three years. It is therefore drastically pruned in December and January to preserve its energy. The particular branches that do not bear fruit are cut out to further conserve the energy of the plant. If this constant cutting back was not done, the result would be a crop that was not up to its full potential.
So when Jesus spoke about vineyards certainly the people could identify with that metaphor. It didn’t make any difference whether or not you were in that business. You had grown up around it enough that you would still be familiar with it.
But there is something else that these listeners would most certainly know.
A vineyard was the symbol of the nation. In Judea they thought of their nation as a vineyard. It was a kind of national identity. Over and over again in the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard of God.
Isaiah the prophet pictured Israel as the vineyard of God. He said: The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel. In Jeremiah, we read God referring to his chosen people in this way: I planted you as a choice vine. Hosea spoke a word of judgment when he said: Israel has become an empty vine. In the Psalms we read that God compares Israel to a vine that came out of Egypt. Josephus, the Roman historian, informs us that over the Temple in Jerusalem was carved an exquisite, gold leaf grapevine. It stood as a symbol of national unity. Israel itself was, in the eyes of its people, the true vine, whose roots ran all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
In Jesus analogy, he likened himself to a vine, while the fruit bearing branches here are the disciples. But even being fruitful and virtuous and being part of the vine does not spare us pain. Vines need to get pruned; gardeners tell us the roses need pruning to produce more beautiful roses. God does this to us. Pruning well produces plentiful fruit. No pruning means little in the way of fruit. Being pruned is not usually pleasant. All of us have suffered setbacks, pains and disappointments. There have been times when our best hopes and dreams all of which seemed so good and virtuous, have been dashed. United mystically to the true vine Jesus we accept that these prunings will allow us to become more fruitful, even if we don’t understand how. That new job, that relationship all seemed so good, but they were removed. We are not to be bitter or angry. The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord – as the psalmist says.
What can we make of this analogy in terms of our daily life? What does it mean to be God’s vineyard?
Firstly, it means we must bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.
Secondly, it means there is such a thing as an unproductive life and we must guard against that.
Thirdly, it means we must do all that we can to cultivate a relationship with Jesus Christ.