Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 29, 2018:

First Reading: Acts 8:26-40

Psalm: Psalm 22:24-30 (Psalm 22:25-31 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 John 4:7-21

Gospel: John 15:1-8

The Gospel of John includes several "I am" stories, like the one we find in the Gospel for this week. Unlike the idea of Jesus as shepherd, which might be unfamiliar to those of us who live so far away from farms, the idea of Jesus as the vine, and believers as the branches isn't that hard for most of us to grasp. Most of us have watched plants grow, and we understand that one branch of the plant won't do well if we separate it from the main stalk.

We know what happens when we forget to water plants regularly or when the rains stop, and the yards grow crispy.

Jesus is the one who delivers water and nutrients to the rest of the plant. We won't do well when we're disconnected from the life source. In fact, Jesus makes clear what happens to those of us who separate from Christ: we wither.

What if we're feeling withered?   We might assume that Christ has left us to parch, but maybe we need to meet Jesus in a new place.   Maybe it's time to return to our gratitude journals.  Maybe we need to plan a retreat.  Maybe we need to try an artistic practice.  Maybe we need a physical discipline to shape our spiritual discipline:  yoga or fasting or walking a labyrinth.

And then it's time to bear fruit.  It's in this area that I find this week's Gospel unsettling.

Notice how in just 8 verses, Jesus repeats several things. More than once, we're reminded that branches that don't bear fruit are cut away from the true vine. Look at the verbs that Jesus uses for these non-bearing branches: wither, gathered, thrown, burned.

My brain wants to know what kind of timeline we're working with here. How long do I have to prove I can bear fruit? Is it too late? Have I been cast into the fire already, and I just don't know it yet?

I suspect I'm missing the point. God, the true vine and vinedresser, seems to give humanity chance after chance after chance. In these verses, though, Jesus reminds us that much is expected from us. Where are we bearing good fruit?

 Every action that we take helps to create a world that is either more good or more evil. We want to make sure we're creating the Kingdom that God has called us to help create. We're to be creating it here, now--not in some distant time and place when we're dead.

We're in a world where the Good News of the Gospel is that the Kingdom of God is both here now (thus a cause for joy) and not yet (as evidenced by evil in the world). How can we be the vine bearing good fruit that doesn't allow room for the bad?

We don't have time to waste withering on the vine. God has many joyous tasks for us, and the world urgently needs for us to do them.

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