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Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The life of Jesus reproduced in our lives

Here is my sermon for today's Choral Eucharist at St Martin-in-the-Fields:

Stephen Verney begins his commentary on this passage (John 15. 1 - 8) with a great evocation of the way in which vines are grown: “On a stony hillside above his house, where the thyme grows and the prickly pear, and a wild fig tree fights for its existence in a pocket of shallow soil, a farmer decides to plant a vine. In the autumn he clears a terrace, and brings top soil. He sets a post for the vine to climb, and fixes horizontal supports for its branches. Then in the spring he plants it and fences it against the goats; as it grows he trains it, and in the following autumn he prunes it back.

The vine depends for its life on the farmer, but equally the farmer depends on the vine. For the vine can do what the farmer cannot; it can take the rain that falls on the hillside and convert it into grapes, which the farmer can harvest and tread out in his wine-press, and pour the juice into his vat to ferment and bubble. The farmer and the vine are dependent on each other, and the purpose for which they work together is that water should be turned into wine.” Jesus is the vine, his Father is the farmer. They are dependent one on the other although their roles are different. Their shared purpose is that water is turned into wine; that the vine is fruitful and that its fruit becomes wine shared with others as the sign and symbol of Jesus’ blood. The process for achieving this can itself be painful; involving pruning and crushing.

We are part of this picture because there is one vine but many branches. Each one of us as we become Christians is grafted into the vine to become part of the vine itself. Verney writes: “I AM the vine, and you are the branches. Dwell in me, and I in you. Here is teaching both simple and profound, to move the human heart. If the branch dwells in the vine, then the life of the vine dwells in the branch. If the branch grows out of the stem, and out of the roots which are drawing up the goodness of the soil and the rain, then the sap of the vine flows into the branch, and the pattern of the vine’s life unfolds itself through each branch to produce bunches of grapes. So it will be, says Jesus, between you and me. If you do not dwell in me you cannot bear fruit …”

How do we dwell in Jesus? To keep our life dwelling in Christ’s, we must continually renew our decision that “what has been done once for all on the cross by Jesus shall the basis, the starting point, the context of all my thinking and deciding and doing,” writes Lesslie Newbigin. We feed this decision by protecting time for prayer, bible study and worship in our busy lives and schedules. As we do so, the sap of the vine, the life of Christ, flows into us and we produce fruit. The fruit of the vine is, as Newbigin again writes, “the life of Jesus reproduced in the midst of the life of the world, the pure love and obedience by which people will recognise the disciples of Jesus, the branches of the real vine.”

This fruit, the life of Jesus reproduced in our lives, is the real test of whether or not we are actually dwelling in the vine, in Jesus. In recent years, we have come to know much more about the spiritual life of Mother Teresa, someone whose face shone with the all-encompassing joy of one for whom “to live is Christ.” Everyone who knew her assumed that she was supported in her ministry through a deep and abiding sense of Christ’s presence with her.

Yet the opposite was true. Mother Teresa lived feeling as if she did not believe: “I have no faith” – “They say people in hell suffer eternal pain because of the loss of God … in my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss – of God not being God – of God not really existing.” Her sense of feeling that there was no God has been revealed in letters that she wrote to her spiritual confidantes. Yet, as Sister Wendy Beckett has written, “this woman who felt that there was no God and lived in emotional anguish was also profoundly aware, intellectually, that God was her total life and that she lived only to love him.” This was what was apparent in her life and ministry and this fruit showed that whatever she felt about the absence of God in her life, she was still a live branch in the vine.

Ultimately, the fruit of our lives - the life of Jesus reproduced in our lives – is the sign of whether we are healthy branches dwelling in the vine. Prayer, bible study and worship are channels for the life of Christ to flow into our lives rather than the sign than his life is flowing into our own. As we are grafted into the vine, into Jesus, we receive his life flowing through us and take on his characteristics – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. These characteristics result in acts of love because love must act, as we saw in the life of Mother Teresa. While hate could be indifference or inaction, love is always active and must respond practically to the needs we see around us.

This Christian Aid week we can use our spheres of influence to give, act and pray, and in this way support the loving, sacrificial selflessness of Christian Aid partners who support and empower those they serve. We can choose active love over inactive indifference and, together with Christian Aid and others like them, create a powerful force for change which derives from the life of Christ flowing into us as we dwell in him and where our active love is the fruit of the vine - the life of Jesus reproduced in our lives.


Gregory Porter & Beverley Knight - Mary Did You Know.

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