The Rev’d Robert Warren
Back in the day my father nicked the branch of a grapevine with a scythe. Though it was early in the season, with no grapes and only the earliest indication of leaves, the vine wept copiously for weeks even though he tried to bind the wound with a tight dressing. Off-season grape vines look like little more than dry sticks and yet the vine sends vital nourishment out to those buds with tremendous intention. Appearances are deceiving. The nourishment goes on subtly and quietly but the leaves and the fruit do take form. They provide a harvest for the vintner and shade for his family in the heat of the day.
Jesus tells his disciples that he is the true vine and that they are branches. His father is the cultivator, the one who keeps the branches pruned back and effective. They can do nothing apart from the vine. Life will not be fruitful and ministry ineffective. There will be no joy – not for Jesus and not for the disciples – unless they remain connected to the source of their life.
Finding a secret source of strength might be enticing. You could write a book about it. People might buy it. There’s gold in those hills. There’s pirate treasure in the bay. There’s oil underneath Jed Clampett’s land – black gold, Texas Tea, resources and power. Our devices will work if we plug them in – if (as per the French verb) we are branché – connected and plugged in.
But to what end do we seek to be so plugged in? Is this mostly about us? Is it our well-being which is the subject at hand? After all, resources can be sucked up, used up, squandered, rejoiced in and they could in theory end with us. No – Jesus’ words make references to the fruitfulness of branches, hanging heavy with fruit because the disciples are to become lovers of others, conduits for God’s grace to the world around them. That’s what the subject heading is for this whole long discourse running from John 13 to the end of chapter 17: “…even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Jesus takes it for granted that the disciples desire is to remain connected with the work of the Kingdom, to feed the world around them and to extend God’s friendship into it.
Are our vines weeping? Did they get nicked when we drew a circle around our resources even if we did this for what seemed like the best of all reasons – care of self and care of our loved ones? We are survivors – no question. Are we disciples? If so then we are necessarily connected to a world – a world which groans for our fellowship and which has been promised the harvest from our branches.
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and prove to be my disciples.”