This sermon was given by Rev Sue on Wednesday 22 May 2019. You can read it again here.
When I was a child my father was a very keen gardener. We had a large garden, that was his pride and joy, and we had several apple trees. There was one that fascinated me. He told me that it was originally a crab apple tree, so the fruit was not much use – far too bitter to eat raw or in pies. So, he grafted on the branch from another, smaller, apple tree. The resulting tree had the original characteristics of the sturdy and prolific crab apple tree, but produced very palatable fruit – they were my favourite apples.
In Jesus’ illustration he is the vine and we are the branches. We have his strength and vitality flowing up through each of us. Our task is to abide, to remain and to rest in him. Branches do not make themselves fruitful. They are lovingly tended and shaped by the vine-grower, the father, and then fruit will grow, not by our efforts but naturally in due time. Trying to be faithful disciples by our own efforts simply doesn’t work – believe me I’ve tried. We need direction, motivation and strength, but these things come from God when we let ourselves be nourished and tended.
Nevertheless, plants need food and water. Without water they will die, and without nutrients they will fail to thrive. So, we need to do those things that allow our thirst to be quenched and our souls to be fed. We need to spend time with God in prayer. My way of praying is silent meditation, but that might not be yours. People pray reciting prayers they love, together or alone, with their imagination or music or painting or walking in nature – the list is endless. If it gives you the sense of being close to God it’s the right way for you. Sometimes our prayer life needs refreshing and it’s time for something new, so if prayer begins to become hard work it might be time for a change. But if you can pray every day, if only for a short while, your faith will grow.
In a few minutes Jesus will feed us literally with the bread and wine of communion, and in the Eucharist, we come close to each other, and close to God. He feeds our minds when we read the Bible and other books about our faith, again either alone or studying as a group. Give him these opportunities to speak and be heard.
Did you know that it is possible to graft several varieties of apple on to one tree? Jesus tells us that we are the branches, plural. A vine with just one branch would not have much fruit! Carol reminded us on Sunday that we must love one another with a love that is sacrificial, unconditional and practical. We are all part of the same vine; we share the same root and we must accept the responsibility of caring for each other. We cannot be Christians alone. Even hermits, who spend most of their time alone and in silence, would acknowledge that they are bound to others, in their case by their life of prayer.
Don’t be alarmed by the more negative aspects of the reading which tells us that the unproductive branches are cut off and thrown into the fire. I am a Franciscan tertiary, and we all have a rule of life, setting out our individual goals in areas such as prayer and service. We make a pledge to serve God in the order for our whole lives, and every year to keep our rule of life for that year. Older tertiaries often say to me that they will have to leave the order, because they can no longer keep their rules. I always say the same thing. If you cannot keep the rule, change the rule. Make it something that reflects what you can do, don’t focus on what you can’t. God never asks us to do the impossible. The unproductive branch is not the branch which is not trying hard enough, or is weak, or frail. It’s the branch that has lost contact with its roots. If a branch is severed from its roots a natural consequence is that it will begin to wither.
So, rest in the peace of God, who will feed and strengthen us through prayer, the Bible and the Eucharist, in the company of each other. Then without trying, perhaps without even noticing, we will produce fruit that pleases him.