A Sermon from Sherborne
Abide in Me
A sermon for the Parish Eucharist, preached in Sherborne Abbey on Sunday 29th April 2018 by the Reverend Lesley McCreadie, Team Vicar
Before I was ordained a friend in Longburton offered to make me a white stole for my ordination. She asked what I would like to go on the stole and we decided in the end on a grapevine because we have a house in France, in the Charente Maritime among the vineyards and because the vine features in the teaching of Jesus. This friend was in fact our assistant verger Graham Winter’s wife, Lee. As you can see it changes colour with the seasons and those changes in colour match very closely the liturgical colours used by the church; green in the spring, moving to reds and golds and purples – of course here at the Abbey we use Sarum colours so not quite the same.
The vine is very interesting plant. It is watered for the first year after planting and after that only receives water naturally from rain; it has to push its root deep down into the soil to find the water it needs during dry times. It doesn’t require the best of soils; often chalky rocky soil makes for the best vines. It grows quickly, pushing out tentacles which need severe pruning at the beginning of the season and then training and tying to keep them under control as the season wears on. If all goes well; enough water and plenty of sun all at the right times, it will produce abundantly. Large bunches of grapes, mostly shaped like the continent of Africa, full of juice and flavour and then with our help the grapes can be eaten or turned into wine; red, white and rose; still and fizzy or as in our part of France they can become cognac and pineau.
Jesus made his last recorded I AM statement after the Last Supper. It is likely that he and his men were walking from the Upper Room to the Garden where Jesus would be arrested. By saying “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener”, Jesus has the attention of his listeners for whom the idea of the vineyard representing Israel was a very familiar one for them. Isaiah 5 says:
I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard: …….
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Israel had failed to produce the fruit that God was looking for but Jesus refers to himself as the ‘true’ vine through who the good fruit that God desires is produced.
Israel as a nation had not done very well in the allegory of a vineyard. It had failed to really get to grips with what it actually meant to be God’s people. It was no good proudly declaring themselves to other nations as God’s people they had to live the life. They had to work for justice for all people, rich and poor, the stranger and the neighbour. They had to show mercy; or perhaps we could translate this as kindness and love, but above all they had to walk humbly with their God. God did not require great pomp and sacrifice but as Hosea tells us God wants our constant or steadfast love.
The vine has to work hard to get what it needs to thrive and bear good fruit. Is this the lesson for us from this statement? Are we too content to let our faith just jog along nicely with us through life without ever seeking to delve deeper; to learn more; to expose ourselves to new expressions of our faith? Jesus always seemed to find the time to listen to others, to go away for times of deeper thought and prayer, often into the desert, and he must have weighed up the plans he believed his Father had for his life.
The New Testament passage from the Acts of the Apostles is a wonderful example of what happens when you let God do his work on us as a gardener works on his plants. The best new vines are those which have been grafted onto good stock and Philip as a new follower of Jesus, a man chosen to look after and feed the widows of Jerusalem, shows us that even a new vine can be fruitful. He responded to the call from an angel to leave Jerusalem and to go south onto the Gaza road. That in itself is pretty remarkable. He went trusting that there was a reason for the angels prompting. When Philip meets the Ethiopian he is more than ready and able to discuss the scriptures with him intelligently as one who is comfortable in his faith. He doesn’t try to pass him off onto someone else; he sits with him and as a result the Ethiopian is open to God’s word and he is baptised by the side of the road. This is the fruit of the vine Jesus spoke of in the gospel.
Jesus encouraged his followers to abide in him, and let his words abide in them. Abiding in Christ is the way to ensure that we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit; that we respond to the call God places on our lives in the big and the small things of life. Philip understood what abiding in Christ meant. For Philip life wasn’t about either/ors; for example, should I spend today praying or should I go out and preach? He had allowed himself to be so grafted into the life of God so that the whole of his life is an opportunity to be able to show the love of God wherever he goes and whoever he meets.
This I think is the fruit that really matters. If we had heard the epistle reading this morning from the first of Johns letters we would have been left with no other conclusion. John describes how God comes to live within us and the greatest consequence of this dramatic indwelling is the banishing of fear and the establishment of love. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them [1 John 4:16b]. John goes on to demonstrate, with devastating logic, that a failure to love our brothers and sisters makes a total mockery of our faith.
Here is our challenge; do we live our lives in this way? Are we so grafted onto the vine of Christ that we can honestly say we love unreservedly. I know I cannot, but that is our calling, it is what we should be trying to do. We have heard today how this might be achieved abide in me. Let us pray that we might all seek a closer walk with God this week; abiding in his love. Amen