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Life in the Vine (April 29, 2018)

As I reflect on the last two weeks, a common theme emerges, which is tied together by today’s gospel reading.

Two weeks ago, I was in Fernie. We talked together there about what it means to be the church. What is the very heart of our identity as God’s people. Who are we? Who are we being called to be?

Last Sunday, I was at our Diocesan Synod, along with Gwen Baril and Anne McMichael. Let me give you a brief report now, and if you want to learn more, all three of us will be writing reports which will be emailed to those for whom I have an email address; hard copies will also be available for you to pick up.

The theme of Synod was “Though we are many, we all belong together.” Unity in diversity.

We did some business at the Synod. We revised the Canons (which are the rules by which the Diocese plays the game). The most significant revision was the canon to elect a new bishop, which was completely changed. We have a whole new process in place, and it will be tested immediately, right after Bishop John’s retirement on May 31.

We looked at financial statements, and all of that kind of stuff. Important … but ho hum. We elected members of the Diocesan Council, delegates to Provincial Synod in September and also to General Synod next July. Anne is now a member of all three of those bodies, so she’s going to be real busy.

We conducted a brief discussion about the impact of the vote to make changes to the Marriage Canon which will be decided at the General Synod next July. How might our Diocese proceed if the change are approved? How might our Diocese proceed if the changes are not approved?

We took time for a wonderful tribute to John on his upcoming retirement. Our Primate, Fred Hiltz, was there. Fred is such a warm, generous, fun–loving, compassionate person. He gave a tribute to John from the National Church and the House of Bishops which touched us all very deeply.

Finally, we listened to a couple of talks by Jay Koyle, who is the Congregational Development officer for the Diocese of Algoma. He was brought in to help us begin to think together about what it means to be a healthy congregation. This will be a priority for our Diocese over the next few years, and every congregation will be invited to engage in a process of seeing how we’re doing.

The essence of Jay’s talks focused on how we can be God’s people today, living on the strength of God’s promises for tomorrow. How can we live out the ministry of God, which God invites us to share? How can we be a vital and vibrant community of people who make a difference in Cranbrook and the region?

In fact, our Vision Statement at Christ Church declares this very thing. This is who we say we are: “Christ Church Anglican, a progressive, inclusive and vibrant community, follows Jesus compassionately and faithfully. All are welcome!”

Let me suggest that we all memorize that Vision Statement. Engrave it in your mind and on your heart. It needs to be at the heart of everything we do here. So that’s your homework this week. Memorize it. Learn it. Live on the basis of it. Challenge me and the Wardens and the Church Committee about whether we’re making decisions based on that understanding.

Our gospel reading this morning says something about the source of our being.

“I am the true vine,” says Jesus.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t just say, “I am the vine.” He adds the word true. There are other vines that grow in the world, and much too often, we seek other vines looking for life, hungering to be nurtured. Much too often, the siren song of other vines stimulates us to look in the wrong places. Too often we seek the source of life in wealth, or influence, or appearance, or our achievements.

But Jesus says to us, “I am the true vine.” Be rooted in me. Be grafted into me, and you will find life. Draw nourishment from the soil of God’s love and let God’s love flow deep into your life. Let your whole life vibrate with the joy and grace and compassion of God’s love flowing through you.

“I am the true vine,” says Jesus. I am the source of abundant life. I alone can give you the life for which you dream, the life for which our world yearns.

This life, this abundant life is not for the future. It is for here and now. I am the tree of life. My roots are sunk deep into the life of God. Be rooted and grounded in God, and you will yield rich and abundant fruit. Find life in the vine, and you receive abundant life, life in all its fullness, life with all its joy, life with all its hope, life beyond your wildest dreams.

Bear that fruit and you will be that inclusive and vibrant community. Then people will be drawn to me through you because the fruit you bear is so wonderful and enticing and attractive, awesome fruit which makes life whole and good.

“I am that true Vine. I am the tree of Life. Come and let your lives be grafted into my Life.”

That’s what it means when Jesus invites us, “Abide in me as I abide in the Father.” As the vine draws nourishment from the soil and the sun, so we draw nourishment from the love of God shown to us in Jesus. It’s an image of fruitfulness and intimacy and love.

Abide in me is the promise that no matter what happens, Jesus is with us. No matter what happens, Jesus will hold on to us. No matter what happens, God in Jesus will be present to heal and make whole.

Abide in me. Hang in there with me. Persevere with me. Commit to me. Continue with me. Make yourselves at home in my love, in my life, in my dream.

It’s a difficult thing to do. We so much want to be independent. We want to stand on our own two feet. We want to be on our own.

But Jesus invites us into community. Jesus invites us to be interdependent. All y’all abide in me.

This is what a person of faith looks like—someone who, throughout all of life, holds on to Jesus, holds on to God. When we are connected with the vine, we flourish. When we become disconnected, we wither and we die spiritually.

One last thing. When we abide in Jesus, we discover that it’s a 2–way process. We abide in Jesus, which means that we abide in his love. As we abide in the love of God, we grow in our ability to love one another. 1st John reminds us this morning of the great commandment. To love God means to love one another. If we love one another, then God lives in us.

When we abide in love, we abide in God, and God abides in us. It’s a beautiful movement between us and God. God becomes part of us as we are part of God. God’s spirit bonds with our spirits. God’s grace opens our hearts so that we respond to the world in grace and love.

This is what allows us to love all people. God’s grace, God’s compassion, opens our lives up so that we in turn reach out to all others. We don’t have to like them, but we are clearly called to love.

That’s how we respond to the driver of the van in Toronto this week. That’s how we respond to those who perpetrate violence of any kind. That’s how we reach out to a world which needs to know the power of love so that we may have life.

Often, in the face of violence, my heart mourns as I cry out, “How? Why? How could you do this?” But then, as I remember the command to love, as I remember that my life is found in the vine, in the one who loves us so dearly and so passionately … then my broken heart reaches out to say, in the words of an Anglican priest in Toronto, “You weren’t born this way. You weren’t born to hate. You weren’t born to create violence and terror. You were made in the image and likeness and love of God. Just like me, you were known in your mother’s womb and cherished by our creator.

“But like us all, you were born into a broken and fractured world, with the prospect and possibility of acts of goodness and the treachery of deceit. This is who you became.

“And so I pray for you, perpetrator, on this day when you rained down terror and trepidation. I pray for you because part of me wants to hate you and I can’t. I pray for you so I won’t become what you have become today. I pray for you because Jesus says it is the only way.

“I pray that our world might become the world which Jesus promised us—a world where there are no more tears, no more crying, no more pain.”

I am the true vine. As you are connected with me, you will find life. Abide in me, receive abundant life, and know that God abides in you.

Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt

April 29, 2018 (5th Sunday of Easter)

John 15: 1–8

1 John 4: 7–21

Acts 8: 26–40