We are well and truly coming to the point of returning to Church for worship and looking forward to being able to sing, to sit near our friends and stay to chat over coffee afterwards as well. Might be a way down the line yet, but for me at least it feels like we are moving in the right direction. If you would like someone to accompany you the first time you return to Church please let us know.
Anyone who has a grapevine in the garden will know the hardness of pruning it. Once the fruit cluster has formed you need to cut the branch off three leaves ahead of the cluster, this stops the vine from continuing to waste energy on producing leaf, of which it does quite madly, and concentrate the sugars into developing the grapes to the very best. It seems a bit drastic but, to produce something worth having it needs to happen. Our grapes are luscious and when my French friends came last, two years ago, I had to show them the vine to prove they had grown in my garden!
In our reading today Jesus is describing how each part of the plant is vital none of it can function or produce fruit without the other parts, he is redefining to his listeners the traditional symbolism, in this passage Jesus is the vine not Israel, he is the middle ground between God the gardener and the community of the branches us. God is the source and power for all Jesus’ work, therefore, Jesus is the true vine because he comes from God. If we live in God and God is in us, the Holy Spirit gives us the strength for daily living and sharing, that the fruit of the community will be stronger and sweeter and more powerful. We are a community and we all need each other, to build ourselves up, to encourage and challenge each other, to worship together and be inspired. That has been one of the hardest things this past year, sitting (or standing) and singing on our own, saying the words of our liturgy on our own, no familiar faces around us, being isolated in our homes as we worship. There is of course the time and need to pray and read Scripture on our own, but there is that other quality that comes from raising our voices together, being witnesses together, sharing our story together that binds us together in the vine.
I thought I would share with you these thought and a meditation from Revd Dr Joan Crossley: The encounter between the Ethiopian traveller and Philip recounted in the reading from Acts, is a wonderful example of the collision of two cultures. Philip, a follower of the Lord Jesus from a Jewish background, met up with a high ranking financial advisor to the queen of the Ethiopians. Philip was just embarking upon what would be an exciting life of evangelism and travel, and this meeting, apparently a chance, one would kick-start him on his life’s work. In fact the life-changing meeting was ordained by God, as we are told that an angel decided the direction that Philip’s journey would take.
We have always tended to read the meeting from the perspective of what the Ethiopian learnt from Philip. Of course, it was profoundly valuable for the Ethiopian, since it converted him to Christianity. But we can see that Philip too was changed by the stranger. Philip was challenged by the directness of the questions fired at him, and was forced to address deep questions about the faith. He might also have been thrown by the spontaneity and enthusiasm of the Ethiopian “here is water, why shouldn’t I be baptised here and now?”
The encounter reminds us of the experiences of the wonderful Missionary women and men who have gone out across the world to spread the name of Jesus. When they get home, they are frequently scathing of the legalistic and solemn approach to faith here. What matters is the love and faith of Jesus’ followers, not their ability to stick to traditions and formulas. As the Ethiopian challenged Philip, we must allow ourselves to be challenged by the people we encounter, perhaps children or those without faith, those who make us reassess the way that we conduct our mission and worship. Sometimes we must ask “why do we do this”, does this really advance the Kingdom or is it a rut that we have fallen into!
Thought provoking, isn’t it?
As followers of Jesus, we live in a relationship of love which we seek to share with others. This sharing of love is God’s mission – our calling is to work in partnerships, based on trust and respect, offering mutual support. The nineteenth century idea that we should encourage people from other cultures to be just like us, the British, have now gone. The paternalistic model of mission abroad and at home has been replaced by one more mindful of the traditions of other societies and respectful of what is valuable within them. We now recognise that in giving to and interacting with mission partners, we are also fortunate recipients. St. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome: “I long to see you that I may impart some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” (Romans 1:11-12). So it is with the worldwide Church today – we have much to learn from each other and then to share with others.
Every blessing Rev Georgina