Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel
by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, May 6, 2012:
First Reading: Acts 8:26-40
Psalm: Psalm 22:24-30 (Psalm 22:25-31 NRSV)
Second Reading: 1 John 4:7-21
Gospel: John 15:1-8
Again, we have a Gospel lesson with a metaphor that's so familiar that we might be tempted to doze off. Vine, branches, got it. But look again, closely at several verses. I find this Gospel a bit unsettling.
Notice how in just 8 verses, Jesus repeats several things. More than once, we're reminded that branches that don't bear fruit are cut away from the true vine. Look at the verbs that Jesus uses for these non-bearing branches: wither, gathered, thrown, burned.
My brain wants to know what kind of timeline we're working with here. How long do I have to prove I can bear fruit? Is it too late? Have I been cast into the fire already, and I just don't know it yet?
I suspect I'm missing the point. God, the true vine and vinedresser, seems to give humanity chance after chance after chance. In these verses, though, Jesus reminds us that much is expected from us. We might ask ourselves in what areas of our lives we're bearing fruit. What needs to be pruned away?
Maybe you're feeling fairly withered, even though you don't see yourself as being cut off from Christ. If that feeling persists, perhaps it's time to consider doing something differently. Maybe you need to pray more. Maybe you need to withdraw and take a retreat. Maybe you need to do some social justice work. Maybe you need some sort of midweek class or worship activity. Maybe you need to walk a labyrinth and meditate.
This week's Gospel makes clear that we are not put in place to just sprout meekly. We are to bear much fruit. If we feel like we're withering, we shouldn't let that feeling persist for too many months before we consider how we're going to become more fruitful.
Congregations will hear this Gospel this week, and many will consider what this verse means. Are we to bring more members to church? Are we to go out and create some sort of intentional community? Should we do more vigorous work for social justice? How can we be light and leaven in our workplaces?
The answers to all these questions might be yes. Or perhaps no. Let's return to the vine metaphor, and let's think about wine. Those of us who drink a variety of wines know that even though wines are made from grapes, there are lots of different grapes, with very different characters, which make a wide variety of wines possible.
Some of us are the type of grape who can go out and invite all our friends to church. Others of us are the kind of grape that would prefer to pray for others in private. Some of us might be the kind of grape who can visit sick parishioners, at home or in the hospital. Some of us might be called to create intentional community, while others of us have already found the community which can nurture us.
There is no single right or wrong answer. But we need to make sure we're asking the right questions. One time at a retreat, as I talked to a pastor friend about work issues, she asked, "But through your work, are you creating a thing of beauty?" That's one of the interesting questions.
We also need to consider whether or not our daily activities are working on behalf of good or evil. Every action that we take helps to create a world that is either more good or more evil. We want to make sure we're creating the Kingdom that God has called us to help create. We're to be creating it here, now--not in some distant time and place when we're dead.
We're in a world where the Good News of the Gospel is that the Kingdom of God is both here now (thus a cause for joy) and not yet (as evidenced by evil in the world). Everything we create needs to be a challenge to evil.
We don't have time to waste withering on the vine. God has many joyous tasks for us, and the world urgently needs for us to do them.