Tag Archives: harvest

A branch with connections?

What did Jesus mean by saying, “I am the true vine”? (John 15:1-8). It’s a saying that comes on the night of the foot-washing and (though John does not record the institution of the eucharist) the Last Supper. At the end of chapter 14, Jesus says “Rise, let us be on our way.”, but there are still 2 chapters of discourse and the prayer of chapter 17 before (beginning in chapter18) they go out across the valley to the garden of Gethsemane.

We can’t be sure, but interesting idea that, leaving the house at end chapter 14, they went to the temple, and saw the gates with their vine decoration. Psalm 80, as well as Jeremiah, Ezekiel and other prophets, had pictured Israel as a vine – thus the symbolism of the decoration. It would add force to this saying, if they were looking at the gates. Jesus would be making the point that from that time on, to belong to God’s people would be to be his – Jesus’ – followers, and not members of a nation. He had already replaced the 12 tribes, with 12 disciples.

What is so distinctive about a vine?  Although the stem is woody, and lasts, the shoots are sappy, and need support. When pruned, the shoots removed can be removed without secateurs or knife, and wither to almost nothing. It’s not flattering to be told that as branches of Jesus we have no strength, no backbone of our own. Not flattering – but we need to know.

And it might seem less than comforting to hear that God will not only remove unfruitful branches, but also prune those that do fruit! We might wince at the thought of pruning, or we might see it as explaining why difficult things happen, even to good people. Do you feel that Christians have had a hard time in the last few years? In western society generally, a move away from Christian ideas and practice – about honesty, care for weak and needy,  life and death as well as morality and family. Is some of this God pruning? Asking us to live distinctively, to show a better way because we belong to him?

Jesus picture is not complicated. A vine, perhaps many years old, with roots drawing water from six metres down, for the benefit of the frail branches. Without the plant, they are nothing. Only firmly connected to the knarled trunk can they fulfill their purpose and bear fruit. But the fruit is wonderful in itself, and can be made into wine, to keep its goodness and bring cheerfulness and energy for time to come.

Let’s take Jesus parable and put it into practice. We are already cleansed, or pruned, by Jesus words – as Christians, we have come to terms with our frailty, and our shared status as sinners. Let’s also make sure that we are well connected to be fruitful, for the harvest of the Kingdom.

The joy of limited responsibility!

There are (at least) 2 ways of living as a Christian:

  • loaded down with all the concerns – lists of sick people to pray for, world problems, – proper concerns, but “heavy”, and liable to make life hard going.
  • or with a sense of God’s ownership, and thanks for it:
    sometimes (as at Harvest) times are good – there is the reminder of the gifts of creation
    sometimes (as at Christmas, Easter, Pententecost) focus on the gift of Jesus, of his life, his death for us, his sending of the Holy Spirit.

In darker moments, when its easy to focus on what is going wrong or badly, and the pain of it, the best way may be to go on with a sense of God’s ownership. We don’t have to understand, as long as someone makes sense of it.  We are not called to be in control, but only to do our part.  If we don’t understand everything, is that a great surprise – God is much greater than we are, and there is no suggestion we have all the information, let alone the ability to process it properly.

Jesus tells the story of the Vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46), picking up from Isaiah.  God had worked, not just to pop plants in, but to clear a place, build a wall, plant, and get everything set up. All the tenants had to do when they came in later was to carry on with the harvest and maintenance. There is real anger at their attempt to take over ownership – the deceit, theft, pretence.

Of course there’s a warning here for us all: Don’t imagine you own – anything! On earth, we’re all tenants, and we need to know that, and pay due regard to the landlord.  That’s the negative side, but see the positive as well – Like a good tenant, you don’t have to worry when the roof leaks – you do what you can, and tell the owner. That’s your responsibility.

When life is good – Give thanks.  When life is not so easy. Give thanks for the owner, who has to deal with everything. We don’t. And if you can remember that, you could save a lot of nervous energy.  Whether it is as easy to put into practice as to understand – well, you try.

Sowing?

In Ireland, they take longer over the weather forecast, and even include the statistics for grass growth over the last month in different areas!  Perhaps it is not surprising, given that agriculture is a rather more serious concern for the average person there than in the UK.

It may be that as we read Matthew’s account of the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23 – leaving out v10-17), we are brought up against what we are serious about.  It is meant to be an encouragement (like the rest of the chapter, all about the Kingdom of God).  Reading carefully, we may learn what is beyond our control (and not worth worrying about), and what is going on (to help if possible, and beware the dangers for ourselves).

Jesus knows that when the message of God’s Kingdom is sown (which applied to his ministry, and still to ours today) it is a call to loyalty, obedience and action.  The reaction to that call varies:

  • there are hard places, like the path which will be ploughed after sowing, but loses seed to birds.  Some people just want to know, they have their own agenda, know what they want – and it doesn’t include God.  For anything to grow there, it will have to be tucked into a gap made by the Holy Spirit.
  • The rocky ground is just shallow.  There is no problem getting a reaction here, but it is liable to pass on to the next enthusiasm, and the next.  If this ground can be cultivated (sometimes it can’t), honesty is needed.  To live the Christian life is the best thing you can do – but it will be hard at times.  More than ever you need other believers to watch out for you, pray for you, and need you to help them too.
  • The seed is never sown in sterile compost!  We all come with weeds – past hopes, habits and hang-ups.  To get through these, not only do we need honesty, but also to know the worth of God, and the temporary nature of so much that seems to tempt or threaten.

This parable may be very familiar to you, but I suggest it may reveal how serious we are about sowing God’s Kingdom, and living it.  Don’t be surprised or upset that some sowing of the Kingdom fails to grow – it doesn’t mean the seed is bad, or the sower useless.  Understand the problems, if that will help.  But above all realise that sowing will produce a harvest, a good and significant one.  Jesus’ disciples needed to know that when his ministry hit opposition – and they still do.

Comfort and Healing – that we must share

As Jesus travelled, ” he saw the crowds, his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  no surprise there – we expect Jesus to teach, heal, be compassionate. But think what else he could have done:

  • this is ridiculous, I need a holiday, I’m off!
  • here’s a real commercial opportunity, if I charge them £5 a head, we can all retire next month
  • if I organise them properly, I can have any position I want just by asking for it.

But Jesus isn’t like that, and won’t do those things (not that they are necessarily bad! – there’s nothing essentially wrong in making money by supplying what people want, or organising people to voice their demands and promote their leader, but)  As Mt summarises the first part of his gospel, he reminds us that Jesus had taken the initiative. He travelled, and taught (free of charge), and healed people. His reaction to the crowd is not even “here we go again”, but one of concern for them, for their real wellbeing. He doesn’t wring his hands or bemoan the situation, he gets on with working to tackle it. I hope you find all this encouraging. It’s the sort of thing that makes me want to be a Christian, a better, more effective Christian, a Christian in action, not just words or theory.  It is evidence of love, of quality love which is not interfering do-goodism, nor ego-boosting “I told you my way was best”ism, nor anything else but deep, effective concern for the best for the other person.

There’s a bit of a sting in the tail!  Jesus reaction to the need is v37 (” Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few”) and 10:1,7 (” Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.”, “go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. “). The 12 (only here does Matthew call them apostles – those sent out) are given authority, and their marching orders.  Again, we’re not terribly surprised; heard it before, perhaps. But shouldn’t we be?

  • Jesus could have called for volunteers – the extrovert, perhaps?
  • he could have sent those with that sort of gift
  • he could at least have kept a couple back, to keep him company, to get things ready for the others when they came back. You know the sort of people – “don’t expect me to do the religious stuff, but if you want practical help, I’ll be there.”

But just as Jesus worked for the good, the real benefit of the crowds – in the same way he sends all his disciples, to work in the same way. It’s a bit daunting, very much against our culture.  Imagine the complaints, and their answers:

  • I just want a bit of comfort; – fine, but go and give it
  • I like religion the way I like it; – go and love people
  • I’m hurt, damaged, tired, too old; – welcome, find the healing, energy, renewal – but even as you find it, share it with others.

It’s very easy to get used to Jesus, active in practical love.  It is distressingly easy to get used to our own willingness to admire that, even benefit from it, but not take him seriously.