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Easter 5 - It hurts to be pruned!

Last week compared his life with the disciples as a Shepherd caring for sheep. Today Jesus compares the church to the way branches grow from a Vine. Jesus himself is the stem of the vine and God is the Vinedresser.

In our Gospel today, we hear part of the conversation between Jesus and his disciples on the night of Maundy Thursday. Jesus compares himself to the true vine where his disciples are the branches. He tells his disciples to abide in him as he abides in them. His life, the Holy Spirit, is the sap which flows through the vine; stem and branches alike. This is an amazing thought; Jesus lives in us.

It is the same when we say, we believe in Christ’s resurrection; the new life of Jesus lives in us.

When we are baptised, we become part of Christ’s body; and when we share the bread and wine at the Communion, Christ’s body and blood become part of us. So when people say, “We want to see Jesus,” our answer can be, “Here I am!”

This thought is encouraging and terrifying at the same time. It is a great honour and privilege and it is a great responsibility as well. The only way people will meet Jesus is through us.

The vine shows that Christ’s life lives in us and supports us – the roots and stem of the vine carries the water and food to the branches so that the branch can bear fruit. All our good thoughts and actions come from God, through Christ, who is the root and stem of our existence. It’s good to know that our life is the same life that was in Christ, and that our spirit is the Holy Spirit who dwells in Christ and comes from God. It doesn’t matter how small the branch is, even the smallest twig will bear fruit if the life that flows in it comes from Jesus Christ.

The people who do not allow the life of Christ to live in them are compared to unproductive branches. They wither and die and their end is destruction. Those who choose to live unfruitful lives will end in nothing but dust and ashes in the same way that dead branches are gathered together and burnt.

People who are part of a community live and grow, while those who isolate themselves do not flourish. Our gospel makes it clear that Christ is the foundation of the church’s community, and that those who want to be part of Christ find the best expression of that in some form of Church gathering. It is possible to abide in Christ and the love of God while separated from other Christians, but the fullest expression of faith and the biggest crop of fruit come when we are part of a Christian community.

God removes the dead wood and prunes the branches so that their growth is healthy and productive. God is a skilled worker who knows when to cut and how much to prune. Cutting and pruning bring loss and pain to the vine, but good comes in the end – the vine is more vigorous and productive than before.

God’s pruning has nothing to do with human dying and death. Those who are part of the vine, like Peter Rinker and Albert Alan and Julian of Norwich, are part of the vine for ever. God’s pruning has very little to with disasters like the burning down of a church or the death of a charismatic pastor. Deaths and disasters will happen and they may shatter the lives of individuals and communities and when this happens God grieves with his people and his communities.

We can turn these disasters into opportunities. God knows that we need to mourn and to grieve. It is a right and Godly thing to do. It is when we start to resurrect our lives that the opportunities for pruning come.

Thank God we do not need a disaster to give us new life. Simply being part of the body of Christ is enough to start the pruning process. If we allow it, God will prune away all the things we do which are selfish or hurtful. If we allow it, God will prune away all that is wasteful and stupid in our lives. If we allow it, God will prune away all that is self indulgent and time-wasting.

If we allow God’s rich and abundant life to flow in us we will find ourselves achieving so much more in every part of our lives. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Imagine how the world of business, politics, education and the rest would be transformed by these fruits!

So let’s think about the future for a moment. We are about to leave the season of Easter and launch into the season of Pentecost which is the season of the Holy Spirit.

This will be the time to ask, “Where the life of Christ and the Spirit of God is moving in me and in my church. Where can God prune me and my church, and how can I use this as an opportunity to develop new shoots, new ideas and new fruits? And then what is the fruit that I am able to bear, what are the ministries that I can do and which I can support in my church?

And finally, what action will I take and encourage my church to take, so that God is glorified, God lives in us and God’s love is perfected in us?

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