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Thought for the week - 28 April 2024

Many years ago, gosh – it must be around thirty or so – I did a couple of wine tasting courses, Certificate and Higher Certificate, through the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET). I guess I can honestly say that I am a certified wino! The courses included the whole process of wine making, from vine cultivation (viticulture) right through to harvesting and wine making (viniculture). I have forgotten the vast majority of what we covered , but I am still rather proficient at the wine tasting part of it all!

A key part of viticulture is the pruning of the vine. It promotes heathy plant growth by reducing old growth on the vine, and this, in turn, encourages new wood to grow. Without pruning, the vine becomes a tangled mess of mostly older wood with few branches which can produce good fruit. Also, the denser the vine, the less air circulation is possible, leading to potential fungus attacks.

In the gospel today, Jesus refers to Himself as the vine and His disciples (and us) as the branches. And God the Father is the gardener, or the viticulturist, ensuring the production of good harvests. In this analogy, Jesus, the vine, is the new Israel. Over the years, Israel had failed spectacularly and Jesus is now the true vine, the fruitful vine which never fails. And the fruit bearing branches, referred to, are the true believers who must remain attached to the vine (remain, or abide, in Jesus) in order to bear fruit, to proclaim the Good News and gather even more true believers.

The reference to pruning back the fruit bearing branches is essentially the getting rid of other goals and ambitions which can cloud or block the growth of true faith. It can be painful, but those branches which stay with the vine, believers who remain in Christ Jesus, are willing to let go of unnecessary clutter and go on to thrive and bear much fruit – discipleship, witnessing, mission.

Jesus does seem to be rather severe on those who are not true believers. ‘Whoever does not abide in Me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.’ Harsh words indeed. But if we look at the ‘bad’ branches against the ‘good’ branches, it clarifies what Jesus was getting at. Simple vine branches (which we will term bad branches) claim to be followers of Christ; they then fall away from Christ after making that first superficial commitment; but they can infect the ‘good’ branches by attempting to block the efforts of these good branches to spread the Word, stifling the good vines, preventing air circulation and encouraging possible fungus growth. But the fruitful branches (which we are terming good branches) are true believers, with staying power, who do bear fruit by living in union with Christ. These ‘good’ branches do sometimes need some pruning type of management; sometimes needing disciplining by God

to strengthen faith and commitment. But this nurturing is an essential part of the continued growth of good branches, true believers. Theologist Tom Wright succinctly writes: ‘The vine dresser is never closer to the vine, taking more thought over its long term health and productivity, than when he has the knife in his hand.’ We must never be afraid of God’s discipline; He has our long term well-being in mind at all times.

Every fruit displays the character of its parent tree. Apples come from apple trees; oranges from orange trees; figs from fig trees; grapes from vines and so on. As true Christians, we should reflect the characteristics of Christ, His attitudes and actions, conduct etc. We should love one another as He loves us. We must remember that we will never look into the eyes of someone who is not loved by God and therefore we must treat each other as fellow children of God. This should be apparent in our actions and demeanour. As fruit is visible on the tree, so we should be visible in our discipleship. We are not to be secret agents, hiding our light under a bushel, but as fruit is for the benefit of others, so we should not be self-serving but be willing to serve and care for one another.

In His words to the disciples Jesus refers to abiding in Him: ‘abide in me as I abide in you’. But how do we abide, or remain, in Christ in our day to day lives? Many commentators have offered up ways in which we can do this. Very importantly, we must remember that following Christ is a 24/7 thing – not just for Sunday mornings. We must remain in Him at all times. We can stick with a like-minded community but work to grow that community by branching out; we can grow our own prayer lives both in communion with each other and privately; we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and we receive Him as our Lord and Saviour; we continue to believe in the gospel; we obey the Word of the Lord; we meditate on His word and consider how it applies to us in any given situation; we really think about His word, mull it over, dwell on it; we connect with God through His word; we relate to each other, in love, as a community of believers. This is how we remain, or abide, in Christ, and as Jesus promises in today’s gospel, if we abide in Him, we can ask for whatever we wish and it will be done for us. If we live our lives in Christ Jesus, we can believe that our prayers will be answered.

Another vital aspect of viticulture is what’s known as terroir, the combination of factors, including soil, climate, and environment, that gives a wine its distinctive character. God provides sunshine, rain, the right soil for good quality vine growing. He nurtures each and every tiny plant and blossom. In the parable of the sower, some seeds fall on stony ground, some fall in thorns, some on ground with very little soil and some in good soil. Terroir is the good soil, conducive for good strong and robust vine growing and the yielding of much fruit. What better way for God to be glorified than a wonderfully fruitful harvest, mature and ready for use. So it is with true believers who cultivate a right relationship with Him and begin to bear much fruit in their lives – living in Christ and proclaiming the Good News.

The Lord wants followers, not mere fans.

Lord, show us how to abide in you. Free us from trying to produce our own fruit, and help us to trust that you are at work and will work through us and in us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.


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