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Grafted & Pruned

Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 15:1-8

©2021 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Intro to Scripture
Scripture
Sermon

I know that for me,
whenever I hear the opening verse of this text,
“I AM the True Vine,
and God, my Father is the Vineyard Keeper”
I am immediately transported sensually
to the vineyards of Alsace!
(Where I spent time during graduate studies,
and where I taught summer school, lucky me!)

Sun-drenched rows of vines,
gnarly root stock pushing from parched ground
and producing unimaginably lush leaves,
and hanging heavy beneath,
ripening slowly in those long warm late Fall days,
all this big juicy, fruitful abundance.
How can this be anything other than Good News?
“Abide in me, stay grafted in me,
I will abide in you…. and, all will be well.”

Except,
you heard it didn’t you?
Bits in there about pruning
being cut off,
and burned on the fire…

Darn it!
That’s the bit that resonates this year.

After 14 months of lock-down,
of 2 metre distancing,
of work and travel restrictions,
after 14 months of not being able to see
or touch or be touched by family
to hug friends,
to gather at long tables in our community hall,
to gather to grieve friends in our sanctuary,
we’re not really feeling grafted to the vine,
are we?
In fact, we – and that’s a broadly inclusive we,
are feeling the opposite: pruned.
Cut off. Cast aside.

Some of us, or people we know and love,
and countless others,
worn down, spent, withered by the pressures
of work,
by the close calls with COVID-19,
those who have lost family to this disease,
those who have lost livelihood,
lost their mental health,
lost hope in any sort of future
can feel the heat of the vine-grower’s bonfire.

Push the horizon out further still,
and we will say that there seems
to have been a global pruning.
The lush leaves have been cut back
to expose fissures in the rootstock
of our society.
Infestation, infection other than COVID
have blanketed the vine and vineyard
of human and global community,
exposing
healthcare systems that are fundamentally underfunded;
Children are being sent to crowded, unventilated
schools for lack of safe daytime care while we keep the economy open,
too often, propped up on the backs
of underpaid, uninsured workers,
who are forced to work while sick or exposed.
Self-serving politics appears to be choking off
transnational attempts to share vaccines and treatments
with the poorest and hardest hit,
whether that means in the real ghettos of neglect
in Canada’s cities, or entire nations,
who have little influence in the global halls of power.
And while we hunker down, we’re ignoring
our anguished planet,
leaving teenagers to cry alone on earth’s behalf,
while politicians make promises they don’t keep.

We feel these days like useless branches,
ungrafted, unable to work together
for earth’s healing, and our own.
We look and feel for all the world
like a wintered vine stock,
shorn to the nub, cruciform against a frozen landscape.
We ask, “Can anything grow from this global pruning?
Will the vine survive?
Will we? Or are we for the fire?

Rebecca Solnit, in her graphically entitled,
A Paradise Built in Hell: Extraordinary Communities that arise in Disaster
has her own way of retelling this Gospel metaphor;
that there is a true vine, worth being grafted to,
there is a future beyond the pruning,
something she calls (as would I, as would Jesus),
the Beloved Community.

Having examined multiple macro-disasters,
from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake,
to Hurricane Katrina, passing by way of the Halifax Explosion, Chernobyl, our Icestorm, and 9/11,
Solnit points to a human story that
hinges on what we believe.
One story, one vine, if you will,
is a choking narrative of fear,
evangelized by self-interested, xenophobic,
minority elitist politics,
in cahoots with the peddlers
of tabloid-selling false narratives of human depravity.
This anti-Gospel would have us hoodwinked into believing that God’s Dream as we would call it,
the hope of beloved community,
is make-believe, unachievable, and even dangerous.

Solnit also discovers,
there is another often quieter compilation
of small narratives, that collectively create a veritable vineyard.
This multi-narrative, likewise is founded in a belief,
this time in the intrinsic goodness/ worth of humanity and creation.
It grows like green lush shoots from the gnarled, twisted
skeletons of hellish moments, all those natural disasters
that she collectively calls the gates of hell.
It’s expressed in repeated acts and habits of genuine, generous, courageous altruism.
To pair her narrative with our Gospel for today,
she has witnessed the true vine,
rooted in our creation in God’s image,
grafted into the incarnated life of the Beloved,
pruned and shaped by the Dream of God,
to be lived on earth where it is most needed,
at the very gates of hell.

Often, these branches of the vine,
these purposeful acts of communitarian altruism
work in defiance of elitist coercion,
to protect the weakest,
and to support the means, individual and systemic,
for purposeful, meaningful work.
These acts, this vine, is focused on society’s healing, recovery and fruitful future.

But back to that pruning;
this global unveiling of the ugly,
but also this often hidden goodness?
What has been pruned in this season of persistent, viral anguish?
What has been removed, what is being revealed,
and for what future fruitfulness are we being pruned?
As individuals, families, faith community,
and collectively as humans within a planetary community?

As Elizabeth Chown Lafreniere wrote on Friday,
(after watching this video that we shared with folk in the Friday update,
and as I paraphrase:
what do we let God the Vine-grower prune away in our own
personal practices, so that we can grow shoots that
will result in more fruitful growth?

As I think of the Pandemic pruning impact on my family,
it’s helped me to see there’s a healthy rootstock from which new shoots will grow, of togetherness, acceptance, abiding, and mutual support and encouragement. Nothing else, wealth, houses, cars, trips, matters. What abides is love.

As I think of what’s been cut away and revealed to us
as a faith community in this pandemic time,
we’ve pruned it all down to
staying grafted to the vine through worship,
and pruning our activities to focus
on community, compassion, care,
and the work for justice for vulnerable
and othered people and the planet.

When we grow these personal, familial, and faith community shoots, they will bear fruit,
and help to reshape
local, regional, national and global societies,
aligning them more nearly to God’s Dream,
cutting away the choking false vines,
the lying narratives of fear, fragility, failure.

Oh then, let us live believing Jesus,
that we are the branches of the true Vine,
we will survive this pruning,
we will heal the wounds, and in due season,
borne of the resilience, compassion and love
with which we are made in God’s image,
new shoots that shelter,
and shoots that grow an abundance of fruit,
will replenish the earth.

On that I stake my hope and my life.

Amen.

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