Thirty-Second Day of Easter   7 comments

A Big Vine

Coming to God, Remaining There, and Falling Away

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

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Acts 15:1-6 (Revised English Bible):

Some people who had come down from Judaea began to teach the brotherhood that those who were not circumcised in accordance with Mosaic practice could not be saved.  That brought them into fierce dissension and controversy with Paul and Barnabas, and it was arranged that these two and some others from Antioch should go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.

They were sent on their way by the church, and travelled through Phoenicia and Samaria, telling the full story of the conversion of the Gentiles, and causing great rejoicing among all the Christians.

When they reached Jerusalem they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, and they reported all that God had accomplished through them.  But some of the Pharisaic party who had become believers came forward and declared,

Those Gentiles must be circumcised and told to keep the law of Moses.

The apostles and elders met to look into this matter.

Psalm 122 (Revised English Bible):

I rejoiced when they said to me,

Let us go to the house of the LORD.

Now we are standing

within your gates, Jerusalem:

Jerusalem, a city built

compactly and solidly.

There the tribes went up, the tribes of the LORD,

to give thanks to the name of the LORD,

the duty laid on Israel.

For there the thrones of justice were set,

the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

May those who love you prosper;

peace be within your ramparts

and prosperity in your palaces.

For the sake of these my brothers and my friends,

I shall say,

Peace be within you.

For the sake of the house of the LORD our God

I shall pray for your wellbeing.

John 15:1-8 (Anchor Bible):

[Jesus said,]

I am the real vine and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off any of the branches that does not bear fruit, but any that bears fruit he trims clean to make it bear more fruit.  You are clean already, thanks to the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in me as I remain in you.  Just as a branch cannot bear fruit by itself without remaining on the vine, so neither can you bear fruit without remaining in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  He who remains in me and I in him is the one who bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  If a man does not remain in me, he is like a branch, cast off and withered, which they collect and throw into the fire to be burned.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.  My Father has been glorified in this: in your bearing much fruit and becoming my disciples….

The Collect:

God of infinite mercy, you renew the faith of your people by the yearly celebration of these fifty days:  Stir up in us the gifts of your grace, that we may know more deeply that Baptism has cleansed us, the Spirit has quickened us, and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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The vineyard is a common analogy in the Bible.  The usual pattern is that God owns the vineyard, which is the people of God.  In this day’s reading from John Jesus is the vine, with his followers as the branches.  The analogy reinforces the great spiritual truth that human autonomy is an illusion.

From the Acts reading I pick the thread that becoming a branch of the vine does not depend on keeping ancient practices–in this case, circumcision.  What began as a sign of grace (God making Abraham the father of many nations) became a stumbling block because people wedded to tradition made it that.  Yet the safeguarding of ancient tradition did not bind grace.

Although raised United Methodist, and therefore Wesleyan-Arminian, I have come to believe in Single Predestination.  This theological proposition holds that God has predestined some people to Heaven but nobody to Hell, and that the witness of the Holy Spirit is available to the remainder to bring them to God.  Yet, as my Arminian upbringing reminds me, free will can help bring a person to God and allow him or her to find an exit–to commit apostasy.  Only those who have known God can fall away from God.  So I focus on the word “remain” from the Johannine reading.

Many people who leave Christianity do so because the Church has wounded them.  Often the Church shoots the wounded, so to speak.  So we Christians need to do a better job of following Jesus, not contenting ourselves with making flattering statements about him.

KRT

Published originally at SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on April 6, 2010

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Posted October 29, 2010 by neatnik2009 in 2018, Easter, Episcopal Church Lectionary, May

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