I was at a conference come retreat a couple of weeks ago. It was a moving, refreshing, and rewarding time. I was particularly looking forward to because I was going to spending 3 days with some people I had become very fond of indeed - people who enrich my life, people I spend time with every single day, people who know me pretty well in some ways, people who care for and support me, and yet aside from 1 person, they were people I had never ever met except through the phenomena of social networking using Twitter.
For growing numbers of people, any place has value or meaning, not just because of it’s beauty, or what one can learn or discover there, but whether it has Wifi or you can get a 3G signal on your smartphone. We have become a generation restless if we can’t only connect with the people we are actually with.
As of December 2011, there are an estimated 51,442,100 internet users in the UK. A staggering 82% of the population. Through the internet information is at our fingertips - we can shop, appreciate art, watch films or tv, study, and even befriend people. The social networking phenomenon sweeping the globe via the likes of Facebook should not be down played - one guestimate says that a billion people will be using Facebook by August this year - a sixth of the global population. Despite our connectedness, ow well do we really know one another? How connected are we really?
Jesus says I am the text message? I am the phone call? I am the email? I am the facebook status update? I am the wifi router? I am the electricity cable? I am the conference call? I am the skype chat? I am the letter written by hand? They all hint the sort of connected relationship that Jesus is driving at this morning and yet they simultaneously don’t quite grasp the depth, the fundamental life-giving nature of the relationship that we are called into.
For the vine to grow, it must receive the right amount sunlight and warmth. It’s not a difficult concept. If those conditions are not right, the plant will not flourish, it won’t grow, it won’t flower, it won’t fruit. It may not grow up in a healthy way.
We may share in all sorts of other relationships and our lives may be all the more rich for them but we will not physically fail without them. Through technology we may be more connected wherever we are, whenever, instantly, constantly with a growing number worldwide, but our own well being does not depend on these relationships.
For the vine to grow, it must be rooted in soil with a plentiful supply of nutrients and water. If those conditions are not right the plant will will not flourish, it won’t grow, it won’t flower, it won’t fruit. It may not grow up in a healthy way.
The relationships that we are part of will, I am sure, enrich our lives. The love that we receive, the love we give, the memories we make, the experiences we share will make us varied and diverse people. We may be more interconnected with one another than ever before, but do those relationships fundamentally transform us as people in ways that are visible to others?
Jesus invites us to enter into a deep, enriching and life-giving relationship with God in Him. We are invited to abide in Jesus - a word with strength. It is an imperative like ‘Stop!’ In marriage husband and wife abide in each other. There is something long-term and certain about the nature of that relationship. Something deep, lasting and fulfilling.
That abiding though has an obvious outworking - we are called to bear much fruit. Notice - much fruit. The image here implies a vine full of full, plump grapes, so many grapes that the vine strains under their weight. The reality of us abiding in Christ and Christ in us needs to be visible says Jesus. Sometimes we can miss entirely the fruit that is growing up among us. If we are expecting large bunches of dark red grapes but instead see only small collections of fine white grapes we may miss the fruit entirely. - sometimes that fruit might be ‘internal’, in the spiritual life - growth in faith, sometimes it will be ‘external’ in loving service to others. Jesus says ‘My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.’ It is only in bearing much visible fruit though that we are truly disciples of Christ.
It is of course also possible for vines to grow wild and unruly but for them to reach their full potential they need to be tended by the gardener - and pruning is part of that tending. Many Christians struggle with this image of pruning away the dead unfruitful branches of our lives, habits and lifestyles. It is not a sign of failure but it is about God ensuring that our lives, our churches our communities have the chance to grow more visible fruit of His presence in the world.
Vines, as with other plant can only grow to their full potential if they have enough nutrients in them from the water and the soil. The same is true of us. If we are abiding in Him, Jesus’ resurrection life courses through us, fills us, inside us and gives us new life but living this life is not something we do alone.
Jesus says I am the vine, you plural, are the branches. We are part of the same plant, living and growing together. In a moment we will share in the fruit of the vine and drink wine as part of this communion. As we do, we remind ourselves of His call for us to grow and bear fruit, to rediscover Resurrection life coursing through us as we share life together in Him - the one true Vine. Amen.