Vineyards and vines and wine are a thriving business!
Acres on Long Island that once grew potatoes now produce grapes; as does California’s Napa Valley, converted from fields yielding fruits and vegetables, to vineyards. Vineyards are even appearing in the Gobi Dessert!
When it comes to drinking the fruit of the vine, US is first, ahead of France and Italy, and consumption is gaining in China, Russia, and Australia, (Forbes, Business, Niall McCarthy, April 29, 2015) making wine a very exportable product with the profit on an annual harvest determined by a year’s weather; moisture produces sweeter, and therefore, better grapes, making for a “vintage year” or a “vintage wine” sold at a higher price.
Whether vintage or not, wine drinking holds a deadly truth: some people are allergic to its sulfites; some become addicted and consume too much wine; for some on mediations there can be dangerous side effects when taken with wine– damaging the liver and kidneys.
The same things could have been said in Jesus’ time and culture which He lifted to a new and different level as, when looking at the familiar fields and everyday drink, He said to His closest friends on the way to His death,
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower.’
Jesus used a well-known sight to announce: God was growing a vineyard in which Jesus was the “true” vine and those committed to following Him were the “branches” united, connected, or in Jesus’ word: “abiding” in Him.
There is a story about a man raised in a remote village without modern conveniences. When he visited a large city, he was amazed by the lights that shone throughout the night; so, he bought light bulbs, sockets and switches. When he arrived home, he hung the light bulbs on his house and on all the trees in the neighborhood. Everyone stood watching and, as they become more and more curious, they asked, “What are you doing?” and he answered, “Just wait till dark and you’ll see.”
But, at dark, when he threw the switch, nothing happened. He didn’t realize he needed to be connected to a power source of electricity. (Sermons.com May 3, 2015)
C.S. Lewis said of Christians: "God has designed the human machine to run on Himself. He is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other."
In the imagery of today’s Gospel: God has designed us to be like a branch connected to the vine in a vineyard.
Look around and see how connected we humans are – connected to cell phones and I Pads, to a TV series, to Facebook or Twitter, to a sport or a sports team, to a particular label-displaying line of clothing or footwear, or a hobby; we are a very “connected” people, and yet, with all our connections are we “connected” to, “abiding in” God and one another?
In the imagery of the Easter Gospel words of Jesus: Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
The life of God, the vine-grower, flows into Christ, the true vine, and on into His followers, who bear the fruit produced through that union – vine-grower, vine, branches- yielding a vintage crop called “Vintage Christians.”
Vintage Christians who know it’s all about “abiding” and “pruning.”
In summer months the pergola in our backyard in Collegeville is covered with grape branches and vines, and with just the right moisture and temperatures, there is a vintage yield in early Fall. But for that to happen again, the branches must be cut back with a hard pruning; if not, next year’s growth will be mostly wooden vines and leaves, and very few grapes.
What might we need to hard “prune,” some interests, some pursuits, and schedules that are sapping away our strength and turning us into being like a vineyard filled deadwood and shriveled up leaves, and maybe some barren branches that can become a home for insects that will eat away at the vine?
All the more reason to know the need for pruning is because of what Jesus said: I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
When the Apostle Paul was talking and writing to Christians living in the urbanized, commercialized cities of the first-century Roman Empire where there was little room for vineyards, and wine was imported rather that produced, he held Christians to Jesus’ image for His followers: Branches on the vine, abiding in Him so His life might flow into and through them, nourishing and strengthening them to “bear much fruit.”
“Vintage Christians” yielding a vintage harvest of the “fruits of the Spirit” that is allergy-free and non-addictive– spiritual wine bearing the labels: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." (Galatians 5: 22-23)
The grape vines that cover the pergola in our backyard were grown from slips of Concord grapes that are more than 200 years old and stand as a silent reminder that, as Christians, we are rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ, dating back 2,000 years and when remembering Jesus was a Jew and His heritage pushes the date by 5,000 years, and, when the vines are heavy with grapes, they hold the image of a vintage crop of spiritual fruits that are planted and nurtured and marketed in the community of Christ’s people, “Vintage Christians.”
A boy in North Korea was left homeless when his father died of starvation, his mother escaped to China to sell his sister into bride slavery knowing it would be better than staying in North Korea, and when caught visiting her, was imprisoned. He was left to beg for food but was swatted away.
He took the risk of escaping to China, only to find no one would help him except for a poor elderly woman who could only advise him to go to a church. “Look for the building with a cross on it.” The cross he knew was the red one on the gate to a hospital in North Korea. Seeing none, he stopped a man and asked, “Where can I find a cross?” “Look up,” he was told, and there it was, marking a church building.
Inside he met people who fed him even though they could be arrested, imprisoned, or killed. Eventually a Christian arranged for him to come to America where he later was graduated from high school, went to college, and attends a vineyard-like church where he has found followers of Christ who are abiding in Him, pruning away all distractions, and yielding the fruits of the Spirit; Vintage Christians and he has become one of them.
(Adapted from Christianity Today, “Testimony,” Joseph Kim, May, 2015, P. 79-80)
The same discovery we pray others will find here, among us, in this small part in Christ’s vineyard called “Trinity!”