April 28, Vine

In today’s Gospel Story (John 15:1-8) you say, “I am the vine, you are the branches; whoever remains in me and I in them will bear much fruit”, and your Father is the vine grower who prunes us so we can bear more fruit. What are you saying? What do you mean by bearing more fruit, by remaining in you? Probably a lot more than just believing the right things about you and keeping the rules. The vine grower prunes me as I grow through life, helping me move deeper to remaining in you. This is not always a pleasant experience.

Remaining in you is not limited to any particular tradition. In a sense it is a personal matter for each of us to decide, which is what happens when we try to go where the Spirit leads us. Even in the christian tradition there are strong positions, often contradictory, on all sides of issues, many claiming to be the only authentic one. There are many self appointed enforcers of traditions who are nasty in how they castigate and condemn any who deviate from what is expected. They, too, are good people who see things differently, and so are somehow part of the Spirit working.

Throughout history there have been people doing what they believe you are calling them to do, and yet have been punished because they do not fit a denomination’s standards on an issue. Some are punished, silenced, or thrown out, allegedly in your name. It can be a matter of not using the approved terminology, thinking or questioning in a way that annoys the system, not seeming strong enough against abortion, wanting to recognize our LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers created in your image as they are, being in favor of women priests, or even which political party or candidate to vote for. These are emotional hot button issues with a lot of baggage having little to do with the issues themselves. What to do when we realize that what a system is teaching does not reflect our life as we know it? And there are those who are not the vine grower and yet believe they can decide who is not bearing fruit and cut them off. This is about someone’s personal interests in particular issues, culture warriors claiming to act in God’s name. None of us has all the answers, and many of us have questions that others don’t accept or understand.

While a tradition might cut some members off because they are not living by it’s values, this has nothing to do with cutting someone off from the Vine which is Christ. Prophets, people trying to live open to the Spirit, don’t do well in many religious institutions. Yet, we need them. They remind us who we are and how we are called to live, and often pay the price of your cross. Recently deceased Bishop Tom Gumbleton is a good example of this. The Spirit isn’t concerned with comfort zones.

Pope Francis is calling the whole church to live fully open to the Spirit, to question, to listen, to act. This same call is true for any who want to be Jesus’ disciples: “I will send the Spirit who will remind you of all that I taught you”. When I try to be open to your Spirit in my life, she shows what it means for me to live as your disciple in my particular circumstances, to live as you lived, by the values you showed. This could lead in a direction that a religious tradition might not like. In your efforts to reform the Jewish attitude towards the Covenant you ran afoul of the temple system of your day, and it cost you your life. Looks like remaining on the vine is not an easy thing, but it is what you call your followers to do.  

What do you mean, “Whoever remains in me and I in them will bear much fruit”?  Probably you are calling me to act as you did, get involved and do something, to live by your values and help the hurting, especially when the hurt is caused by a religious system allegedly in your name. You don’t mean piously sitting around thinking holy thoughts. While my union with you is personal, it is in no way private. I need everyone who is in my life in every way, because in your providence, you create us to be are part of each other’s journey. It’s about time I choose to recognize this and live it instead of being selective.

If I want to be open to your Spirit in my life, I need a regular prayer practice I am faithful to and is an important part of my day, helping me be ready and willing to be surprised as you show me who you really are, which is always more than I think. The Vine Grower prunes me for what I am created to be, always guiding me as I grow, even though I may have no idea where all this is going in my life. I ask an openness that leads me to be responsive to your Spirit in everything. Definitely more questions than answers. Your Spirit is dynamic, always moving me to something. This bothers people who like things neat, orderly, and under control, because when we are open to your Spirit, there is none of that. It’s quite a journey, an adventure, and usually I don’t know where I’m going or why. Trust is important. Mychal’s Prayer offers insight and wisdom: “Lord, take me where you want me to go, let me meet who you want me to meet, say what you want me to say, do what you want me to do, and keep me out of your way”, and if I move in a direction that is not of you, please stop me. I need to be careful though, you are real, your call is serious, and you are definitely involved. You don’t offer certainty. You ask me to trust and go where it takes me, even, or especially, when I don’t know the way, perhaps to see things with new eyes, to ask for a graced understanding of what is in the midst of a lot of unknowing, to recognize you in everyone and everything, to be with you in the suffering all around me, though I have no idea what it all means, especially about bearing fruit. Don’t understand that. Just sayin  .  .  .