ISM’s and Phobias seem to be dominating our world at present. Racism, sexism, ageism Homophobia – transphobia – Islamophobia Whenever we disagree with something or someone we instantly fall into one of these or one of the many other categories which we may not have had any idea existed or we may be shocked to think that someone might categorise us this way. “I’m not racist” – “I’m not sexist”
With Jesus as the vine, we don’t have to be born into some particular race, nationality or class of people to belong and be part of him. Anyone can belong to Jesus’ community and receive, through this vine, the life he gives us from God. We put aside what the person looks like; how many possessions they have; or where they were born. We all belong to the true vine. This is our identity.
St. John, reinforces for Christians who know this unique identity as children of God, created in God’s image and included in the vine says: “We should … love one another just as he commanded us. Worldly organisations have ways to show you belong – membership cards, uniforms for example, but the sign that shows we belong and remain in the true vine, is that we love one another. And even more unique is that our love isn’t just for “our own” – it’s not an insiders type of love. We love those who are not even members. In fact Jesus commands us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.
This love flows out to others from Jesus to us and, especially, as we see in the example of Jesus’s lifetime, to the unloved and the excluded, because those were the ones Jesus particularly loved. Examples of this unconditional love include Zacchaeus, the lepers, the woman caught in adultery, the unclean woman who washed his feet – all people who were despised by others. Since we now have the vine’s life flowing in us, we are called to love as he loved as part of the vine. As John says – we love because God first loved us.
The love that is pumped into us through the vine is then pumped out to others, otherwise we are in serious danger of clotting that love. And we know how dangerous and life threatening a blood clot can be in the human body – as a community of faith grafted into the vine, when we stop pumping that love then our community of faith becomes in danger of dying also. Interestingly, in our Gospel reading, John does not say that Jesus is the root, or the stump of the vine. Otherwise those branches closest to the stump or root could claim they would have a privileged place of honour like first class passengers on a plane who sit nearest to the front. Or like James and his brother John who wanted Jesus to assign them places of prominence in the Kingdom closest to Jesus – one on his left and one on his right. There are no rankings of “first class members” in the church. And if there were then as Jesus says – the least becomes the greatest – the last becomes the first.
So Jesus doesn’t call himself the root, or the stump, instead, the image he uses of himself is the “true vine”.
We are the “branches” who are to bear “much fruit.” No one is denied the source of life from the vine; nor are any exempted from bearing “much fruit”. But the fruit comes from living in the vine. Jesus is the source of everything we do whether it’s as the branches of the vine, or drinking from the living water or eating the bread of life. The fruit we bear will vary but none is more important than the other.
Just as there are many different types of fruit trees – so too there are many types of fruit that we as Christians produce.
But there are some fruits that we as Christians all produce which St Paul speaks about when he teaches us about the fruits of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And notice what the very first fruit is – Love. And when Paul speaks about the 3 great gifts – faith, hope and love – but the greatest of these is love. Love, as well as being the fruit actually grows the fruits in our lives. And that means that if we stop loving then our faith not only doesn’t grow but it begins to die. Just like a branch that is broken from a fruit tree, the fruit may live for a short while on the branch but now that it has been removed from the tree or vine it no longer has the life source pumping into it. And that’s what happens to our faith when love is removed, which is what John says too: Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
We never have a reason to not love. No matter how great the hurt is that someone has inflicted on us, healing won’t come through revenge or hate but by love and forgiveness. John pulls no punches and gives no loopholes when he says: Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.
As Christians we have been given a great privilege to know the love of God. A love that we need in our lives because at times there is nothing lovely about us that God should love us. And this can make us doubt our salvation – how could God possibly love me. But he does – unconditionally – as Paul says in Romans – God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Our relationship with God is not based on anything lovely in us as the saying goes – we are not loved by God because we are beautiful but we are beautiful because we are loved by God. And God said that to Israel as to why he decided to choose them as his chosen nation and people: The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you. But we won’t truly understand or feel this love if we withhold that love from others. As John said; let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Love is more than an emotion, as we heard from John in last week’s reading: let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. God’s love was shown in action when Jesus laid down his life for us.
And sometimes love demands sacrifice from us when we are called to love we do not want to love. But in love we also find great comfort as perfect love casts out fear. And that fear which is cast our is the fear of knowing that God loves us and assures us of our sins being forgiven and eternal life assured which is how John summarises God’s love: Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment. So let us love one another as Jesus has loved us and by this all people will know we are Jesus disciples and loved children of God.