Sunday, April 29, 2018

Phil Kniss: Grace with God in the Garden (meditation)

“Where resurrection leads us: Toward reconciliation”
1 John 4:7-12; John 15:1-8

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Thanks to this wonderful and worshipful music
from our guests from Broadway High School,
once again I have the blessing (and I do think of it as a blessing)
of condensing my thoughts on today’s scriptures,
into a few concise remarks,
that will help keep us connected to the church calendar
on this fifth Sunday of Easter,
and to the scripture and music
that comprised our worship today.

The question we ponder this season, is where resurrection leads us.
This act of God to overcome death, on that first Easter,
has a trajectory, an arc, it’s aiming somewhere,
taking us toward new realities.
Today, we note that it leads toward reconciliation—
reconciliation with God, with each other, with creation.
Or, to say it most broadly,
it reconciles us to the life God intended for us all along.

The Gospel reading from John 15 is the well-known and well-loved
parable of the vine and the gardener.
This metaphor of God as gardener,
and God’s people as branches attached to Jesus the Vine,
shows up everywhere in the Christian world:
There’s an international network of churches named Vineyard.
There are thousands of congregations named
“Vine Church” or “True Vine” or “Life on the Vine.”
The vine is prominent in the logo of Everence,
our Mennonite financial services organization.

It’s a wonderful, nurturing, life-giving image—
branches abiding in the vine,
bearing sweet and delicious fruit.
But the parable has an edge to it,
part of the picture we sometimes ignore.

The gardener in John 15 is depicted with a lopping shears,
walking around, cutting off under-performing branches,
and throwing them in the brush pile to burn.

I want to suggest this morning,
that the God which Jesus depicts in this metaphor,
is not vindictive or punitive or in any way out to do harm.
Rather, God the gardener is full of grace.

If you go by our house this afternoon
you will see lots of tender vegetables poking up
through freshly-tilled garden soil,
and in our flower beds,
bushes trimmed way back
with new shoots coming out at the base.
But to get those vegetable and flower plants to this point,
poised and ready to produce food to eat,
and flowers to beautify the neighborhood,
that is, poised to live the life they were created for—
I had to haul off a pick-up load of branches and other living matter
that needed to die and return to the soil,
so that the flowers and vegetables could grow into
the kind of life that would bless us and our neighbors.
I had no qualms or regrets about what I was doing,
nothing but love and joy in the act,
nothing but satisfaction and gratitude
for the life that I was partnering with God to create.

I think that’s the kind of joy God our gardener experiences,
when we open ourselves to God’s pruning work in our lives,
so that we might bear the kind of fruit we were created for,
to bless others.

God, in our garden, is engaged in the work of producing life and love.
This work is a work of grace.
It is gift.

We do not, and cannot, manufacture fruit.
We do not, and cannot, make healthy branches.
We do not, and cannot, save ourselves from the occasional pain
of lopping shears or bonfires or compost piles.
We just stick with God.
We abide in the Vine.
We open ourselves to the work of God the gracious gardener,
and life will follow.
Love will follow.

That is one of the wonderful words of life to us this Easter season.
God is love.
And if we abide in God’s love, God’s love will abide in us,
and we will be different people because of it.
We will be fruitful people because of it.

We will be a fruitful church because of it.
This image is not an individualistic one.
It’s a metaphor for the church.

As each branch finds its source in one vine,
we are all organically connected to each other,
every branch and leaf and tendril.
What comes from God flows
into us and through us,
into others and through others,
and back to us, and then to still others,
and we become an intertwined and interdependent
community of life and love and hope.
We become God’s fruitful garden.

John 15 is a parable of grace.
It’s a reminder that life in the kingdom of God is pure gift.
Life comes to us because we are attached to the Vine.
We can take a deep breath, and rest in this grace.

My deepest prayer for myself,
and for this family of faith at Park View Mennonite,
especially as we embark on a challenging journey
this summer and beyond,
will be that we open ourselves to the gift God is offering us,
the opportunity to draw life from Jesus the Vine,
to accept the act of pruning as an act of grace,
and to discover where God’s grace will take us next.

Thanks be to God!

—Phil Kniss, April 29, 2018

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