Lectionary blog on John 15:1-8
Text for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 6, 2012
“I am the true vine, and my father is the vine grower.” John 15:1
There are two women in my life: my mother and my wife. Both are inveterate gardeners in the English mold that I call “out messing in the yard.” My earliest memories are of my mother dragging her hose around the house to water her various bushes and flowers.
My sons tell me that their main memories of their pre-school days are of their mother, with sun-hat and gloves and little plastic gardening wagon, puttering around the yard.
I am not a gardener, but I have paid attention to their gardening, in particular to the methodology of plant rotation.
Some plants are tied to stakes to force them to grow in a certain way: pea vines, rose bushes, tomato plants and certain other flowers and vegetables.
Other plants are planted in pots and are rotated in the sun, and grow in the direction of the light. They are shaped by being pulled toward the light. Their growth in a certain direction is not forced, it is encouraged. This growing in the direction of the sun is called heliotropism.
Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. (John 15:5) God is our vinegrower, the gardener of our souls. Here’s a question: What method has our vinegrower chosen to use in shaping our lives into a Christ-like shape? Are we forced into a particular direction or are we drawn to the light of God’s love?
Conformity seems to be the world’s way. Conformity to the world eventually becomes what the Prayer of Confession in the Lutheran liturgy calls “bondage to sin.”
To be conformed to the world is to be staked out on the altar of popularity or acceptability, to lose your soul in the effort to go along, to get along, to live a life in imitation of what others think you should be and do.
You will live, but you will not be free; far from it, you will find yourself a slave to the will and the way of the world.
On the other hand, God’s way is the way of heliotropism, of inviting us to be transformed by being bathed in the light of God’s love — by daily turning our faces toward the source of life and love itself.
Martin Luther said that in sin the human will becomes bent, turns away from God and in on itself.
In their powerful little book on the Lord’s Prayer, Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon make reference to this when they say, “The Lord’s Prayer is a lifelong act of bending our lives toward God in the way that God has offered.”
In the hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” we sing about this bending toward God in the lines:
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before thee, praising thee, their sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness, drive the gloom of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day.
— Henry J. van Dyke
One of the great dangers of the church is that we sometimes try to make others conform to our ideas of what they ought to be doing if they are “true Christians.”
We attempt to tie them to the stake of our preconceived ideas of how they should respond to the gospel and we are disappointed when they resist and pull away.
We are called instead to a ministry of heliotropism. We are called to shine the light of Christ in such a way that others will be drawn to it and will begin to conform their lives to it. That is all.
Most of us, if we think about it, can figure out who those individuals, those assistant vinegrowers, were for us.
We can look back over our lives and see the people who lived out the gospel, who acted in a Christ-like manner in such a way that we wanted to be like them, wanted to be the sort of person, the kind of Christian, they were.
That is who we are called to be — assistant vinegrowers, exposing people to the bright sun of God’s love in Christ.
Amen and amen.
- Who were your assistant vinegrowers?
- Have you ever felt that you were bending to the bright sun of God’s love?
Delmer Chilton is an assistant to the bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA, with responsibility for eastern and central Tennessee, northern Alabama and northern Georgia. Ordained in 1977, he has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.