Throughout scripture, God’s people, the nation of Israel, has been portrayed as a vineyard: in Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah. I have wonderful memories of my great-uncle’s vineyard. He grew Concord grapes for Welch’s. I loved to sit in the shade of those vines in August, just before harvest, and reach up and pick a grape, warm from the summer sun and pop it into my mouth. For me, vineyards mean family, peace and comfort.
God has often talked about his vineyard, his people, and longed to be close to them, to dwell among them. Jesus wants to be close to his people. John 15 becomes a lyric piece of Gospel in the great tradition of the Hebrew prophets.
You may have noticed in verse 2 that the branches the Father cuts off are described as having been “in me.” These branches never were apart from the vine. They were always organically, intrinsically a part of the vine.
Most people in North America are accustomed to live in very voluntaristic societies. We tend to view the status of our membership to this or that group sort of at arm’s length. Being a volunteer member carries with it a vague sense of detachment. Even in terms of church membership we have a hard time wrapping our minds around the idea that to say “I am a member of a Church” is like referring to your own hand as a member of your body. Being a voluntary member of some group means joining or resigning are rather easy things. Being a body part carries with it quite other connotations! Hands can’t quit the body without dramatic effects.
Much of the modern debate on how one obtains spiritual growth has led to thinking of faith in individualistic terms as opposed to community. We must remember that to follow Jesus Christ is a call to be a part of the Body of Christ. In being centered on self, too many times we no longer draw from the vine to produce fruit, but instead we seek ways to be comforted. The danger is instead of looking how we can be a part of the body, how we can bear fruit, we look for what fills my needs, the danger of seeing the church as existing for its members instead of its members existing to serve the world. There is a danger in thinking too much like consumers, putting self first.
The church is not like my satellite television, where I flip through channel after channel looking for something that suits my mood. We must confront the danger of rating everything in terms of entertainment value. The measure of worship is not “What did I enjoy?” or even “What did I experience?” but “What was I inspired to seek and do?”
We can abide in him and he in us. This awareness transforms the very fellowship of the church. With his power as the vine, we the branches are joined together. We are one in his love if you abide in him. It will radically change who you are and what you wish for. Our faith is based on the depth of his love, the promise of his presence, the knowledge we’re not alone.
We all long for a sense of belonging, a place like my uncle’s vineyard where we feel loved, safe and at peace. And to find that place to belong is particularly hard in a transient culture such as we live in. The church becomes the place where we can be rooted, where we can feel a part of something greater than ourselves: where we are safe, loved and find meaningful service.
When we abide in Christ we find the strength of community. We are called to the faith to be a part of a larger community, a family created by Christ for those who abide in Christ. Joined together by our shared love for him, challenged together to bear fruit for that love in the world, we are connected together in and through him.