The Oldest Vine in the Country

I am the Vine

The oldest and best known vine in the world, is called the Great Vine, and was planted by Capability Brown in 1768. Bob and I visited Hampton Court Palace in London last year, and there it was…

…two hundred and thirty -four years old… and now just over 36 metres long. This fine specimen was once planted outside a conservatory behind the main house, and the branches were trained inside.

Eventually the old building it was in, had to be extended to house it. Then even this had to be dismantled in order to build a new vine house around it.

I was fascinated by its size. It now produces so many grapes, that for years they have been served to the entire household, the local hospital and still there are plenty left over to sell in the visitor’s shop each year.

The reason that it’s output has been so prolific, is that over the years it has been carefully tended, and well pruned. Each branch that has not given fruit or looks dead, is cut away and burned, giving more sap for the healthier parts to feed on. It is often thinned too to improve the quality of the grape.

The nearest I come to a vine in my garden is the clematis, I’m sure it must be of the same family, for I cut mine back in this way too, but you have to take great care, because sometimes a stem looks dead, but it isn’t. If you scratch away the bark, and you see it is green, then it is still alive!

But the real test is whether it bears fruit or blossom or not, that’s a sure way to tell whether it is alive.

Jesus is described as the true Vine itself, with all those who follow his teaching, as the branches; and his Father is cast as the Vine-dresser; the one who promotes the health of the plant and causes it to grow strong, the one who watches over it with keen eyes, the one who does the pruning.

I think Jesus’ parable of the Vine, is a wonderful analogy of the very nature of God’s peoples abiding in him; with all our different Christian denominations, all so much part of the whole yet still one; very different in character, but the same sap, the same spirit, coursing through our veins.

But this idea of pruning away the dead branch in this parable has always niggled me, I don’t know whether you have questioned it too?

What does it mean? I think there may be several possible interpretations.

Most would agree that it seems quite cruel that the vine-dresser should lop off the unproductive dead branches and throw them on the fire.

Not many like to entertain the idea of eternal flames today, but it could be that a final judgement is being implied here.

But it seems quite a drastic act, and so final, that it spoils the beautiful analogy for me.

Alternatively, we could interpret it to mean that ‘failed or drop-out believers’ or ‘Christians who don’t reach out, evangelise and bear fruit’ will be cut off and fall away. But can they, still not experience a breakthrough, a come- back or even renewal, just like the withered branches which appear dead, but which really are green beneath the bark,. Is there no hope for them, once they’ve apostatised? Might they be pruned and burned before they have the chance to really prove themselves fruitful?

Perhaps we would be better off leaving the judgement to God, and stop playing God ourselves, as many have tried to do through history?

Perhaps we should just accept that this is in His hands, that He is judge and we must not question?

There could of course be some other interpretation?

Jesus might be telling us of a different kind of process by which WE must eliminate from ourselves, at God’s urging, the blockages which prevent the fruit within us from developing, and hinder growth, rather like a dam preventing the flow of a mighty river.

This kind of deadness is one we should be only too willing to get rid of.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we read …therefore get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every from of malice.

These are the elements that most hinder growth within the Christian Church, and sadly these are the elements that mostly convince those who on the ‘outside of faith looking in’

that ours is a faith not worth bothering with, because these Christians are no different from those ‘in the world’.

We may think we’re not guilty, but quite often we are, most often we are our real selves with those closest to us. They know us as we really are.

But in the midst of the pressures of life, problems and pain we are free to CHOOSE attitudes that produce stress or reduce it. We should be producing fruit that will last.

We can CHOOSE to respond with laughter, humour, flexibility and acceptance.

We can CHOOSE not to sulk, show hurt or take offence.

We can CHOOSE to sort out wrong relationships or leave them lying dormant and simmering underneath the surface.

But like a lion kept caged in a cellar, the problem will keep roaring at us, from time to time; the lion will keep rearing its ugly head unless it is dealt with and it will break free at the first opportunity it gets.

It’s best to come clean, to open the door to renewal and reconciliation. The lion won’t bother us any more after that.

We can CHOOSE not to cause pain when we disagree with someone, and we can CHOOSE to alter the manner in which we speak our truths and offer our honest opinions.

To really abide in God, is to abide in His love. Love is something we must seek after relentlessly. That’s why I’ve hidden a symbol of love in your hymn books this morning, make sure you find it, after the service, don’t leave here today without that gift! (confetti hearts)

God wants us to become whole, mature, and complete, in this world which chips away at our time, our energy, our talents and sometimes our sanity.

As Christians we can also CHOOSE to lay down past props, which prevent us from moving on.

‘Behold I am doing a new thing’ says the Lord through the prophet Isaiah. (ch 43)

'Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the desert,

and streams in the wasteland!'

Like the old vine house, sometimes the old must be discarded, to make way for new growth.

The old has to die, in order for us to take a different track in God’s master plan. What seemed good then isn’t always right for now, and we must face up to it, and be brave, and not dwell on former glories.

We also need to abide not only in God’s love, but to truly abide IN HIM!

The Word for Today prayer booklet this week recommends:-

…becoming so immersed in God’s Word, so convinced of His goodness, so submitted to His Lordship, that wherever we are is fine in any situation - so long as he is there in our lives.

We need look no further than the reading from Acts this morning for an example of God’s abiding presence, in the disciple Philip when he meets the Ethiopian eunuch.

If only we could follow his example of discipleship.

‘Get up and go….’ he is told. He is listening to that inner voice, that persistent urge that can’t be shrugged off.

God required something of him at that very moment in time, no other time would have been right; so like someone still on hold on the telephone, he responds immediately to the instruction, even though he may not understand why he should be heading onto a wilderness road that no-one was using.

He wouldn’t have had many signs to follow on the way, no nourishment, and a lot of hard work to trudge the desert route in the sun, but he was doing what he felt led to do.

He was then drawn to a chariot standing by.

He obviously had his eyes open, he was aware of his surroundings.

We too are called to keep our eyes open; it may not necessarily be God’s voice we hear, rather we might notice a need and our hearts are warmed to it

In Philip’s case, he sees a man reading, and as he draws near, he recognises that the man is reading from the book of Isaiah, a sure confirmation of the next step…

And the next step is trusting God for the right words:-‘ Do you know what you are reading?’

The right kind of approach creates a welcome from the eunuch, and Philip is ready and willing to share the good news with him.

Now if Philip hadn’t been willing to change circumstances and change direction, the good news would not have reached the man, and who knows from there his queen, and from there his country.

Who knows what impact one small person can make in God’s eternal plan?

Can you imaging Philip responding with the words, ‘No I must wait for the other disciples, we’ve always worked on mission together or in twos?

Or saying Jesus isn’t here to guide me, I can't go any further?

Can you imagine him arguing with himself about the law; first having to convince himself to even approach a eunuch or a Gentile; after all the law says in very strong terms that such unclean people could not enter God’s presence?

No he was truly abiding in God, God had made his residence

within him. He was thoroughly stripped for action, of all that would have hindered growth. He was a man pruned and shaped for future growth.

THE QUESTION TODAY IS ARE WE?

Yesterday we heard a very powerful rendition of that classic hymn 'Abide with me' sung to us at the cup Final.

Listen once more to the words of these two verses:-

I need Thy presence every passing hour;

What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?

Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless;

Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.

Where is death's sting, where grave Thy victory.

I triumph still if Thou abide in me!