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Congregation

Life in the vineyard is risky, messy work.


This is a painting in a series called “For the Birds” by Jennifer Berkenbosch of  Edmonton. Of these paintings she writes: “They are requests to notice, to love, to hold sacred the world we love.” She refers to the paintings as “prayers ... for a better world.” She can be reached at: jenniferberkenbosch.com

May 10, Fifth Sunday of Easter
John 15:1-8

Let every one of us stay in his own parish, where he will discover more useful work than in all the making of pilgrimages, even if they were all combined into one. Here, at home, you will find baptism, sacrament, preaching, and your neighbour; these are more important to you than all the saints in heaven. — Martin Luther

When Jesus talks about a vineyard, what do we see? Acres of neatly tended vines in the Okanagan? Compact and tidy plantings in the Annapolis Valley? Jesus knew tiny and densely planted vineyards, bounded by high stone walls. Vines growing low, spreading out, tangled.

Could anyone walk into a vineyard and not be crowded, tripped up? Caught up in tending, pruning, picking, pressing? Farming of any kind in Jesus’ day was risky, messy work. All faith, precious little science.

Being a congregation is risky, messy work! We get caught up in the tangled life of the vineyard because this is where we find life and love. All we need is right here, in this wonderful, messy mass of branches, leaves, thorns, and sweet and sour fruit. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Luther was talking to people who made regular trips to holy places to feed their faith. Imagine him, at table with some students, his beloved pot of Wittenburg beer in hand. “Here I sit. I need go no further. Here God will feed my faith!” Trips up the mountain are great, but we live most of the time on the flats. We travel more often into the valley.

We long for a perfect church, a clean and orderly vineyard. Nothing to trip us up or tie us down. Yet what we need most in this world is grounding, roots. A place where we can be and belong. This is it, folks! Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” Cut off from him—no life, no fruit. Without him, we can do nothing. Without each other, we are nothing. Without us, he can do precious little. Since the word became flesh, his hands have been human hands, his voice has been in human voices.

We’re called, together, for a purpose. The entanglements of congregational life may slow things down. But God will do what God means to do. We bring our needs, our concerns, our fears, and our doubts into the congregation. Add them to the tangled mess of the vineyard. God provides everything we need to answer what troubles us. Gives us neighbours to join us in our search for answers.

We know how hard it is to maintain any kind of faith alone. We stop bearing fruit. We make no difference in the world. We wither and die, like branches cut off from the vine. We know Jesus means for us to be together. It can’t be “you in your small corner and I in mine!” If it is, we’ll both end up in darkness!

God is here. Don’t look straight up to find God. Don’t look inside, and stay there, waiting for God. First, look down. See where your feet are planted right now. Where God has planted you. Because where you are, God is. Look, and see there are other feet, other people around you. Look around. See who God has brought together today. Because where we are together, God is.

Beloved, let us love one another. For God has brought us together, given us to one another as congregation, for a purpose. “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another … If we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.” That is, God’s love does what God means it to do in the world, through us. Together. Praise God for making us congregation. Let’s work together to be God’s people in this world.

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