I am the true Vine and my

Father is the Vinedresser

Bible Study and Wine Tasting April 26, 2005

Petite Riviere Winery, Crousetown

 

Carol Wamboldt of Petite Riviere Winery shows us vine-dressing. 

 

 

 

(for more pictures see the bottom of the page)

 

We’ll start today with a brief reflection on the Biblical images of the Vine and the Vinedresser.  I’m going to limit what we look at to what is more relevant to Spring – vines and vinedressing or pruning – rather than to the fruit of the vine – grapes and wine.  We will be tasting some of that fruit of the vine later today, but I think we will leave the biblical images of the fruit of the vine until the Fall harvest, when, if the Wamboldts will have us, we hope to return.

 

I also want you to think, not just about preparing of grape vines, but of the preparing of our gardens in general, something which you are probably all beginning to turn your interest to – the pruning of fruit trees, the cutting back of the overgrowth from last year, the clearing away of the dead branches.  The point is that these same principles that one finds in the vineyard carry through with the tending to our gardens – and we have a wonderful opportunity to meditate on the Biblical images as we do our gardening. 

 

Old Testament Images

 

The Bible is full of references to vines from the beginning to the end – from Genesis to Revelation.

 

In Genesis (9:20) we read that “Noah was the first tiller of the soil.  He planted a vineyard and drank of the wine (and became drunk!).” 

 

In the law of Moses, in Leviticus, the Israelites were commanded to have a Sabbath year, a year of rest for all of the land – the vines were not to be dressed (or pruned) nor were the grapes to be gathered from the undressed vine (Lev. 25:5).  This is from about 1200BC, so clearly the practice of trimming the vines is very ancient, in fact we can imagine that it was a well established practice for a long time before this.

 

It is also clear that it was commonplace in Israel for individuals to have grape vines at least from the days of Solomon, about 900 BC.  We are told in 1 Kings (4:23) that “Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon.”  The idea of dwelling under one’s own vine and fig tree is an image of domesticity and of peace – that there would be sufficient time for these things to grow undisturbed by wars.  And we see this image being used as part of a description of a time of peace – in the prophets Isaiah, in Micah, and Zechariah - Mic 4:4  But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.  I don’t know if you’ve been to the Italian or the Greek neighbourhoods in Toronto, but you will often that this is the case today in the back yards – families sitting in their back yards under their own vines.  Maybe in a few years under the influence of the Wamboldts we will all be sitting under our own vines!

 

The vine was used as an image of Israel and of nations that were enemies to Israel.  The enemies of Israel in Deuteronomy are described by Moses as of the vine of Sodom and the fields of Gomorrah:  their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter, their wine is the poison of serpents and the cruel venom of asps.  Deut 32:32.

 

In Psalm 80:8-end it is Israel itself that is described as a vine brought out of Egypt and planted in the promised land: 

8. Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt : thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it.
9. Thou madest room for it : and when it had taken root it filled the land.
10. The hills were covered with the shadow of it : and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedar-trees.
11. She stretched out her branches unto the sea : and her boughs unto the river.
12. Why hast thou then broken down her hedge : that all they that go by pluck off her grapes?
13. The wild boar out of the wood doth root it up : and the wild beasts of the field devour it.
14. Turn thee again, thou God of hosts, look down from heaven : behold, and visit this vine;
15. And the place of the vineyard that thy right hand hath planted : and the branch that thou madest so strong for thyself.
16. It is burnt with fire, and cut down : and they shall perish at the rebuke of thy countenance.
17. Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand : and upon the son of man, whom thou madest so strong for thine own self.
18. And so will not we go back from thee : O let us live, and we shall call upon thy Name.
19. Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts : show the light of thy countenance, and we shall be whole.

You can read in this the political enemies of Israel described as the natural enemies of vines (the wild boar doth root it up, the beasts of the field devouring it [no electric fence to keep away the deer, no gun to go off and scare the birds], it is burnt with fire).

 

God speaks through the prophets using this image of the vine in many places – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Micah, Nahum, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.  Usually the image is of Israel as a vine planted by God, who expects to see good fruit brought forth, but it yields only wild grapes.  Consider Isaiah 5:1-7: 

Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.  And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.  What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?  And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down:  And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.  For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.

Questions –   What do wild grapes taste like?

Why has it become wild? 

What would be its pruning?

 

Jeremiah 2:21 – Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?

                                    [the garden, the fall, original sin]

 

Israel, God’s people, and all of humanity, have become degenerate, are in need of some transformation, not just some trimming, some vine-dressing, but also regeneration.

 

We need some kind of radical salvation – we need Christ!

 

Gospel Images

 

There are a couple of places in the Gospels where Jesus uses the imagery of the vine and the vineyard.  In Matthew (21:33-42) Jesus tells the parable of the householder who planted a vineyard, but that is more appropriate to our Fall study.  The other place that is of greatest significance to us this afternoon in springtime is the discourse in John 15:1-11.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.  Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.  Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.  I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.  If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.  If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.  Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.  As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.  If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.  These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

Jesus says,  I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.

 

This is a wonderful image for us to have before our minds as we think about our risen Lord Jesus during this Easter season – we His branches grafted not into a dead stump, but into the risen Lord Jesus.

 

St. Augustine comments on this passage - he says Christ’s human nature is the vine, and we become a new humanity in Him - incorporated into His flesh, our flesh is renewed – that wild degenerate vine has become regenerated.  And His divine nature is the life giving sap that flows into us - His Spirit, the Holy Spirit.

 

How do we become engrafted into that Vine that is Christ? [our baptism]

 

Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away,

 

Here Jesus tells us that God the Father is attentive to every Christian.  He desires that we bring forth fruit in our lives, that we allow the Spirit of God to dwell in us, that we open our hearts to Christ - that we don't just sit on the sidelines holding in our minds the great truths of our religion, but that we put them into practice - the Love of God and the Love of our neighbour.

 

If we are not bearing fruit, we cannot really call ourselves Christians. We need to be checking whether we are really abiding in Christ.  Would others know that we are Christian?  [we need to be careful here]

 

And every branch that does bear fruit he prunes (King James Version - he purgeth it), that it may bear more fruit.

This is a strange saying to our ears I think when we first hear it. Surely Christ is happy with all the fruit that is coming forth in our lives - why would he snip it off?  It seems counter intuitive – just like it is counter-intuitive that if we snip the vine, it will grow better.

 

- What is this fruit that would be pruned away by the Father?

 

As young or mature Christians we know that our loves can be diffused.  And there is this painful process that continues, the purging of our souls.  The passions of the flesh must be restrained and redirected, or we will be destroyed by them.  It is the purifying of desire, the cutting away of misdirected love.  Even the best of earthly loves, friendships must be purified, human loves within a family, between spouses, must be purified or we will be destroyed by them.  The Father prunes our loves, our desires, painful though it be, so that much greater fruit might be brought forth.  Our disappointments at opportunities that close down before us, unrequited loves, the ending of unhealthy friendships, painful losses can, if borne in faith, lead to the bringing forth of more abundant fruit. 

"Our worldly tribulations may be altogether salutary: by the harsh disciplines of disappointment and bewilderment and sorrow we may learn to find our treasure elsewhere, and our sorrow may be turned to joy." [Robert Crouse]

 

"Darkness and uncertainty, loneliness and spiritual effort are necessary to us, and, taken right, they are the growth of faith.  They are as much the gifts of God as certainty and comfort." [Austin Farrer]

In pruning of grape vines or fruit trees we see this amazing principle.  And what is more amazing is that Christ does not just use this example that exists in nature because it fits.  The same Christ that points out this principle in nature is the Christ who made the vines and the trees to have this property.  And when He made them with this property He knew at the same time that He would in the fullness of time come down from heaven to speak about it to us as a lesson about a spiritual principle. 

 

Our life in Christ seems sometimes to diminish temporarily when we seek to cooperate with His grace and put away sin, but then it bursts forth in new ways with abundant fruitfulness - love and light that cannot be hidden.

 

Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me, and I in him, he it is that beareth much fruit.

 

Jesus says - the branch cannot bear fruit by itself.  He's not saying your fruit will not be as much or as good - but there will be no fruit acceptable to God except that which comes forth through our union with Him.  [See Articles of Religion XII and XIII in the Book of Common Prayer p. 703.]

 

Then Jesus gives a warning - If a person does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.

 

The stark reality is that if we try to live outside of God, outside of the giver of life, it is our destruction. 

 

But, If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.

If we are abiding in Christ we will only want what is consistent with salvation, what is consistent with love – and Jesus says, then we can have whatever we want.

 

So then, how do we abide in Christ? and so bring forth much fruit?

 

 1. Jesus says, If you abide in me, and my words abide in you-

 

This is a call for us to meditate, to think on His words to us, and the Spirit will bring to our minds His words in our daily life.  We are to abide in His way of thinking…

 

2. In the verses immediately following this Gospel lesson Jesus says, abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in His love.

 

We are to abide in His way of doing things… taking hold of opportunities to forgive, to love, to give of ourselves…

 

3. Elsewhere in John's Gospel, Jesus says, "Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you have no life in you. . . Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him." 

 

Christ is the true vine – the fruit of that vine is His body and blood given for us.  Let us come often to receive the Holy Communion, Christ's body and blood that we might remain firmly grafted into that true vine, that we may evermore abide or dwell in Him and He in us.

 

Finally, Jesus closes this discourse on Himself as the true Vine and we His branches by saying,  "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. "

 

It is quite amazing what Jesus says here - it is actually the Joy of God - His joy, not something we have to fabricate, but His joy that is in us by our union with him.  And this is a joy that no person, that no circumstance however painful, can take from us.  We simply do our part to abide in Him, and it comes to us.

 

"These things I have spoken to you,

that my joy may be in you,

and that your joy may be full.”