Material for Worship on the Fifth Sunday in Easter

Our reflection this week for the Fifth Sunday in Easter was prepared by Rev Moira Jamieson.

Let’s listen to the gospel of John, chapter 15:1-8 read for us today by Colin.

In today’s gospel passage from John, we are reminded that Jesus is the true vine and that his disciples are those who are grafted to him. The images contained in this passage are so appropriate in this season of planting and growing. Those who are keen gardeners and those who just like to plant a few flowers in their gardens, know that without nurture, the plants will not thrive. A few weeks ago, when Sandy and I were walking our dog Brachan in the Colzium Lennox Estate, I noticed that some branches had been broken off the trees with all the recent high winds. The leaves were beginning to wither and turn brown. Lying close by were branches with no leaves on at all, probably more accurate to call them sticks! Anyway, I think we all realise that had I tried to plant either of these branches in new soil, there would be no chance of a new tree growing up from them, and that’s because the branches cannot live without being attached to the tree, and the life-giving sap which comes from the trunk and roots of the tree. This is also true of our Christian life as disciples of Jesus. If we are not grafted, or rooted, in the life of Jesus and His Father, our faith will wither and die.

Perhaps here you would like to think about the ways in which your life is rooted in God. As you reflect you may wish to look at this Byzantine icon of Jesus the True Vine. (Athens, 16th century)

Our passage this morning contains wonderful imagery and metaphors of the vine grower and his vines. Whatever the reason for using these metaphors, the image of the vine was the central focus for Jesus’ teaching that day and His use of the vine not only enabled Him to depict Himself as the true vine and His Father as the gardener, but also to depict His disciples (and us) as branches of that vine. We can assume that Jesus as a young boy, would have grown up with rabbinical teaching of the Torah, or Old Testament, and that He would have been familiar with the prophets. In the Old Testament, Israel was often depicted as a vine or vineyard and in the book of Isaiah chapter 5 verse 7 it says, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are His pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” This verse points out that the vineyard, which was planted by the Lord of Hosts, was expected to produce good grapes and instead it produced only bad grapes, which had to be destroyed. So the metaphor of the vineyard suggests something belonging to God, which is tended by Him and which is expected in due course to yield fruit. No one can be considered a branch in the Lord’s vine unless there is a connection to Him. No one can bear fruit for the glory of God unless they are attached to the vine. It’s interesting to note that no less than six times in these verses, Jesus uses the phrase, “in me” and He is talking about a situation that is an absolute necessity for life and fruit bearing. It seems to me that Jesus is saying to us in this passage, that we cannot be a fruitful branch for the Glory of God, until we have a vital, life-giving connection to the vine. Without that connection, the “sap of life” cannot flow in us and through us. Before we can have anything else from God or with God, we must have that vital connection, which is our relationship with God. For us to have a hope of heaven and life eternal, we must first have a good relationship with God, where He is the vine and we are the branches, united in love and forgiveness

Think about what way we might, in our daily lives, show that we are rooted in God’s love?

Listen now, and sing along if you wish, to the hymn “O Jesus I Have Promised”

O Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end:
be thou ever near me, my Master and my friend;
I shall not fear the battle if thou art by my side,
nor wander from the pathway if thou wilt be my guide.

O let me feel thee near me! The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle, the tempting sounds I hear;
my foes are ever near me, around me and within;
but Jesus, draw thou nearer, and shield my soul from sin.

O let me hear thee speaking in accents clear and still,
above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self-will;
O speak to reassure me, to hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen, thou guardian of my soul.

O Jesus, thou hast promised to all who follow thee,
that where thou art in glory there shall thy servant be;
and, Jesus I have promised to serve thee to the end;
O give me grace to follow, my Master and my friend.

O let me see thy footmarks, and in them plant mine own;
My hope to follow duly is in thy strength alone.
O guide me, call me, draw me, uphold me to the end;
and then in heaven receive me, my Saviour and my Friend.
John Ernest Bode

We now listen to the first letter of John 4:7-21 read by Mary.

Having a good relationship with God and abiding in Him are what we, as disciples of Jesus, should be striving to do. And what does it mean to abide in Him? In our second reading from the first letter of John we heard, “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” Abiding in God therefore, means abiding in His love, and sharing that love with everyone. The letter also says that those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, abide in God and goes onto say that those who say that they love God but do not love their brothers and sisters are liars and therefore do not abide in God. In verse two of our Gospel reading, Jesus speaks of how the branches of the vine are removed when they bear no fruit. He ‘cleanses’ the branch by removing from it anything that saps its vitality and strength. Those of you who are gardeners will know that in order to produce beautiful roses every year, or a good yield of fruit from fruit trees, they need to be pruned in the Autumn and sometimes also in the spring. Anything that consumes life from the plant, but produces no flower or fruit, must be pruned away. So it is in the life of the believer. We as Christians, must not allow things into our lives that will hinder our walk with God, otherwise we are in danger of being “pruned” by Him. In order to become good followers of God, we must allow him to prune the things in us that will cause our faith to wither. After the ‘pruning’ we have a wonderful promise. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” This is our challenge this week, that we bear much fruit in the name of Jesus and bring glory to our Father in heaven. Amen.

In your prayers today, ask God to help you cling more closely to him and to his word and pray for all missionaries who spread the good news of his gospel.

Pray for families who are struggling in this time of change. The hungry, the lonely, the bereaved.

Pray for any known to you who are ill at this time and for all who care for the sick at home, in hospital, in care homes and hospices.

Pray for peace in our world and give thanks for those who seek to find peaceful solutions to conflicts. Pray for Myanmar, for Yemen, for Palestine, for Northern Ireland and for any countries where greed, injustice and violence prevail.

Pray for your own family and the family of the church, giving thanks to God for his promise to abide in us if we abide in him.

Heavenly Father, you alone can bring harmony to the minds of your faithful people. Give us grace to love the things you command and to desire the things you promise. Amen.

The final hymn this morning is “Will You Come and Follow Me.”

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you, and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare, should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen?
And admit to what I mean in you, and you in me?

Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell that fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound in you, and you in me?

Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go, where your love and footsteps show,
thus I’ll move and live and grow in you, and you in me.
John I. Bell