Title: "God is the Vine, and We Are the Branches" YoonOk Shin
Let us pray,
Divine Vine Grower, we give thanks for your perfect love. Through this hour, we recognize your love and care, please accept the offering of our good fruit. Form us and re- shape us so that we may bear more fruit, and in so doing, glorify you. Amen.
Since we have been in lockdown, we have been sending out the church email about worship services, fellowship plans, and church activities and have been doing them via ZOOM as we continue to be a church.
At this time, some people have explained that they feel more tired, stressed, and anxious than before. The cases keep increasing with more variants, even though the vaccines have been rolled out thankfully.
The General Council recently named today, the first Sunday in May, Mental Health Sunday. United Church members are invited to dedicate today ‘s service to this matter.
The date is chosen to coincide with the Canadian Mental Health Association ‘s Mental health week, which is marked annually the first week of May.
Amy Crawford, leader of Identity and Mission at GC provided a good article on this. She tells us that, historically, there had been a separation of body, mind and spirit in medicine, the church and society.
Western Christianity often characterized weaknesses in body or mind as a lack of faith. This notion caused persons experiencing mental illness or unwellness to be stigmatized in a place that should have offered acceptance, grace and support."
That is very true and real. I think the same thing or something similar happens in Eastern Christianity and everywhere. Patients with mental illness and their families are not treated the same as physically sick patients and families. They feel much more vulnerable, their weaknesses are judged and they are blamed.
Some years back, when I was in youth ministry in Calgary, a young boy could not come to the youth gathering. The following week, I saw him and asked how he missed the gathering? "I was not feeling good," he replied and he said, "Please don’t share with anyone that I was sick." I asked him why. He said, “If other friends know that I was sick, they will think that I am a weak person."
"Where did you learn that?" I asked. "My parent told me that men must be strong, brave and not show weakness or emotions in body and mind, especially in the church." "They will believe that your faith is weak." he explained.
Our experience has been that no one feels safe and comfortable when it comes to sharing our physical sicknesses, but it's even more difficult to share our mental health issues. Even parents and children, close friends, and church friends feel vulnerable sharing their deepest concerns.
Some interpret sickness as not healthy, weak, or something wrong personally. They are being judged or punished due to cultural, religious and social stigmas. Mental Health patients and their families have more feelings of grief, sorrow, isolation and separation from their loved ones and communities. They have to deal with prejudice, dogma and expectations that are not realistic. They are left feeing weak, powerless, and useless.
Today, John from the gospel begins, “I am the true vine”, one of several statements in John where Jesus speaks of himself using a metaphor that begins “I am …” on a number of occasions:
• “I am the bread of life” (6:35).
• “I am the light of the world” (8:12).
• “I am the good shepherd” (10:11)….
This “I am” language hearkens back to Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush when God identified himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM,” telling Moses, “You shall tell the children of Israel this: ‘I AM has sent me to you'” (Exodus 3:14).
In other words, “I AM” is God, and these “I am” metaphors identify Jesus as God. This is in keeping with the opening statement of this Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1).
“I am the true vine”, is the last of the “I am” metaphors in this Gospel. the vine metaphor is reassuring—comforting. Vines and vineyards are familiar to Jesus’ disciples, and would remind them of home. (Howard-Brook, 330).
We can learn a few things from this.
The purpose of cutting down and pruning vegetation is as it always has been. Yet, we must be mindful in understanding that this is a metaphor of the role in which we place ourselves.
The identity of the vine grower is clear.
Vineyards are familiar to Jesus’ disciples. People pass vineyards as they walk from place to place. Some own their own vineyard or work in a vineyard. They are able to discern fruitful branches from those that will drain the vine’s energy. They trim unfruitful branches, all the while feeling good about the surgical purpose of their work.
The pruning might seem cruel, but it renews the vine’s vitality. Useless vines drain the plant’s strength. To leave them in place serves no purpose, and reduces the value of the vineyard. The vine grower cuts away unfruitful branches and, finding them unusable, burns them.
Jesus is the vine and the disciples are the branches who are subject to judgment. We are invited to know and examine, individually and communally, the condition of our vineyard and how we might improve its health.
We must be careful and know that we are not called to act in ways that perpetrate harm or oppression or judging or blaming under the guise of” cutting off” unproductive branches”.
Where do we see God in this context? We are the church, if we are fruitful branches. If the church is unfruitful will the vine grower remove their branches and throw them into the fire?
The church is always tempted to look to wealthy donors or political connections for strength, but Jesus tells us that fruitfulness starts in a very different place, as long as we are in his presence, his strength becomes ours.
We are tempted by other loyalties, but we know that abiding in Jesus is central to our ministry.
It is too easy to abide in a thing, looking outwards to wealth and power … but, Jesus says remain in me
Are you living with many vines? These triggers bring us more complex and confusing challenges to abiding in Jesus, the vine. How do we care for one another and care deeply for friends and families who are not well due to mental illness, especially the elderly who may have mental challenges in this pandemic?
Mental illness is when someone is diagnosed with a mental disorder. They all need care from professionals who know how to treat and care for them. We as church can and should help, we should not try to diagnose or judge them as weak persons but we must break our silence on this matter in the faith community. They are just sick like we are sick physically sometimes.
God wants fruit not judgment, harm or bitterness in our relationships as we live as Christians. We should to be pruned. We should cut away some temporal, old dogma, and old habits so new life can increase.
With God’s help, we have to trim our lives of the superfluous so we can spend more time on the things that really matter – inner peace, justice, equity, truth as eternal things that bear lasting fruit for God and for his kin-dom.