Sunday Worship, 2 May 2021

Welcome

The LORD has told you mortals what is good, and what it is that the LORD requires of you: only to act justly, to love loyalty, to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

Watch our service here:

Hymn 421 Our Lord Christ hath risen!

Opening Prayer

You aren’t a God who reigns far away in glory

 who looks down on us from a great height

You are about us so much

 that you came to our world in Jesus

 shared our life and experiences

 shared suffering and death

 showed us how we should live

 taught us how we should live

 gave us a new life

  • Richer, fuller, deeper, unending

By comparison our love for you and for others

  is so weak and poor

 our commitment to following in the way of Jesus

  his example and his teaching

  is so weak and poor

Forgive us

Fill us anew with love for you and for others

Strengthen us to follow his example and teaching

Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen

All age time (for ages 0-100)

Most of us buy our food at the shops or supermarket, rather than growing our own. Some of us may grow fruit or vegetables in the garden, and they definitely have a special fresh taste. But  growing your own is usually only an ‘extra’ – with time and soil conditions meaning that there is no hope of being self-sufficient.

My attempts at trying to grow things from seed were never very successful, but we did quite well when we moved into houses with established fruit trees or bushes – apples, blackcurrants and raspberry canes – and the brambles established themselves and were a useful screen to keep out intruders.

Outside the big cities and towns like Jerusalem and Caesarea, people in the Holy Land in Jesus’ day often grew herbs and vegetables at home, even if they weren’t farmers. It was relatively easy to do in that climate, and saved money. There was often a grape vine or maybe even a fig vine growing in the yard behind the house. Farmers growing grapes commercially would usually surround the vineyard with a wall to keep out stray cattle or people who might damage the vines.

You don’t find many grapevines in West Dunbartonshire, and if anyone does have one it’s liable to be inside a greenhouse to protect it from the wind and cold. I know very little about vines, but I understand that they require a lot of attention, ensuring that they have adequate support, are protected from damage, and require regular and ruthless pruning if they are to produce a suitable grape harvest.

Even though they may be totally unrelated botanically, grape vines have something in common with plants like ivy, honeysuckle, Virginia Creeper, wisteria, jasmine and even tomatoes and brambles: they need something to hang onto for support, or otherwise they will flop around the place and risk being trampled on (brambles excepted), and having their fruit eaten or destroyed. In the time of Jesus families with a grapevine usually grew it up the wall. Farmers staked them up to lift them off the ground, and often built a wall round the vineyard to keep out stray cattle or people who could cause damage.

Bible reading

John 15: 1-8

Hymn MP315 I will sing the wondrous story

Reflection

Last week we were thinking about Jesus using the traditional Jewish image of sheep and shepherd when thinking about the relationship his followers should have with him. This week we are thinking about him using another traditional Jewish image for the relationship between God and his people – the vine and the vine-keeper. There are many places in the Old Testament where we find the image of the vine used to describe the Israelite or Jewish people, and it was often used in the decoration of buildings, as the Ten Commandments forbade the creation of images of people or animals.

Jewish preachers used the image of the walled vineyard to describe the relationship between God and his people. He was like the wall that surrounded and shielded them. He was also like the support that lifted them off the ground, saving them from being trampled on, and letting them grow flowers and fruit above the level of danger.

Over recent weeks many of us have enjoyed an experience equivalent to a sheep being shorn – going to the barber’s or hairdresser’s for a trim. But there’s a big difference between being shorn and being pruned. Pruning hurts, and we don’t like it. It can take many forms:

  • sometimes we have to learn from a painful mistake that we made
  • sometimes things go wrong that were not our fault
  • sometimes we are at the receiving end of someone else’s anger or spite
  • sometimes a relationship breaks down
  • sometimes it might be a health problem or bereavement or a job loss
  • maybe this whole last year could be regarded as a ‘pruning’ experience

God doesn’t cause the bad things to happen (that might be us, or other people, or a set of circumstances not connected to anyone one person) but he will stand with us through such experiences, and help us to look in new ways at our life, the direction in  which we need to go, and our whole relationship with him.

In today’s reading Jesus turns the image of the vine on its head. It isn’t the people who are the vine, he is the vine. He is the one who is vulnerable, who will suffer. But the sap that flows through the vine, the eternal life that comes from God, is ours if we belong in him – in a living relationship with him, and through him with each other.

We are to bear fruit. What kind of fruit? At the personal level, it’s about how we live our lives, the kind of people we are. We are called to be God’s holy people, to be an example to the world of how it could be. With the Spirit’s help we are to strive to be like Jesus. Writing to the Galatians Paul drew a comparison between a life led by human instinct  – including hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy – and a life that shows the hallmark of Jesus – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We must be honest and acknowledge that though he showed such characteristics, Jesus suffered for it, as have many since. Many in our world today have the position they occupy and the wealth they have because they follow human instinct rather than the values of Jesus. But we have his clear indication from God that only by everyone living Jesus’ way will we achieve the world that God wants – a world of peace and justice, wholeness and fullness of life for all. We also have the resurrection of Jesus as the sign that goodness and love have the last word.

Beyond our personal characteristics and behaviour we have a joint calling as God’s holy people to work to build his Kingdom. We are to be witnesses to his love and Good News, and we are to strive to have his values and standards put into policy and practice in everyday life around the world. Each of us has a unique role to play in that task. So many people in our world today are concerned about their ‘Legacy’, what future generations will say about them, will books be written, for what will they be remembered, will they be commemorated in statues and street names? God calls on us not to worry about our ‘Legacy’: we may produce fruit of which we are unaware, the fruit may be born years after we have moved on from this life, it may be that the fruit was to be produced for a moment, but not last for ever. God encourages us to trust that if we strive to do his will, he will take and use all that we do, in his task of building the Kingdom.

Prayers for others

Heavenly Father

You have called us to be your holy people:

 with the Spirit’s help, to live by your values and standards

 shown to us in Jesus

 the way of living you want us to show the world

 to show that there is a better way for it,

 more caring and inclusive

 to give it a foretaste of the Kingdom

But we confess that all too often

 we do things, we say things

 that spring from base human instinct rather than the Spirit

Help us to live the way you want us to live

 to be the people you want us to be

we pray for all who are ill,

those who look after them

 and those who worry about them

those waiting for or receiving treatment

 and those for whom there is no treatment

those who are lonely, feeling down, or grieving a friend or loved one

those who are worried about home, work or money

 a friend or a relative

those who are living with the after-effects of natural disasters

those who do not have enough to eat, or somewhere to call home

those who long to live in peace and safety

those who have fled from their homes seeking safety

We pray for the Queen, the Government

 all in positions of leadership in this and every land

for this week’s elections in Scotland, England and Wales

 for those who will be elected, and those who will not

We pray for you church

 the worldwide church

 the wider church in Dumbarton

 our own congregation

help us always to be faithful to Jesus our Lord

We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us

And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us

Hymn 415 This joyful Eastertide

Blessing

Christ was raised from the dead

by the glorious power of the Father.

Set out, then, on a new life with Christ,

 And the blessing of God Almighty.

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