Monday, 30 April 2018

I am the true vine

Genesis 22: 1-18 (page 16 in our pew Bibles) In an incident that "proves" the love of Abraham for God, and in a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus, the "sacrifice of Isaac" is a very important story.
Acts 8: 26-end (page 917 in our pew Bibles) In a picture of evangelical preaching the scriptures need to be opened and explained by spirit led ministers of the gospel.
John 15: 1-8 (page 901 in our pew Bibles) Another of the "I am" sayings from John's gospel. "I am" is also the name of God given in Exodus 3:14 translated into English as "Yahweh".

Let us just imagine for a moment what the media in 21st century Britain would make of a father who set out to kill his own son  on the grounds that God had told him to do it. The sacrifice of Isaac story or the binding of Isaac story (because of course the sacrifice didn’t take place) is at one level highly offensive.

But the story is told to demonstrate a very difficult message to convey; the absolute priority of God’s demands on your life, beyond all normal human duties even to your own family.

It shocks people into taking notice, which is its raison d’etre.

Of course we have a Christian parallel in the sacrifice of Jesus. In the story in Genesis Isaac is old enough and strong enough to carry the wood himself but offers no resistance to Abraham at any point. The parallel with Jesus is stark as Jesus carried his own cross and offered no resistance, but at least in the crucifixion story there are human agents who did it to him. In this story it is at the hands of his own father.

The importance of this story in the tradition of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is evidenced by the Golden Dome of the Rock which is not a mosque but a shrine. Any present day visitor to Jerusalem will know that the site of the land of Moriah, the rock on which this near sacrifice was to have taken place is the rock over which “the dome of the Rock” was built, the most famous Jerusalem landmark, which was also one traditional site of the “Holy of Holies” in the  Jerusalem Temple.

Now it was the Jerusalem Temple that the Ethiopian eunuch had been worshipping and was now returning to Ethiopia.
This story is an integral part of the story of growth and as an Ethiopian represents the far away and exotic though because he was worshipping at Jerusalem and reading Isaiah, he was at least a “god-fearer”, a non Jew attracted to the morality and holiness of Judaism.

As a eunuch he would have not have been accepted in Jewish worship but nothing at all is made of this.
Philip needs to interpret the scriptures, in an early example of evangelical preaching leading to conversion and the receiving of the Holy Spirit, which is the Christian model to this day.

Jesus, speaking in the Spirit in John’s gospel has a number of “I am” sayings such as

The True vine, the good shepherd, the light of the world.

“I am” in this context means a lot more than on the surface.

In Exodus, chapter 3:14 Moses asks God his name and God says “I am who I am. Tell them “I am” has sent you.

So we have deeper layers of meaning here. When Jesus says I am the true vine, he is also saying that God is the true vine and that he is identifying himself with God.

But there is also the comparison with vines themselves. Vines grow slowly and could take about three years to bear any fruit, but in the mean time they need careful tending.

Jesus says he is like the stem of the vine and we, his disciples are the branches.
We can do nothing without abiding in the stem.

Of course, tending the vine also includes pruning. If any part of the branches doesn’t bear fruit, they are pruned, cut off from the stem.
This was also a difference of opinion I had with my training vicar in Margate.

He used to say to me, that we weren’t called to be successful just faithful.

I differed slightly. Taking the gospel imperatives as a whole, we are not just called to be faithful. We are called to bear fruit in accordance with repentance.

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