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Sunday Service, 2nd May 2021

Led by Rev. Bob Gemmell

Welcome

Call to Worship

Our opening hymn this morning is a paraphrase of a passage we find in Hosea Chapter 6 where we read: “Let us return to the Lord! He has hurt us, but he will be sure to heal us; he has wounded us, but he will bandage our wounds. He will revive us and we will live in his presence. He will come to us as surely as the day dawns, as surely as the spring rains that water the earth.”

Hymn 482 – Come let us to the Lord our God

Prayer

Jesus said: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Loving and gracious God, we come in our need to knock on heaven’s door and ask for your help.
We are weak and you are strong, we are empty and your grace overflows, we are fearful and you are faithful.
Come to us now, that our prayers might take wings, that our faith might be strengthened and our trust in you made firm; that our hope in your kingdom be reawakened; for you are our Saviour and we pray in the name of Jesus.

Lord Jesus Christ, you brought good news to the poor and proclaimed release to those in prison and recovery of sight to the blind. Demonstrate your kingdom here in healing and renewal that we might sing again of our Lord’s favour and share the story of your love with all who need your grace.

Jesus said: “Anyone who comes to me I will never turn away.”

Lord Jesus, you came to reconcile us to God and to one another.
Lord have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you heal the wounds of sin and division. Christ have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you offer us a new beginning. Lord have mercy.

Father eternal, giver of light and grace, we have sinned against you and against our neighbour, in what we have thought, in what we have said and done, through ignorance, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault.
We have wounded your love and marred your image in us.
We repent of our sin; forgive us for all that is past and lead us our from darkness to walk as children of light, through Jesus Christ our Lord in whose name we continue to pray using the words he taught his disciples:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever. Amen.

Children’s talk

I wonder if anyone has had any fruit for breakfast this morning. I wonder what fruit is your favourite. My house gets through a lot of grapes.

Grapes grow in bunches on vines, the vines growing up from the ground to produce the branches that have the vines.

Last week I talked about Jesus talking about things people could relate to like sheep and shepherds and he also talked about grapes and planting and farming – just as he told us he was a good shepherd, he also tells us he is a vine and we are the branches.

Sometimes when we think, we can actually come up with lots of reasons for how we can relate to these – it’s interesting that Sunday club without the full story were able to give two wonderful examples. They said it might mean that he stops us falling down and that he helps us grow.

Vines’ great ways of linking show how important it is for us to be connected – vines provide the nutrition that helps fruit grow, just as Jesus helps us grow in faith, so much so that we can hopefully go on to produce good fruit.

I love that it seems so simple, even though we know it’s not – we are not told that we have to do specific tasks, we don’t have to come to church, have to pray, have to do things in a certain way – we’re just told that we need to remain connected and hopefully as we stay connected we see the value in coming to church and praying and doing certain things, because when we remain connected we learn that he will provide the things we need – so that we don’t fall down and so that we grow.

Scripture readings (NRSV)

Psalm 80: 8–19

You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
11 it sent out its branches to the sea,
and its shoots to the River.
12 Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13 The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.

14 Turn again, O God of hosts;
look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
15     the stock that your right hand planted.
16 They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;
may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18 Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name.

19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

John 15: 1–8

Jesus the True Vine

15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just 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. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Hymn 251 – I the Lord of Sea and Sky. Listen here.

Reflection by Rev. Bob Gemmell: The true vine

I am glad that my wife loves gardening. I enjoy sitting in it. I appreciate the fruits of the garden. I don’t mind cutting the grass and doing a bit of weeding, although preparing sermons for Wardie has meant that I have even escaped some of these tasks recently. You will probably find it hard to believe that I spent a couple of summers, while still at school, working in a small garden centre, picking (and eating) fruit and even selling flowers to homes around the area.

I have recently found that I am in good company, however. Tom Wright says: “I am no gardener. But I can mow a lawn. I can pick gooseberries. I can plant bulbs. And I can prune roses. Someone told me how when I was young and I’ve never forgotten. In fact, I not only know HOW to do it, I even know WHY. A rose bush, left to itself, will get straggly and tangled and grow in on itself. It will produce quite a lot of not-so-good roses rather than a smaller number of splendid ones. So you prune it to stop it wasting its energy and being unproductive. You cut out the part of the plants that are growing inwards and getting tangled up. You encourage the shoots that are growing outwards, towards the light. You prune the rose to help it to be its true self. As far as I understand it, more or less the same thing works with vines. Vines need to focus their energy on producing good quality grapes rather than lots of second rate ones.”

Our reading from the book of Psalms reminds us that the vine was a picture of Israel. God brought a vine out of Egypt and planted it in the promised land. But the Psalmist records that it had been ravished and needed protection and re-establishing. Psalm 80: “you brought a grape vine out of Egypt; you drove out other nations and planted it in their land …Why did you break down the fences around it? Come and save this grapevine that you planted.” And Isaiah in chapter 5 of his prophecy reminds us that the vineyard of Israel has borne wild grapes instead of proper ones.

Now, in the last of the great I AM statements in John’s Gospel, Jesus is saying that he is the true vine. He is the one on whom God’s purposes are now resting. And his followers are now members of his kingdom. As one commentator points out: “The picture of the vine isn’t just a clever illustration from gardening. It is about what Jesus and his followers really are, and what is now going to happen to them as a result.”

This passage is part of our Lord’s farewell discourse to the disciples. It forms part of the same evening when our Lord shared what has become known as the Lord’s Supper. It was the occasion when he took time to remind his disciples of what the immediate hours and days would hold for them, a time when he spoke those words of hope and encouragement, words that they would be able to cling to in the difficult days and hours to follow: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” He had also spoken about his followers being ‘in him’ as he is ‘in the father’.

We now come to our immediate passage. Branches that decide to go it alone, who try to live without being grafted on to the vine, soon discover their mistake. They wither and die and as verse 6 reminds us, they are good for nothing but the fire. But those branches which remain in the vine and submit to any necessary adjustments and changes within their lives, grow and bear fruit. This is Jesus’ message to his followers, a message to all of us.

Let us take a few moments to turn from the theory of the passage to the practical issues it throws up as far as our lives are concerned. The question which confronts us is this. How do we remain grafted to the vine, how do we remain in him? What tools are available to us, tools that will keep us grafted to that vine, keep us in a positive relationship with our Lord?

I have three suggestions for your consideration, suggestions that you can add to any practical steps you may have in mind.

First of all, I would suggest that it is important that we link with an active Christian fellowship. I know there are those who would deny any necessity of joining up with fellow Christians. Some would say that they can worship God whilst enjoying his creation, that God’s presence is real to them as they walk the hills and the climb the mountains. Others would tell us how they commune with their maker as they tend to their garden and appreciate the intricacies of each flower they grow. Others again might suggest that the presence of God is real to them as they sail the seas and that such an experience reminds them of their vulnerability and dependence on their creator.

Personally I would never deny the testimony of others as far their experience of the Almighty is concerned or the reality of his presence with them in the various settings I have mentioned. On the other hand I believe that being an active member within a Christian community adds to our total experience as Christians and I also believe that there is a double significance in being a member of the church.

Many of us would find it difficult to survive as solitary Christians. There is so much that we can learn from each other’s ‘walk’ with the Lord. Think back on your lives, especially to those early years of our pilgrimage and how dependent we were on our fathers and mothers in the faith, their example, their encouragement, strengthening us in our immaturity and vulnerability, the gentle touch of their hands upon our lives as we sought to establish ourselves in the faith. John Bell was right when he suggested that the Lord himself often comes to us in the touch of friends.

But I suggested that there is a double significance in our joining together in fellowship. Our link with others from within the church and with Christians elsewhere opens the door of service. The risen Lord declared to his frightened disciples in the Upper Room that just as the Father had sent him, he was now sending them, commissioning them to continue his work of ministry. How do we remain in Christ, grafted to the vine? Through fellowship together and through service. As we seek to follow in our Lord’s footsteps, as we accept Christ’s commission to go, to serve, I am sure the poignant words contained in Matthew 25 will often come to mind: “I tell you, when you did this for one of the least important brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me.”

The second tool I would suggest as we work towards remaining in Christ is the cultivation of prayer in our day-to-day lives. Few of us find praying easy. In verse 7 of our NT passage Jesus makes an astonishing promise about prayer: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, then you will ask for anything you wish, and you shall have it.” Quite a promise. As I said, few of us find the process of praying easy. Perhaps we could think about following our Lord’s example in finding a special place in which to commune with the Father. We often read of him taking to the hills, not just because of the solitude that the setting offered but because he seemed to find it a perfect setting for those special quiet times he spent with the Father in prayer. You might not want to take to the hills – find your own space and time.

The third tool is using the Scriptures as a further means of bringing blessing to our lives, grafting us to the vine. It is helpful to have an overall picture of what the Bible offers us as we seek to become mature in our faith. I would be the first to admit that I don’t find all of Scripture equally inspiring. For example, I would never place the encouragement and hope that we come across in some of the Psalms or the challenges presented by the Minor prophets, or passages like John Ch 14 or Romans 8 alongside what have been described as the killing fields of the Old Testament. There are so many gems within the pages of Scripture – words of hope, words of encouragement, words of challenge, words that offer strength in times of weakness, peace amidst the turmoil of live, words that help us to stay grafted to the vine.

The final message from this morning’s narrative is one of challenge. Although it always hurts, there are occasions when our lives benefit from the Father’s pruning knife, times when we have lessons to learn, when adjustments have to be made in our lives, occasions when we must allow change to happen. At the end of the day, through that pruning process God will be glorified and so will we, by bearing good quality fruit and lots of it.

Prayers of Intercession by Paul Mitchell

Jesus Christ, the true vine, in our need we come to You.
We come in our weakness, needing Your strength
for we too easily become dry and lifeless
without Your life-giving spirit.

Jesus Christ, the true vine, teach us to remain in You
and so to find Your life flowing in us
giving strength and vigour to our discipleship.

And as we come closer to You in prayer our lives are drawn closer to others.

Our minds turn parts of this world where they are places of fear, terror and violence. To where people are at loggerheads, over race, religion, land, power – where individual objective trumps collective good.
We pray for successful resolution and for love to triumph.

Our thoughts turn to Christians living with persecution
who face danger, simply for being linked to You.

Father, prune back all that stands in the way of peace. Help us to play our part no matter how small it may appear in making people’s lives better.

Our thoughts turn to people in leadership and power.
We pray for our nation, and its leaders.

We pray for candidates standing in the elections this week – may they blessed with wisdom and guided by you. May changes and choices be shaped by the values of the kingdom.

On our hearts are people in need in our church and wider community. Wherever hearts are breaking … bodies are failing … minds are confused … families are ruptured …
Lord, come with Your help and healing we pray.

Here, too, as Your church gathered today, in-person and online, we give thanks for those who have gone before us and the fruit they have borne in our community and beyond.

We give thanks for all the acts of kindness shown in our church and community during this pandemic. Such kindness does not have to be ostentatious – a simple phone call or the delivery of a newsletter helping people to stay in touch.

Help us to remain in You – nourished by Christian fellowship, upheld by remaining in Christ as we journey through life, and let us be inspired by scripture each day.

Lord we ask that we may be fruitful and bring glory to Your name. Through Jesus Christ, the light, the truth and the way – the true vine.

Amen

Blessing

Go in the knowledge that God in his grace has saved you,
That he will strengthen you in your weakness,
And that he will accompany you along all of life’s perplexing paths.
And now may the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit rest upon you and remain with you, now and always.

Amen