Loving God, give us grace to love one another and walk in the way of your commandments, Amen
In the last year perhaps, we have been reminded time after time of the essentials of being part of a Christian community. Before March 2020 we would have said that joining together in Church, Sunday by Sunday was essential to the nourishment and growth of our life of faith. We would have looked forward to meeting together for Coffee Hour in the Hall after the service, and then we have anticipated our pot-luck lunches to celebrate special days in the life of the Church or the community. And yet, in the course, of three consecutive weeks in March 2020, our numbers dropped from 80 to 60 to 40 before we had to close the Church. And although we opened again for two months last fall, we have, as far as our building was concerned, remained closed for most of the last 13 months.
The gospel passage today begins this way, with Jesus speaking of himself:
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.’
Jesus speaks of God as the vine-grower, himself as the true vine, and the people of God as the branches which need pruning to bear more fruit.
In one sense, to use the image of the vine, we the church have been pruned very drastically since the beginning of the pandemic. We stopped meeting together, we stopped sharing meals together and we stopped meeting in person for worship, study, pastoral care, social time and for administrative purposes.
As we recognized we had been pruned as a community, yet from it has come new life and growth, just as Jesus promises in this gospel passage.
Although many of our Arabic-speaking members are not here this morning, and we long for the day when we can open safely to allow them and others to come back into our building and once again share in the sacrament of the Eucharist. However, our church is not all a narrative of closure, disappointment, and lack of connection.
For despite a sizeable part of our congregation being missing, each week our average attendance is almost 70 people! And it has been wonderful to welcome people from far outside the Lower Mainland on these occasions. In addition, for instance, on Wednesday we had 17 people at Bible Study, with more residents of Fleetwood Villa than we have ever had before either in person or online. We also have good numbers for Compline on Monday evenings and Morning Prayer on Thursday. We have had two studies in Advent and Lent and a third is upcoming. This last week we also had our regular Council meeting. We have had all our meetings online since last year and this week Shelley Prendergast deftly took us through our business in 25 minutes!
We were delighted to hear at Council that our giving is very strong and at the end of March it stood over $3000 above budget. Due to a wage subsidy claimed by the Diocese from the federal government, we received a rebate of $17,000 in March. We continue to be profoundly grateful to everyone for your consistent offerings by Pre-Authorized Debit or cheques which allows the day-to-day running of mission and ministry to flourish.
Both our numbers at services and events, and our sacrificial giving are very clear signs of how our church life is developing and expanding during these times.
Another sign of how the pruning that occurred has led to tangible new life and an abundant harvest.
In June we are looking forward to our first online pet service. Often these are held in the fall, but with no in-person services likely to happen for some time it seemed a good time to hold one now. One of the joys of Zoom worship has been to see dogs and cats belonging to our congregation members making their presence felt on Sundays or other occasions.
Yet all of this without love would be as nothing. That is the gist of the first reading today from the first letter of John.
‘Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God’
In short as followers of Christ we are called to love one another because love itself comes from God.
It was love for the world that caused God first to create the world and to also create all that is good, honest, and true in the world. The marvels of creation, the opportunities for life, the very life God gives to each one of us.
As human beings, we are created through an act of love, which is part of God’s creation. In the earliest months of life, a child receives love, often unconditional love, from their parents, especially the mother.
God expresses love for us, by sending Jesus Christ, to be a path to follow in our lives. If we can be in a right relationship with God, we cannot help but love God and therefore, it follows, love one another. In the same way that a parent, in a right relationship with their child, cannot help but love their child.
When we love someone, a partner, friend, a child, or parent, we become unable to only live for ourselves. For when we love someone, we want to be there for them, be concerned for them, and often this means cost, sacrifice, commitment, and patience. In the same way, when we are loved, those who love us will have to make sacrifices, be committed, and have patience. For love costs.
Christ is the vine, we are the branches - intended to bear fruit (grapes) from which wine will come, suggests C K Barrett. A branch separated from the main parent vine can bear no fruit - it is worthless and useless.
Only in Christ can Christians live. In Christ, there is the fruitfulness of true service to God, of answered prayer and of obedience in love.
No one would say the pandemic was good; it has been awful. People have died, others have suffered and lost their jobs. Medical professionals, teachers, and other front-line workers are under great pressure and strain and are concerned about their health and well-being and for their families.
But the pruning we have seen has been good. We have been reminded about what really matters – which is a connection (by phone or internet), opportunities to pray and worship, to continue to feel part of a community that cares for us and cares for each other.
There is work to do, there are new connections to make, but we are assured that God loves us and so we should love one another.
‘Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God’