Scripture for Sunday, 29 April:
Acts 8:26–40; Psalm 22:25–31; 1 John 4:7–21; John 15:1–8
As human beings, we seem to crave certainty. It’s rather an illusion: the more we learn about the universe, the more we discover that there is to learn; the more we know of life as we grow older, the more we discover that there is to learn, and anyone who isn’t emotionally, mentally or spiritually dead knows that the more we learn about ourselves, the more there is to learn. This makes life either an exciting journey of learning and discovery, or a fearful descent into increasing anxiety.
This extends to faith – and not always in a healthy manner. In an article in the Church Times last week, the Rev. Angela Tilby wrote that: “Too often in church, people in distress are patronised by the saved and the certain.” She criticised those who fail to recognise that there is more than one way of expressing Christian faith.
Jesus often used terms that spoke of diversity. When speaking of himself as the good shepherd, he spoke about other sheep and other folds. When speaking of where he was going, he spoke about his father’s house having many dwelling places (many mansions).
This theme of diversity extends to his description of himself as a vine, with his followers as branches. There’s a lot of fruitful imagery here, apart from the obvious connection of the branches that reminds us of our responsibility to live in an interdependent community.
There is the reference to pruning, which is not always comfortable – in fact, can be quite painful. Yet through pruning, growth can occur, even though this sometimes only becomes apparent over time.
The vine and branches imagery reminds us that there can be many different offshoots, all fed from the same root; branches are part of a whole; what happens to the vine affects all the branches. Equally, expressions of faith don’t all have to be the same, although will affect life in community.
This is why the so-called personal salvation of Christian faith is a bit of a problem. Faith is not supposed to be about saving myself. That’s a selfish, and rather short-sighted point of view. Faith is supposed to be about finding the inner peace that comes with discerning God’s will for us and following it. More often than not, it means taking our place in community, and being willing to offer the diverse gifts that we have been given for the common good.
The imagery of vine and branches also tells us to be open to the growth that can occur after pruning. And the imagery reminds us that we are all interconnected. In some ways, there is an element of mystery in this: different and diverse, we are all able to produce fruit of some sort. Let’s be willing to accept the gift of diversity, and be thankful for it, and the lack of certainty that goes along with it.
This may not be everyone’s chosen route for security, but it is an invitation to trust in the one in whose image we are created so diversely.