Stacks Image 5401

The Annapurna Base Camp picture from their web site.


John 15:1-8

May 3, 2015

Easter 5 Year B

"I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me." This passage from John describes our relationship with the holy. Or at the time, it quite likely was describing Jesus' relationship with the disciples.

Jesus was the life giving vine from which many branches were produced. The disciples were those branches, extending out from the vine and bearing fruit in the world. In the ancient world a branch that did not bear fruit was not a living branch. So this metaphor of the vine and the branches asks us to think about the community we live in, how we live, and what this living means. If we are not fully alive and participating with the holy, or with the spirit, then we need pruning - in other words, we need care and love - we need attention.

For John,
"bearing fruit' involves loving one another, it involves keeping the community together, and sharing our spirit-filled actions with others.

So, if we are in touch with that Holy Spirit-filled part of ourselves and if we are looking after ourselves, so that we can produce goodness in a faithful manner - how does that look?

Jesus is talking about community in this vine and branch story, and it appears, that if the community is to bear fruit it is a community that focuses on interrelationship, mutuality and indwelling - the people are working together in this community. They support one another and are willing to share resources no matter what their differences are.
In this community no individual is a free agent, but there is this strong branch with many vines coming off of it - making a new way in the world.

It's interesting to note that this entire section of the bible is about wholeness and creating a just society. It didn't last long, but it must have been the dream of these people to fulfil the vision that Jesus had for a more just society.
The community envisioned in this metaphor stands in striking contrast to contemporary Western models of life. We have become a society that believes in rugged individualism, privatisation and success is very often based on individual accomplishment.

In John’s gospel this community is a non-hierarchical image of living. All branches are distinguishable from one another, and at the same time are rooted together in one vine. And only as a result of their common root can they bear fruit.

This metaphor for living reminds me of Eleanor Haney's vision of a just society. Eleanor Haney died a few years ago. She was a leading theologian in America, she was a great spiritual leaderin the community in which she lived. She held a PHD in theological ethics and she taught at Yale University. In her book Vision and Struggle Haney writes of a just society that she sees as not very probable, but a possibility. Haney was from New Hampshire.

Eleanor Haney says:

I see the possibility of a future when I will not have to live under so much stress and pain, and when I can take more time for my friends, family and my own work. I see myself bicycling or skiing to the village centre to work in a community where we would with others work on canning, making quilts, teaching, talking - in general doing the work that sustains all life. I see myself living primarily in my particular community with an occasional trip to the city made by hydrogen-powered train. (no gasoline by 2050) Where I live consists of men, women and children, plants and animals. Nothing is owned beyond certain personal belongings but everyone has private as well as shared space. The village I live in is small, about 2000 people. There are cities elsewhere, though not as big as the ones that exist now. Each city consists of smaller communities that are the context for the daily lives of most people. There are no banks, no insurance companies, and parks, gardens and broad sidewalks have replaced streets, highways and parking lots. There is an efficient mass transient system. In the future I see that peoples do not follow the rhythms of the clock, instead the rhythms are seasonal, personal, and ceremonial. On occasions everyone works hard - for days at a time. And then we play and create for equally long stretches. In this place everything is composted or otherwise recycled. Everyone has a way in which to communicate to the world. The future I envision is one in which everyone has enough to eat, and wear, and people do what is individually fulfilling and simultaneously furthers the good of all people. Children are an integral part of the larger community, not simply of the household. Economic life is structured so that all in the community share in decisions about the production and distributions of goods and services, as well as in the actual production and distribution.
Eleanor Haney
Haney concludes by saying: It is a vision of justice because everyone is equally rooted in the nurturing/spiritual/emotional development of the time.

One of the questions immediately asked of course is: Is such a future ever possible? It's not probable but it is possible.

The really important question is this:
What do we know about ourselves and the world that grounds the vision in real possibility?

I believe that human nature is always being created. Human beings have a deep capacity for change. Being human is a social construct, and as such, can be uncreated or re-created. We have been conditioned to live as we do, and I believe we can all learn to live differently.

I know a woman living in England and she lives on a street where twelve households share two vehicles, they run a daycare amongst themselves, they recycle together, they look after one another in ways that are important. They look after one another’s pets when they are travelling and keep a strict neighbourhood watch.

A friend in Calgary belongs to a Co-op where people trade what they have for what others have, Lynn trades vegetarian hamburger mix in exchange for massage and books. Others trade what they have for what they need. In their organisation you can donate what you have at the Co-op and receive green dollars to spend where you want within the organisation.

There are many ways to create a just society. We need to be bold, inventive, creative and there is just the project waiting, waiting to be created to be brought to reality by you and me.

These life styles, and Haney's vision are connected to the gospel. The metaphor of the vine provides as does Haney's vision, a radical non-hierarchical image for the community and for the world. All branches are distinguishable and at the same time they are rooted together from one vine. And only as a result of their common root can they bear fruit.
Before God all these branches are equal. The Spirit is the vine of the community, out of, into, and around which all branches grow.

One cannot tell which branch sprouted first, which branch is the longest or where one branch stops and another begins. Hierarchy among members in this community is impossible because all members grow out of the same vine and all are tended equally by the one vine grower.

I am the vine said Jesus, extending himself through time and space to grant us as branch. To claim that continuity we must submit to that pruning - to self-care - to growth - and so we sink ourselves uncondionaly into the will of the Spirit/God in whom we live, move and exist.

Awhile back on the National news this story transpired: A story where a man jumped into the Red River in Winnipeg to save a teenager who had fallen into the river. He was at the river because that is where he lived. He was homeless, and he lived under the bridge. Hence, he was present and able to save the young man’s life. When asked what he needed, he said,
“It would be nice to have different shoes. Not necessarily new shoes but better shoes. Decent shoes.” Homelessness, poverty and charity are very complicated matters in our society. This man quickly disappeared from the spotlight.

But what does this story say about us as a society? It’s not a very shining example of the gospel story. I guess the question is this: Is there any way that we can change the story? Is it possible to do away with homelessness? Can we find a way for people to have adequate footwear and clothing? What sort of community has to be created so that others might be comfortable? It may not look like our community and it doesn’t need to. We all have different needs and so we need to create communities to meet the needs of everyone not just for those of us who have the power to create what we need. This is the point of the gospel: One root, one vine and many branches reaching out to all in need.

I have been to Nepal nine times, and six of those times I took a group. On these treks, we created community. The year we went to
Annapurna Base Camp we were eight women trekking and there were eight porters,and two lead guides, Gita and Rajut. Eighteen people all together. That makes for lots of dynamics, but we did create a community and it wasn’t without its difficulties. I believe that creating community is always hard work. The eight trekkers would have been the centre of the community, and the guides and porters as part of the community rallied around the edges being supportive and offering assistance in many, many different ways. Sometimes we attempted to offer them assistance, but for the most part they looked after us. We were okay with that situation. Most of us were exhausted by the end of the day, after walking/climbing/coming down, going up, and we wanted nothing else but to lie down for ten minutes before dinner. We would rest and then get up for dinner and then we met for circle discussion. We had a stone that we used for our circle discussion and you had to have the stone in your hand to speak. One day we had to make a decision at lunch time and Gita the guide, looked around our lunch table frantically searching for a stone. It was quite obvious to her, that we couldn’t talk without the talking stone. We were rooted in one another and there were many vines with many branches.

Our porters/guides were strong branches both physically and emotionally. They made it possible for us to carry on. Without them we would not have made it to Annapurna Base Camp. They sustained our community with their presence, and with their physical strength to get us and our packs up the mountain. They had many skills.

Mina, one of the porters, was a healer, a medicine woman, and she made a poultice out of oil and mustard seed and she worked on the infected bites on Dinette’s leg for about 36 hours, and that enabled all of us to keep going when we thought perhaps she would have to go back. We had a layover that day and the porters helped us with our laundry. We were community in ways we never expected to be community. We had to give and I suspect that most of us at some level, learned that we were vulnerable in a foreign country.

Like the gospel story it was an opportunity to be rooted in something new, it was an opportunity to grow and develop a sense of what it means to survive in this community that is new and very short term. One might ask just exactly what do I want to invest in this community? I would say, quite a bit. I would say, I’m vulnerable and I need to be aware of that vulnerability and how this group will sustain me and others as we trek to 13,000 feet and then back down. It’s not just about me, but it’s about the entire group. How do we live together for three weeks so that the branches flourish and grow?

That is not much different than how you as a church community will survive the coming weeks and months, and the next year as you sort out how you will be a church community. As a community how will you meet each other’s needs? Now is not the time to be self-absorbed, but it might be the time to reach out to one another and say,
“Can we make this work?” And maybe you can’t make it work, but maybe you can. In a community anything is possible. In community if all the branches can flourish and grow then anything is possible.

I invite you this week to write about how you see community.
Sharon Ferguson-Hood