Sunday, October 5, 2014–a set of scriptures and thoughts concerning World Communion Sunday
The structure of this reflection is different as it was presented in sections while conducting the Service of the Word and Table I from the United Methodist Hymnal.
Isaiah 5:1-7 (NLT): A Song about the Lord’s Vineyard
5 Now I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a rich and fertile hill.
2 He plowed the land, cleared its stones,
and planted it with the best vines.
In the middle he built a watchtower
and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks.
Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes,
but the grapes that grew were bitter.
3 Now, you people of Jerusalem and Judah,
you judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could I have done for my vineyard
that I have not already done?
When I expected sweet grapes,
why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?
5 Now let me tell you
what I will do to my vineyard:
I will tear down its hedges
and let it be destroyed.
I will break down its walls
and let the animals trample it.
6 I will make it a wild place
where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed,
a place overgrown with briers and thorns.
I will command the clouds
to drop no rain on it.
7 The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.
He expected a crop of justice,
but instead he found oppression.
He expected to find righteousness,
but instead he heard cries of violence.
[First thoughts to be read after Old Testament reading, Isaiah 5:1-7.]
Oktoberfest is here! Granted most of us are thinking Blue October since the Royals are in the battle for a World Series birth, but the other blue of October can be found in grape juices being pressed from the vines in wine country.
Growing up about 30 miles north of Herman, Missouri, and Oktoberfest was a huge event. No one could ignore the fact that the grapes were being harvested and it was time to celebrate. Still, only this weekend did my thoughts turn to how World Communion Sunday can be directly connected to Oktoberfest through the grapevine.
Consider these ideas:
- Missouri’s connection to the wine industry is the German heritage of the immigrants who moved in along the Missouri River.
- Grapes have been harvested forever and even the ancient tribes of Israel knew that grapes made wine.
- Grapes are grown around the globe. Think of the labels we find in our own grocery stores of the grapes from Chile and Peru can outnumber those grown within the United States.
- Grapes grow as native plants, but also can be a carefully cultivated, introducing stock from other regions with different flavor characteristics.
A more thorough study of the grape industry could add many more facts and figures to show how the grapevine is a common plant and food source familiar in households around the globe. The familiarity of people to the grapevine makes the scripture references a unifying symbol for explaining Christianity regardless of the cultural and language differences around this world.
[Break for mission moment and offering.]
Back to Oktoberfest! The first Sunday in October is the international, the world-wide day to celebrate communion everywhere the Christian community comes together. There may not be any rides or vendors or fireworks or concerts in our churches, but every church in every denomination in every location around this globe joins together for communion. The mental picture creates an image of people standing side-by-side though they were the fruit of a grapevine wrapping around the world.
God’s vision is a world filled with people in peace and in harmony standing side by side. The goal of worldwide peace may seem impossible, but we come close on World Communion Sunday. When you realize that each church regardless of denomination or location is participating in the very same practice of faith, you can sense the connectedness of fruit on a vine.
The Church, all denominations, follows Jesus’ teachings of caring for one another. The mission efforts of The Church does not see a division in people, it sees the face of God in all people. Today’s worldwide communion can remind us that we are to reach out to all who have needs. John Wesley’s efforts to go out into the community to minister to whatever need there was in any way that he could put God’s compassion into action. Faith is for everybody, everywhere. Faith is worldwide.
[After offering and before Thanksgiving & Communion.]
John 15:1-17 (NLT): Jesus, the True Vine
15 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
9 “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
[After reading the Gospel scripture: John 15:1-17.]
Today’s scripture from John 15 is a follow-up explanation for the Old Testament scripture. Jesus is teaching the Apostles the significance of the grapevine as a symbol. For the agrarian culture, even the typical household where wine was used with the meals, the grapevine was real. The Apostles and others understood the methods of pruning the vine to maintain the strongest plant and the best production. The grapevine’s fruit production depends on how well it is maintained.
The message that Jesus was sharing is timeless. The symbol of the grapevine is so common that even today we understand the lesson’s meaning, too. Studying this passage, the obvious meanings stand out, but there are more complex meanings that begin to surface.
One of the more obvious explanations is that found in verses 2-3:
2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.
The value of pruning is a key to this explanation, but a deeper reading of the symbolism points out that there are two forms of pruning—separating and cutting back branches. Study notes connect the physical action into the spiritual lesson:
Fruitful branches are cut back to promote growth. In other words, God must sometimes discipline us to strengthen our character and faith. But branches that don’t bear fruit are cut off at the trunk because not only are they worthless, but the often infect the rest of the tree. People who won’t bear fruit for God or who try to block the efforts of God’s followers will be cut off from his life-giving power. (Life Applications Study Bible)
Pruning the grapevine branches is much easier than cutting it completely back. The significance of the lesson is one most do not want to hear, but it is a truth anyone anywhere in the world can understand when they are familiar with sound agricultural practices.
[Continue with the hymn, “Be Present at Our Table,” Lord, UHM 621.]
Now Oktoberfest has expanded to mean much more than just a celebration of the grape harvest. October harvest includes apples, pumpkins, corn, beans, even turnips all filling pantries, grain bins, and cellars. The lesson Jesus bases on the grapevine is not limited to one type of fruit. Digging deeper into the scripture, another surprise appeared from verse 5 & 7:
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.
. . . . 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!
A literal reading od the scripture keeps one thinking the discussion is centered on grapevines and the abundance of the grape harvest; yet reading and studying for a fuller understanding yields even more:
Fruit is not limited to soulwinning. In this chapter, answered prayer, joy, and love are mentioned as fruit (15:7, 11, 12). Galatians 5:22-24 and 2Peter 1:5-8 describe additional fruit: qualities of Christian character. (Life Application Study Bible).
Harvesting a deeper understanding from scripture takes commitment. The grapevine of Christianity is carefully cultivated, pruned, and cut back by reading the scripture. Maybe October is when we should re-commit ourselves to learning more, doing more, sharing more with each other so the harvest does continue to improve. And, yes, the harvest does mean the growth of Christianity not only here among our peers, but beyond our own comfortable fields.
Studying the scripture and prayer are methods of cultivating Christianity. As we join at the table with the bread and the cup, we remember the words Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer. We remember the words he spoke to the masses along the roads and the hillsides of ancient Israel. We remember the practices of healing and teaching that he demonstrated so that his Apostles and the earliest disciples or followers could carry God’s grace and love forward.
As Christians gather at the table today, we use the same words of the Great Thanksgiving. We may not speak the same language, but the Holy Spirit fills us up as we hear the words and experience unity of the grapevine. So, welcome to Oktoberfest. We celebrate with fellow Christians using the ancient ritual of communion.
[Resume the liturgy of the Great Thanksgiving, the breaking of the bread and the giving of the bread and cup. Follow with the hymn, ”You Satisfy the Hungry Heart,” UMH 629]
With all the grace and love that God has given us, may we follow what he teaches us. Join in Oktoberfest and invite others too. May you experience just a portion of the excitement God feels when we celebrate harvesting for God.