Faithful and fruitful

Irene Ruddock is a single woman with a lot on her mind. She has strong opinions, and when she wishes to express them she takes up her trusty platignum and  basildon bond ,  commits pen to paper and writes a letter of complaint. Irene Ruddock writes many letters of complaint: about policemen wearing glasses; dog’s mess outside Buckingham Palace; the length of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s hair. Irene is especially concerned about the family living opposite, who she is convinced are neglecting their child. Her letters of complaint amount to harassment and she ends up in prison. Ironically it is there that she finds true happiness, the isolation that she has felt since the death of her mother is ended, she finds a new life in a community and makes friends and busies herself in writing letters for some of her illiterate fellow prisoners.

A Lady of Letters is one of the Talking Heads monologues by Alan Bennett expertly played by Patricia Routlege. It is a warning of the dangers of isolation, when we let ourselves become so wrapped up in our own thoughts that they become an obsession, harmful to others and to ourselves.

In the gospel today, Christ warns against being cut off from the vine. The vine in the Old Testament stood for the chosen people of Israel that God had taken out of Egypt and planted in choice land, the promised land. The old vine of Israel had only produced useless wild grapes. Christ has supplanted the unproductive old vine of Israel. The new vine will produce abundant fruit, fruit that will last.

It is vital for the Christian to remain part of the true vine. 'Apart from me, you can achieve nothing', says Jesus, 'you will be like branches that wither and die and are burnt on the fire'. The church unites us to Christ; it is the means by which we remain connected to him.

The benefits of being part of the true vine are stated by Jesus. If we are in him and his words are in us, then we will get what we ask for. That might seem an unrealistic and impossible view of prayer, but if we truly live in Jesus and understand him then we would not ask for what we are not able to receive. We would only ask for what is in accordance with his will.

St John speaks about love as being the fruit that is born of the branches of the true vine. Not just words, but active love, love in deed. Living according to God’s commandments means that we live our lives in God. We live in God and God lives in us. Being good and loving is not something that we do out of necessity, or when we think someone might notice, it is the way we are. God is not some abstract belief that has no bearing on our life, but an integral part of our being, like the sap running through the vine.

John says that our conscience will be clear if we are acting according to the rule of love. We may be unsure about what we are doing, we may feel guilty that we have not done enough, but John reassures us that God is greater than our conscience for he sees the whole picture.

We need to be challenged in our faith, to allow ourselves to be pruned by the Father. We all need to be pruned to stop doing those things that are fruitless. We need to be fruitful, to cut out the sinful behaviour that is harmful to ourselves and to others. Pruning can come through talking through our thoughts with a true friend, asking them if what we think is right or wrong. Pruning can come through coming to God honestly and openly in prayer.

Cut off from the vine we can do nothing. Anyone who cuts themselves off from other people will find it difficult to love, because love needs an object. If we cut ourselves off from the church, we may then separate ourselves off from Christ and make a religion that suits ourselves and our prejudices and refuses to allow his influence to change what needs changing.

Only through being part of the vine could the early Christians accept Saul into their fold, Saul who had tried to wipe out the church. How difficult it must have been for them to accept him, but if they had refused to forgive him and accept him, and had he not embarked on his mission to the gentiles, would Christianity have become a world religion? That was the fruit of their forgiveness and courage in faith.

To be faithful is to be fruitful. When we are truly part of the vine, we will bear fruit, though we may not realize it and though we may not see it.

 

Acts 9.26-31, 1John 3.18-24, John 15.1-8