One of the tasks I completed yesterday was to respond to a letter from one of our alumni. She has become active in startup congregation of the Southern Baptist Convention. Over the summer, she will be involved in an outreach project, of that congregation. I thanked her for keeping in touch and extended the assurance of my prayers. While there are differences of theological interpretation between the SBC and the ELCA, each is essential to the life and wellbeing of the Church of Jesus Christ.
I was reminded of this again this morning, in reading the appointed Gospel lesson.
John 15:1-11 contains the image of the grape vine. There was a period of time when my grandfather maintained a half acre or so of grape vines. During those years, I learned to appreciate this image, used by Jesus to speak of the pruning of branches and the overall health of the vine.
Each year, the branches are pruned. I thought my grandfather was pruning too severely – but with the next year’s crop, I saw that he knew what he was doing. There needs to be strong, healthy branches in order for the vine to produce. These branches must also be balanced. By tugging the vine to the right or to the left, they keep the vine growing straight. The desire is to have a vine producing straight out of the ground, with branches going off in each direction.
We can apply this to the Church. Rather than allow one branch to dominate, it is better when all those who serve Jesus are in tension with one another. It is the areas where conversation is necessary that we discover what it is that God is truly saying to us.
From time to time we will need a bit of pruning. This should not be taken as an indication that God is displeased with us. Far from it. It is a reminder that in order for the whole to be healthy each of us must be balanced by that which is moving out from the vine in a differing direction.