Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Choices...and vines and fruit: To choose, or not to choose...or to choose not to, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

Is refusing to make a decision - to make a choice - different than choosing not to do something? Or, does refusing to make a decision create a default position of having chosen for?

Entire libraries of philosophical literature have been penned about these and similar questions. For now, let us take the normative Christian view, which is that not to choose defaults to the choosing against. On the other hand, one might not choose affirmatively for Jesus, but one’s actions align one with Jesus. This is based in the view of Jesus’ teaching that “those who are not against me are for me.”

In his prayer of commissioning of his disciples in John 15 Jesus speaks of abiding in Jesus as the branches of a vine “abide” in the stalk and root. The vine, and certainly the fruit of the vine, cannot exist without an essential connection to the rootstalk. Jesus says, I am the vine; you are the branches; abide in my love.

Whoa! I thought we were talking about vines not love! Where does this “love” thing come in?

The first and simplest answer if that the love of which Jesus speaks is like the sap in the stalk and branches. The sap is what carries the nutrients within and throughout the plant. Think of it as the love of God moving through the members of the Body of Christ into the fruit of good works.

This is not a bad image, but it misses the “abide” thing. What is it to abide in Jesus who is the vine and of which we are the branches?

In the Gospel according to John “abide” a core concept. It has the same meaning in the original Greek as it does in English: to settle in, to set up housekeeping, to live within both a house and a community. To “abide” in Jesus, according to John, is to live in the richness of Jesus’ love, experienced as the movement of the Holy Spirit. However, as the miracle detergent pitchman says, Wait! There’s more!

The word “abide” occurs as a noun in another important passage in John, in chapter 14, where Jesus says “In my father’s house there are many mansions.” Mansions is better translated as “abiding places.” That is, in the cosmos of God there is lots of room in which people may abide in Jesus’ love. God’s love is expansive, roomy, generous. This is not one size fits all; this is spacious room for all sorts and conditions of persons, abiding places in which we can feel comforted, comfortable, and loved.

In my view, there are two implications of all this. First, we are being invited to live—abide—in God’s love. We can choose to do that or not. We can respond to the invitation to settle in or not.

However - and this is the second implication - if we choose not to abide, or even simply defer or refuse the decision, we have cut ourselves off from the vine. That is, we have chosen to live apart from the love of God, and we become spectators not participants in that love.

And that is, in part, why we go to church. Not giving ourselves the opportunity to give thanks to the source of all that is, seen and unseen, means that we have cut ourselves off from the nourishing fellowship of the Body of Christ. To worship the Living God is response to our experience of being loved. It is not requirement or duty; it is response to the instigation of the Spirit. We can ignore it; we can refuse it; it is still there, like an invitation to a party sitting on one’s desk unopened.

The reality is that we can consistently bear good fruit only when we are part of the vine. We are the branches that bear delicious, inviting, fruit that is nourished by the source of all in those deep roots sunk into the soil of the universe.

In other words, it is all about God’s love for us and for all that is.


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