I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
It’s great to be here with you, and on behalf of you and the whole diocese I want to give a very big welcome to Caroline and Colin and all the family. I’m sure, Caroline, that these two lovely villages will be a most welcoming community for you all and help you settle in really well.
My sense is that those communities are very special to you. Places with long and interesting histories as this building shows with all its quirks and turns: look around and imagine all the generations that have left their mark (and it’s perhaps as well that the Shelagh carving is on the outside as you do). Places where families have abided, to pick up a word from tonight’s reading, for centuries
Places where you want the families of today to flourish and bear fruit, to pick up another.
So it is natural that in describing the qualities you want in a new priest you major on relationships. Her ability to collaborate with others, with good pastoral skills across all ages; to collaborate too with our other Christian denominations, especially of course the URC; and with the whole community.
But as we know, and as this building also shows, each generation also brings change, and we face death as well as life, erosion as well as growth. The world is in a dangerous place at the moment, and the easy hope of never-ending improvement that I remember from my youth is a distant memory. So there is a real question here
How can we help things to flourish in our generation? And what is the role of the church in that?
Let me take you to a final very small but very important word in the reading. As.
Our Christian faith teaches us that God is love; and that love is his very nature; his DNA if you like. Jesus is held in God’s love, and shares God’s nature, so he loves us just as God loves us, and gives everything for us. And then he invites us to do the same. To so abide in him that we have his sap, his DNA flowing through us, and are able to love others too, in the same way as him. It’s a wonderful chain reaction, and it can change the world, one “as” at a time.
Gripped by God’s love you go home tonight and make it up with that family member that you’ve been grumpy with all week. They wake up feeling so much better about life, go to work, and the atmosphere their office or school changes too. A pupil or customer who could have been given a hard time is heard and cared for, and goes home and … And so the world changes, one “as” at a time.
It’s easy to feel scared about commitment and faith, to worry that it will become dogmatic, exclusive, dangerous. But if we try and live without roots, without commitment, without belonging, without close fellowship, we will never be able to help our communities flourish today. The answer to the all-too-evident problems all around us is not to abandon commitment, motivation, faith and values, but to choose a good faith, and good values, so that dangerous ones are not left to win the day.
Here in Whittlesford and Pampisford generations of people have found goodness like that here, in the church of Jesus Christ. And they have found it because despite the temptations of their human nature, another nature which is self-giving not self-getting in its very DNA has drawn them back time and again to a better way. And as they have deepened in their love for God, and let his nature become their second nature, so they have deepened too in their love for one another.
It is when we deepen our commitment to God through word,worship and prayer that Ghod’s church grows healthily, finding new disciples and leaders, and is able to engage fully and courageously with the needs of our communities, locally and globally, which for the URC members and visitors among you are words taken straight from our diocesan vision statement and the Ely2025 strategy launched last weekend in the cathedral.
So Caroline, help the good people here to go deep so that they can go wide; and don’t forget to do the same yourself.
As Christ has loved you, so you can find the strength in him to love another. Abide in his love.
Photos from the village websites.http://www.whittleweb.org.uk/local-services/church http://www.pampisford.org.uk/#/ with thannks.