The scene was from a storybook. A young couple, obviously in love, standing to be married under a trellis in a vineyard. Behind was a pond with fountains, row upon row of grapevines and the majesty of mountains rising as a background. Familiar decorations for a wedding ceremony were non-existent. All that was needed was the handiwork of the Creator of the Universe.
The serenity of the setting was only eclipsed by the simplicity of the love exchanged between the two lovers under the trellis. Young, hopeful, radiant in the unifying of their two lives into one, they graced the beauty of the scene with a confidence that only young love can. The light scent of grapes wafted on the breeze as the sun touched the faces of the young lovers.
Jesus teaches us about unity in his description of himself as the Vine in John 15. As I took in the miles on vineyards producing mountains of fruit, I thought of this scripture:
"I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more....I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing.... I've loved you the way my Father has loved me. If you keep my commands, you'll remain intimately at home in my love...my joy will be your joy and your joy wholly mature. Love one another the way I have loved you" (excerpts from John 15 MSG).
This scripture speaks to our journey with Jesus as we grow to maturity. I could not help but wonder as I watched the young couple so content at this moment what journey might lie ahead. The scripture talks about staying connected to the Vine, but even when we are connected, we are still pruned, sometimes harshly in order to bring out more of the best in us. The very life of the branch is in the Vine, not in the other branches. How important not to lose sight of where our help and strength comes from. The relationship is "intimate and organic" with the Vine and together the branches bear abundant fruit. There is the promise from the Vine, Jesus, who says, "I've loved you the way my Father has loved me." He calls us to follow closely, remain fully committed to his ways and we will be at home in his love." As we remain in his love, he gives us joy--a joy that becomes our joy. A joy that matures to a rich, full fruit to be harvested and given to others as an expression of our love for Him.
A vineyard is a fascinating place to learn about the intricacies of relationship. Beginning with the appropriate soil content in which the vine is planted, everything matters. The vines are kept off the ground and tied up to receive the best sunlight. They are given plenty of structure on which to grow and produce quality fruit. The fruit must be harvested at just the right time--not too soon, not too late. Once harvested, it begins the long journey of sorting, removing skins and stems to make sure only pure grape juice ends up in the final product. It is pressed, and pressed again. Placed in dark containers in cool places, it waits to come to its full flavor, its full value and purpose. Every step matters. It's not hard to see the comparison to our relationship with God.
Whether or not we understand or can make sense of our circumstances, our Father is painstakingly moving us through the process of bringing us to our full value and purpose. Exposing us to those things that will give us the best resources, He gives us structure to grow and thrive in his commands to us. He is looking for quality fruit in us so that we can be useful to Him at just the right time--not too soon or too late. He patiently removes those things that keep us from being pure and presses us again and again to bring forth the richness of humility and wisdom. Just when we think we are ready to be poured out into the world He causes us to wait, sometimes in the dark, sometimes in the cold, but always under His watchful eye to complete and sustain the full flavor and value of His purpose for us.
"I've loved you the way my Father has loved me. Love one another as I have loved you." Stay unified to the vine, the harvest will be abundant and your joy will be great! Thank you Father for loving us!
Shelley Lopez, Executive Director
Shelley has been a member of the Springfield community for 29 years. As she lives and works and worships in the city, she uses the metaphor of an old Victorian house restoration to keep her focused on the work she is called to do. Inspired by the words of the prophet Isaiah, she pours herself into "restoring old ruins, rebuilding and renovating, making the community livable again" (Is. 58:12 MSG)