2nd May 2021

The lectionary readings for today are:
Psalm 22:25–31 John 15:1–8 Acts 8:26–40 1John 4:7–21

We will be looking at John 15 and 1 John 4 passages
You may like to get them ready in your own Bible.

Welcome
Once again, I welcome you to our act of worship. Once again sharing in our own homes and, most importantly, wherever we are – in God’s presence. This being the first Sunday of the month, we shall share Communion, as is the practice in many churches. Please get something to eat and drink ready.
Preparation for worship
Welcoming God, as You call us to meet You, lead us – gently, reverently, trustingly, sensitively, honestly, joyfully, imaginatively, creatively, adventurously, expectantly – into Your presence, that we may worship You in spirit and in truth. Amen.

Hymn Rejoice and Sing 412
There’s a quiet understanding
Edward Russell Smith (born 1927)
Copyright © 1973 Hope Publishing Company
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTfESpt74Ig

Prayers of approach
Eternal God, creator of all things, giver of life,
we praise and worship you.
We thank you that you have
always loved the world you have made;
and that, however far we stray from You,
Your love is always there to welcome us home.

We do not deserve Your love,
but we dare to believe the good news of Your mercy
declared by our Lord Jesus Christ,
whose offering of His life for us and for all people
we today set forth in bread and wine.

Be present in our time of worship.
Fill us with Your Holy Spirit,
that our worship may truly express our love
for You and for one another.
Make us glad and give us joy and peace.

Let us confess our sins:
God our Father,
we have sinned against you and against one another,
in thought, word and deed;
we have not loved you with all our heart;
we have not loved our neighbour as ourselves.
But you have kept faith with us.
Have mercy on us, forgive us our sins,
and restore us to newness of life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
To all who turn to Him He says:
‘Your sins are forgiven.’ He also says: ‘Follow me’.

Our theme this time is Be fruitful !
Our first consideration of that is in our readings:

John 15: 1 – 8
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

1 John 4:7–21
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: in this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Hymn Complete Mission Praise 792
You are the vine
Danny Daniels and Randy Rigby
© 1982 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing / CopyCare
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCelXOcHkX8

Be fruitful !
I enjoy gardening. It is partly because I enjoy being outside, hearing birds and insects; hearing and feeling the effects of the weather (preferably sunshine!); and also watching how things grow and develop with incredible detail. You may be familiar with the poem “The Lord God planted a garden” by hymnwriter and poet Dorothy Frances Gurney (1858-1932), the last lines of which says:
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

I certainly enjoy my time in gardens, when it is possible, for a variety of reasons. I see so many metaphors within gardens and plants with spiritual analogies, and we shall explore some of those together today.
I am growing all sorts of things this year, having for the first time a walk-in greenhouse! (A green polytunnel type thing.) I have had some disappointments as well as some successes.
One of my favourites to grow are sweet peas. I remember my Grandma growing them, on a long construction of tall canes, at the edge of Grandad’s vegetable plot; she not only grew them but used them for flower arranging. After Brian and I got married, because I wanted to see them when stepping out of the side door of the house, I tried growing some in shallow planters placed at the edge of the drive, not too big so a car could get past. They didn’t do very well because there wasn’t much space for their roots and the soil dried out too easily. Years later, when we lived at a different house, I planted a row against a fence but decided to have some either side of the front door as well. This time they went into bigger tubs than my earlier experiment. Here I noticed something different; I had filled the pots with a mixture of compost and soil – one pot had more soil and the other comparatively more compost. I can’t remember which way round, but the plants in one pot grew more – but the other had more flowers, even though they both got the same amounts of light and water.

Be fruitful !
In our passage in John’s gospel, we hear Jesus using the vine as a spiritual picture. The grape vine was one of the symbols of the people of Israel. From the things I have learned over time, I cannot put is any better, or more succinctly than William Barclay in his “Daily Study Bible” commentary, so I am going to share some of what he says:
Jesus, as so often, is working in this passage with pictures and ideas which were part of the religious heriatage of the Jewish nation. Over and over again in the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard of God. ‘The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel’ (Isaiah 5:7). ‘Yet I planted you as a choice vine’ is God’s message to Israel through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:21)/ Ezekiel 15 likens Israel to the vine, as does Ezekiel 19:10. ‘Israel is a luxuriant vine,’ said Hosea (Hosea 10:1). ‘You brought a vine out of Egypt,’ sang the psalmist, thinking of God’s deliverance of his people from bondage (Psalm 80:8). The vine had actually become the symbol of the nation of Israel. It was the emblem on the coins of the Maccabees. One of the glories of the Temple was the great golden vine upon the front of the Holy Place. Many a great man had counted it an honour to give gold to mold a new bunch of grapes or even a new grape on to that vine. The vine was part and parcel of Jewish imagery, and the very symbol of Israel.
Jesus calls himself the true vine. The point of that word alēthinos – true, real, genuine – is this. It is a curious fact that the symbol of the vine is never used in the Old Testament apart from the idea of degeneration. The point of Isaiah’s picture is that the vineyard has run wild. Jeremiah complains that the nation has turned ‘degenerate and become a wild vine.’ It is as if Jesus said: ‘You think that because you belong to the nation of Israel you are a branch of the true vine of God. But the nation is a degenerate vine, as all your prophets saw. It is I who am the true vine. The fact that you are Jews will not save you. The only thing that can save you is to have an intimate living fellowship with me, for I am the vine of God and you must be branches joined to me.’ Jesus was laying it down that not Jewish blood but faith in him was the way to God’s salvation. No external qualification can set us right with God; only the friendship of Jesus Christ can do that.

Personally, I think ‘friendship’ significantly under-estimates the relationship we need with Jesus. But I find Barclay’s explanation of the symbolism of the grapevine very helpful.
Be fruitful !
Had we been together in a church building I would have asked if any of you grow grape vines, or ever have done? What, if anything, do you know about growing grapes? I knew very little before this week. I assumed they need a hot environment, but also plenty of water, and that they need some kind of support to grow on, and those things are correct. It turns out, that if you buy grapes with seeds in, the seeds should be viable and could be planted and grown. It seems, though, that the usual way of growing grape vines is through propagating cuttings. The process takes perseverance and attention. Cuttings are taken when the vine has become dormant, some will take root, some won’t.

John 15: 1+2 ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

Jesus alludes to the natural care of vines. Part of keeping a vine healthy is the process of pruning. Apparently it is important to prune new plants over the first three years, not allowing them to produce grapes, instead the vines need to be watered just sufficiently and fed in order to be nourished over this time in order to produce good fruit long term. After that vines are pruned for two particular reasons – first, because some branches simply do not have the capacity to bear fruit, so are “cut off” so that the vine’s effort to grow is focused in the fruit bearing branches; second, the fruit bearing branches are “pruned” to ensure that are nourished and healthy. The word for “pruned” here is also about being “clean.”

John 15: 3+4 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

Be fruitful !
Jesus, having made huge claim about himself being the true vine, the true Israel, goes on to stress how important it is to remain in him, or abide in him. The King James, and Revised Standard versions, translate the word as ‘abide.’ Jesus also introduces here the call to be fruitful.
I want to return to my sweet peas for a moment. They are grown for ornamental purposes, the ‘fruitfulness’ being in the yield of flowers. For there to be a good ‘harvest’ of flowers the plants need tending, some support, watering and feeding. Some have to be left to go to seed in order to be fruitful enabling there to be more plants and flowers another year. This year I am also having a go at growing peas, the vegetable. It is interesting to see that the initial growth is much more vigorous, and I am looking forward to seeing how they develop.

John 15: 5+6 5 ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

It is fairly obvious that for any plant to be fruitful it needs to remain attached to its main structure and roots. Jesus is stating the obvious that we need to remain/abide in him, as he in us. But the obvious here can also be challenging. My experience has been in my own Christian pilgrimage, that the more time spent consciously in God’s presence, the more growth and fruitfulness there is. However, there may be times when we don’t feel like making the effort to be consciously in God’s presence; there may be times when the circumstances of life make us tired or overwhelmed, physically or emotionally, and again we may not feel able to make the effort. I think in circumstances like these we need to trust in Jesus remaining/abiding in us, but we still need to be making the choice to remain/abide. In that abiding we gain nourishment from God, drawing on the life giving flow of water through the ‘True Vine.’
Interestingly, I have discovered that the branches that are “cut off” a vine are essentially useless. Nothing can be made from them because the wood is very soft, and they don’t even generate enough heat when they are burned to be of any use – hence, just thrown on a bonfire! 

Be fruitful !
John 15: 7+8 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Isn’t it amazing that how we life can give glory to the Father?! However, it is very important to pay attention to the “If” at the beginning of verse 7. When we abide/remain in him we are, as it were, in tune with God’s heart; in sync with his nature and will. So it stands to reason that whatever we ask in those circumstances will be in keeping with God’s nature and will, and would then naturally “bear much fruit.”
A few moments ago, I referred to drawing on the life giving flow of water through the ‘True Vine.’ Our passage from 1 John 4 speaks about love, love that comes from the Father, love that can be relied upon.

1 John 4:16 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

John 15: 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you.

These verses seems to me to have parallels; that to remain/abide in him, is also abiding in His love. I would like to suggest, that just as a vine needs physical water and nourishment, we need spiritual water and nourishment that is God’s love. In this way we can grow and be fruitful.

Be fruitful !
So, I have shared with you about different kinds of nurturing, feeding, and watering in regards to the sweet peas I have grown, and for grape vines. Different kinds of growing conditions; such as soil and watering bringing about different quantities of growth or fruitfulness; and the time and effort involved in bringing a vine properly to productive fruitfulness.
For churches to be growing is incredibly important to me. Growing spiritually, and hopefully numerically too. Church growth was the study theme for my sabbatical in 2018. There were several key factors that I found, including prayer, passionate faith in God, and the intention to grow! These are factors being like the growing conditions for vines. I have signed up to attend a LYSIG conference later this year, when hopefully Covid 19 will be under control. You may ask, “What is LYSIG?” The letters stand for “Leading your church into growth.” There is a specific prayer that I want to share with you, and to ask you to share with me. I will include this many times over the coming months, and it seems appropriate to share it with you for the first time in this act of worship.

Prayer for growth
God of mission, who, alone, brings growth to your church,
send your Holy Spirit to give vision to our planning,
wisdom to our actions, and power to our witness.
Help our church to grow in numbers, in spiritual commitment to you, and in service to our local community. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Be fruitful !

We share our next hymn in preparation for Holy Communion.

Hymn 447
I come with joy to meet my Lord,
Brian Wren (Born 1936)
© 1971 Stainer and Bell Ltd.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRL_fi52iQU

Holy Communion – Third URC order.

Gracious God, be present as we continue our worship at this Your table; as with penitent and forgiving hearts
we break bread and drink wine in Your name.
Fill us with Your Holy Spirit,
that our worship may truly express our love
for You and for one another.
Make us glad and give us joy and peace. Amen.

This sacrament reminds us that the ‘communion’ we share is with God and all God’s people. So let us bring to God our prayers for others:

Prayers of Intercession
Living Lord, we pray that You will uphold all who are down.
Lord, have mercy.
Upon the world’s poor and the unemployed,
Lord, have mercy.
Upon the homeless and the refugee,
Lord, have mercy.
Upon the war torn and the oppressed,
Christ, have mercy.
Upon the depressed and the despairing,
Christ, have mercy.
Upon the sinful and the sorrowful,
Christ, have mercy.
Upon the sick and the suffering,
Lord, have mercy.
Upon the diseased and the disgraced,
Lord, have mercy.
Upon the lonely and the dying,
Lord, have mercy.

Let us bring together our prayers, spoken and unspoken by sharing the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

The peace
The peace of the Lord be always with you.
And also with you.
The approach to Communion
As we gather at this table, we remember
that Jesus was born of Mary;
He lived our common life on earth;
He suffered and died for us;
on the third day God raised Him from the dead;
and He is always present with us through the Holy Spirit.
In His presence,
and in the company of all the people of God,
past, present, and to come,
we celebrate the Supper of the Lord.

‘Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking;
if you hear my voice and open the door,
I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.’
Revelation 3:20

Narrative of the Institution
Hear again the words of institution of this feast as they are given by the Apostle Paul:
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way he took the cup also after the supper, saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
1 Corinthians 11:23-6
Thanksgiving and Sharing
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

We give thanks to you, O God,
that from the earth you cause the grain to come
for the making of bread.
We praise you for Christ, the bread of life,
whose body was given for us.
By your Holy Spirit sanctify us and this bread,
that the bread that we break may be to us
the communion of the body of Christ,
and that we may be made one in Him.

As of old you fed your people in the wilderness,
so feed us now that we may live to your praise;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Break your bread:
When Jesus had given thanks,
he broke the bread and said:
‘Take, eat: this is my body which is given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.’
Eat your bread

We give thanks to you, O God,
that you cause the vine to yield fruit.
We bless you for Christ, the true vine,
whose blood was poured out for us.
By your Holy Spirit sanctify us and this wine,
that the cup which we bless may be to us
the communion of the blood of Christ,
and that through abiding in Him
we may bear fruit that shall last.
As we share the sufferings of Christ, so give us grace
that we may know the power of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Holding up your cup:
When Jesus had given thanks,
He gave the cup to His disciples and said:
‘Drink this, all of you;
for this is the cup of the new covenant sealed in my blood
which is shed for you and for many,
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this, as often as you drink it
in remembrance of me.’
Drink from your cup.

Prayer after Communion
Strengthen for service, Lord,
the hands that have taken holy things.
May the ears that have heard Your word
be deaf to clamour and dispute.
May the eyes that have seen Your great love
shine with the light of hope.
May the tongues that have sung Your praise
also speak the truth.
May the feet that have walked in Your house
ever walk in the light.
May the bodies that have tasted Your living body
be restored to newness of life.
Thanks be to God for His gift beyond words. Amen

Hymn Complete Mission Praise 522
1/3 O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free;
rolling as a mighty ocean
in its fullness over me.
Underneath me, all around me,
is the current of Thy love;
leading onward, leading homeward,
to my glorious rest above.

2/3 O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Spread His praise from shore to shore,
how He loveth, ever loveth,
changeth never, nevermore;
how He watches o’er His loved ones,
died to call them all His own;
how for them He intercedeth,
watches over them from the throne.

3/3 O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Love of every love the best:
‘tis an ocean vast of blessing,
‘tis a haven sweet of rest.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
‘tis a heaven of heavens to me;
and it lifts me up to glory,
for it lifts me up to Thee.
Samuel Trevor Francis (1934 – 1925)

Doxology and Blessing

Now to the king eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God,
be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

May the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
fill you with the fulness of love and peace
as you abide in Him. Amen.