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The Eighth Sunday after Trinity
By W. J. Hankey
from COMMON PRAYER, Volume Six:  Parochial Homilies for the Eucharist 
Based on the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer, 1962, Canada. (p. 115-117)
St. Peter Publications Inc. Charlottetown, PEI, Canada.  Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
I am the vine, ye are the branches. Abide in me and I in you, 
for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15.5,4)

How do vines know to cling to what is firm and unmovable?  How do plants know to grow toward the light, and how do wild animals understand they must flee burning fire?  Why do birds fly north in summer and south in winter, and not contrariwise?  Nature teaches them, we say. God has planted into each natural thing such good instincts as enable it to avoid, put away from itself,” all hurtful things and to seek “those things which be profitable for it.”  But what about humankind?  How does the never-failing good providence and care of God so arrange things for us that we shun the hurtful and seek what is good for us?

This season of the Christian year, like the natural season, is concerned with growth.  This is why the colour of the season is green.  Indeed, our Lord goes so far as to compare himself to a living thing:

I am the vine, my father is the husbandman, every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit he purgeth it (prunes it), that it may bring forth more fruit . . . . I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15. 1,2 and 5)
In last week’s collect, we pray God to “graft us” by love into Jesus, the true vine, to make us grow up filled with his life, “increasing us in true religion.”  We ask him to nourish us with the strength and goodness which rises through Jesus into us, and to keep us in that same vine safe from storms and disease until we yield the fruit of everlasting life.

Our new life begins, according to this image, with grafting: cutting a branch out of the tree or vine which produced it and making it grow from a new tree.  The grafting is, in our case, cutting us out of the tree of our weak and diseased human nature.  The tree of human nature is so weak and diseased that it does not know how to grow toward the light, its roots are so shallowly planted in good soil that it cannot properly nourish the grapes on the vine, therefore they are bitter and sour.  If a branch on the human tree is to produce full, sweet, good fruit, it must be cutout of the tree of the old Adam and be grafted into the new human nature of Christ, pure and strong.  Of course, grafting requires cutting not only the branch, but also the new host tree. Jesus is cut open for us on the cross; we are grafted into his wounded side from which flowed water and blood.  The water is the baptism of a new life; the blood is the nourishing strength of this holy sacrament of the altar, the communion of the cup of everlasting salvation.

But what has all this to do with today’s collect, with the providence of God by which we avoid hurtful things and seek what is good and profitable for us?  The difference between humans and the rest of material creation is that we humans cannot live by instinct.  As psychologists say, our behaviour is learned.  Our consciences warn us against evil, and nudge us toward the good, but our consciences are often confused.  Humans have so many ways and habits of life — what we now call life styles —that discriminating the good directions from the bad is so difficult as to be impossible by human power.

Today’s Gospel and Epistle are about the two aspects of discriminating and choosing the way to grow straight and strong and fruitful.  First there is the theoretical aspect.  We must know the good direction and be able to distinguish it from all the false ways which are only apparently good. “Beware of false prophets,” says Jesus, which come to you beautiful and innocent in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ravening wolves who will eat you alive.  And when we do know the difference, we have still before us the second aspect, the practical.  The will must be trained. We have the problem of training the vine to grow toward the warm light of the sun. We have still the long, hard, practical work to do.  We must turn from the ways of the flesh to those of the spirit.  Our bodies and our minds must be changed in all their habits and associations.  We must kill, mortify, eat away what is evil and turn and cling to what is good.  This is the way to come home to our heavenly Father, home to where we are heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ, branches of his vine. Branches who, because with him they have died unto this world and its habits, will also be glorified with him by a new and endless life.

The good is hard to attain. To discern the difference between the apparent and the real good and, having distinguished the two, to cut ourselves away from the hurtful and grow bit by bit toward the true good, to live by its strength and nourishment, to be filled with the good and nothing else until the great harvest, all this is impossible for human nature. Most of us have been raised in such a way that our consciences, or moral instincts, and habits of life have been formed and shaped by Christian society: a society that regarded the marriage as a permanent union in, which husband and wife could entrust themselves, a society that regarded innocent life as sacred, violence and cheap destructive thrills as evils to be kept away from all, a society that stopped work on Sunday to thank God for his goodness.  All this is now past or passing.  We make divorce easy, abortion accessible. Violence in music and television is the stuff on which our children are raised.  Drugs and cheap thrills are our entertainment, and commerce consumes our whole lives.  Think how such a society forms the conscience.

The society in which the post-war generation was raised was the moral and ethical remains of two thousand years of Christian civilization.  We have now spent almost that whole capital. And now our only hope lies in returning to that Christian vine from which we have cut ourselves off.  Our hope is to be so firmly grafted into Christ by love, that we will daily grow up in his religion and be nourished by nothing except his goodness.  Our prayer is to be so well fixed in Christ, our vine, that the habits of his life will keep us from all things hurtful and make us cling to all that will enable us to become heirs of everlasting life with God.  Amen.