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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr. David's sermon

9th January 2005

Fr David Shepherd

Covenant Service

'Jesus said to his disciples: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower."' Jn15.1

Back in the autumn half term we took our children to Hampton Court Palace. Unfortunately the maze was shut for restoration but that apart there were still plenty of nooks and crannies to fascinate two boys with all sorts of echoes from history. One thing I'd missed from an earlier visit is the vine. It dates from the end of the C17th and is thus the oldest in England. It fills a large glasshouse and provides an impressive crop of grapes. (I can't remember how many.) Its roots are outside in a large area of soil kept free from other plants so as to ensure it has plenty of water. You can trace the vine from the new growth through to the thick old gnarled trunk where it enters the ground.

I was reminded of that ancient and regal vine when I read today's gospel passage from St. John where he records one of Jesus' many epiphanies. In this 'I am' saying Jesus reveals himself as the true vine thereby giving us a picture of the Church of which we are all a part.

I take it that the compilers of this Covenant Service chose this passage because it shows us how it is possible to be people of the New Covenant, of Jesus Christ who is God's gracious gift to us.

In the earlier passage from Deuteronomy we read of the Old Covenant given through Moses to the people of Israel in the Law. 'Obey the laws, live like this and all will go well with you in the land I am going to give you', is God's message to his people. As we know only too well the people of Israel were flesh and blood like us and therefore unable as sinful creatures to keep the promise. All did not (and does not) go well.

In and through the experience of exile Israel began to look forward to the future intervention of God in history something that we find articulated by the prophets. In the prophecy given through Jeremiah God speaks of how he will bring about a New Covenant with his people. His promise is that through a kind of spiritual heart transplant we will come to know him with the intimacy and mutuality of which a good marriage is but a hint. Our belief is that he does this through the person of Jesus.

Once we accept this then our lives are transformed. Again it is God's work in us but one that requires our acceptance and cooperation. St. Paul, addressing the Romans put it like this: 'Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and true.' Rom.12.2

At this point we arrive back at our staring point: St. John's Gospel and Jesus' self-description as the 'true vine'. By picking out a few words we can discover how by God's grace we can live out our calling as people of the new covenant.

As people of the New Covenant we find ourselves part of the true vine that is Christ. We ask that God will prune away and burn all in our lives that get in the way of growth and fruitfulness. We rejoice that Jesus makes his home in us so we can be at home with him and with one another.

I'm not sure whether wine was ever made from the grapes grown at Hampton Court. No doubt the dessert grapes have graced many a banquet in earlier years. That earlier epiphany recorded by St. John tells how Jesus turned the water into wine at the marriage feast at Cana. As people of the New Covenant Jesus calls us to share in the Heavenly banquet in the new wine of the Kingdom.


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