I sometimes imagine Jesus when, after instituting the Last Supper, He walked with His disciples through the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane where He would later, after heart-wrenching prayer, be arrested and His Passion would begin. The Valley would have been a place where grape vineyards flourished. Here Jesus would have walked slowly but purposefully, all the while teaching His beloved disciples some of the final lessons He had to give them.
John 15 finds Jesus talking to His friends about the Vine and the Branches, one of the most repeated and revered of His teachings. We can picture Him, pausing for a moment in the moonlight to reach out for one of the branches, heavy with fruit. Holding it in His hands, perhaps lifting it up so the light of the moon could cast a reflection on it and the disciples could see His sermon illustration, He said,
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit… Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
Jesus is the Vine and His Father and my Father is the vinedresser. And I am but a branch who can do nothing on my own but connected to my Vine Jesus, I can bear much fruit. In his reflections on this passage, Andrew Murray, a 19th and early 20th century South African writer, teacher, and Christian pastor, said this, “A branch is simply a bit of wood …”
A bit of wood, that’s me. Just a bit of wood. So how does this help me today? How does this word encourage me?
Sometimes the life of ministry is, well, overwhelming. There are people all around with needs which are great and some dire. There is so much hurt in the world in which we live. There are those who need to be taught, or loved, or comforted, or corrected, or converted, or listened to, or just hugged. And I am often aware that I don’t have to give them what they need. Though they come, though God sends them, I am but a “bit of wood, that’s me.”
And somehow that knowledge brings to me realize that all this “bit of wood” can really do is yield and surrender to the Spirit who connects me to the Vine. And when I do that — when I choose surrender over effort, resting in Him over working harder for Him, abiding in Him over doing it my way — I sense and see the Spirit flowing through me. The days are still long but somehow there are enough hours to accomplish what He sets before me. Somehow there are words which come at the right moment, words that help or heal or bring wisdom or offer hope. Somehow a touch releases more than me, but releases a power that is clearly not me … but Another.
The longer I minister, the more I reach out to fulfill the purpose God has for my life, the more deeply I realize that I am but “a bit of wood, that’s me.” But what God the Vinedresser can do with just a bit of wood who is connected to the Vine is a lovely thing, as lovely as were the grapes Jesus held in His hand that night in the Kidron Valley.
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.