Easter 5B, 2009
John 15:1-8

A Liturgy is available HERE


“The art of community is the art of the soul, and community is what happens
when deep, invisible bonds are shared...”
(Tacey 2003:217).

When Tarzan swung from them, they were a mode of jungle transportation.
When my mate Bob asked Ross and I to dig it out
        from the front garden of his home in suburban Epping,
        it was nothing short of a pain in the...

Well, I’ll leave the rest of that to your imagination.

The image of a vine, played with by the storyteller we call
John in this morning’s gospel story, is also 
        a rich source of reflection and comment on ‘community’.

So, what is happening here?
Let me offer a few tentative suggestions.
        You might like to ponder them some time.


I want to suggest that storyteller John
has taken the image of a vine, an organic image,
and used it to talk about community, about society, about family.
        And to suggest life or society or family
        is about interrelationship, mutuality, and well-being.

And a bit more.
That such an image invites us to sense the ‘divine’ or the ‘sacred’
        as beneath and around us, rising up,
        rather than above us, condescending. (William Loader web site, 2009)

And still a bit more.
That relationship is what matters, and what flows from those relationships.

Now much of this is not new.
Either to this week’s gospel story or to the Jesus story as a whole.

But that’s John’s world.
What about our modern, secular world and
        our sense of community,
        our sense of society.

Where might all this, touch the raw edges of our everyday, 21st century, life.

Well... the vine or ‘organic’ metaphor is a strong challenge
to those contemporary Western corporate and political leaders of society who tend to argue that:
“the well-being of society as a whole will be maximized only through a corporation’s self-interested me-first pursuit of profit.” 
(Lerner 2006:104)

Indeed, it is not only a difference of opinion about what constitutes ‘society’ 
or ‘community’, but a clash of values as well, as is now coming
        to the surface in the current economic ‘crash’.

One set of values, based on ‘consumerism’ and modern individualism, believes that:
•  all persons should be responsible for themselves 
and look after their own interests;

•  help given to others for nothing in return 
only diminishes the initiative of such people and leads them 
into a permanent state of dependency;

•  efficiency is the key to a healthy economy, and

•  competition is one of the chief techniques for promoting efficiency, 
so competition must be increased. 

The other set of values, based on respect for the sacred in the other, calls for: 
•  co-operation instead of competition;

•  a vision which says look after others as much as ourselves;

•  a recognition that we have a common destiny or no destiny at all; and

•  justice and fairness in all our dealings.

Now of course, as many others have pointed out quiet clearly,
and New Zealand theologian Lloyd Geering being one of them,
        it is much easier to name the social values we need
        than to put them into practice.

Just as it is much easier to analyse the situation than to change it.

So, let me continue by sharing with you how one Australian
has tried to live ‘community’ for the common good.


Noel Preston survived Joe Bjelke-Peterson’s ‘right wing/conservative’ Queensland. 
It was not easy, retaining his personal integrity during those dark days!

But after it was all over he put together in a book
some of the stories and events which shaped his life back then.

Published some years ago now, the book is called:
Beyond the Boundary. A Memoir Exploring Ethics, Politics and Spirituality.

As you can probably imagine, it covers a lifetime
of events - celebratory and wounding - as one person seeks to
        make sense not only of his own, individual life, but also to
        make sense of this life lived in relationship with many others.

In a kind of personal credo, Noel Preston offers
these thoughts on, or characteristics of, a renewed 21st century faith.

1. Eco-centric and not anthropocentric
That is, it rejects human-centred theology, which subtly endorses
our species’ destructive dominance of nature,
in favour of a view which takes seriously the
intrinsic value of all life.

2. Inclusive not exclusive
Not just in a gender, race or species sense, but also, in
recognising that the truth to live by may be
revealed in varying and multiple ways.

3. Mystical rather than literalist
That is, it centres on an experience of the sacred in the
midst of life’s uncertainties, triggered more by cosmic
connectedness with other creatures
than by codified religious forms.

4. The goodness of life rather than its undeniable tragedy
This suggests that life’s purpose is more about celebrating
original goodness rather than seeking
salvation from original sin.

Noel Preston’s vision of a renewed 21st century faith
is based on a sense of community built around the ideal of love.
And it invites being understood in political, economic and social terms
“as a community of eco-justice.” 
(Preston 2006:296)

While some argue such a faith is too removed from
traditional or fundamentalist religious thought, as if that is a negative,
        I reckon it is not far from the re-imagined sense of community,
        the Galilean sage from Nazareth inspired
                    in a storyteller we call John.

For community is what happens when deep, invisible bonds,
like that of a vine, are embraced and shared,
rising up around, among, within us, where.
“the well-being of others contributes directly to the well-being of oneself.”
 (Birch & Cobb 1981:277)

May it be so for us as well, in all our living.
As we seek to keep the vision of community alive.
“...Come, my friends.  ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.” (Tennyson, quoted in Preston 2006:307)

Birch, L. C. & J. B. Cobb Jr. The Liberation of Life. From the Cell to the CommunityNew York. Cambridge University Press, 1981.
Lerner, M. The Left Hand of God. Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right
New York. HarperSanFrancisco, 2006.
Preston, N. Beyond the Boundary. A Memoir Exploring Ethics, Politics and Spirituality
Burleigh. Zeus Publications, 2006.
Tacey, D. J. The Spirituality Revolution. The Emergence of Contemporary Spirituality
Sydney. HarperCollins, 2003.