Fifth Sunday of Easter
JN 15:1-8
April 29, 2018

It is being widely reported that the cost for a bottle (or box) of cheap wine is about to rise faster than the price of a gallon of gas. The reason is the weather. Hail storms and freezing temperature during the 2017 growing season resulted in an extremely poor harvest of grapes worldwide. Italy, the largest producer of wine, suffered a 21% reduction causing the cost for a bottle of ordinary table wine to skyrocket by 74%. Things are no better south of the equator. South Africa, also a major wine producer, has suffered drought conditions. And across the ocean, California grapes also went thirsty (a single grape needs 1/3 of a gallon of water to mature) last year due to drought. Wildfires added to the crisis. Although grapevines do not burn easily, and in some cases, vineyards actually served as nature’s “firewalls,” helping to impede the progress of the fires, still, there is something called “smoke taint” that threatens the quality of the wine made from exposed grapes. The good news is that grapevines are resilient, lasting between 50 and 100 years, if they survive total destruction. They simply need to be pruned!

Unless you are a frequent consumer of cheap wine, on its face, this information might be of little interest to you, until you consider the fact that EVERYTHING affects EVERYTHING else. Somehow, this crisis in the world’s vineyards will impact the cost of glass, cardboard, labeling, transportation, labor, etc., etc., etc.

More importantly, Jesus uses the image of a grape vineyard in the Gospel for this 5th Sunday of the Easter Season that enables us to shift from cheap wine to cheap grace.

“Cheap Grace” was an expression introduced into God Talk (theological discussions) by German Protestant minister and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Before suffering a martyr’s death in a Nazi concentration camp, he wrote a book entitled The Cost of Discipleship. There, he defines cheap grace as the attitude: “Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness.” In other words: cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer continued: Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Not all theologians agree with this thinking…but it is certainly something to think about!

Jesus seems to be inviting us to imagine our spiritual lives as a vineyard, planted and growing under the constant assault of bad weather, pestilence, and even forest fires that might not destroy us but leave our spirits “smoke tainted.” So, as long as we remain attached to THE ROOT…we will survive. Still, if we are to produce quality fruit, we need to be pruned. That part of us that has suffered damage due to the hostile environment we live and grow in has to be cut away. And pruning takes work.

When the just and merciful judge takes a sip of our lives, will He taste cheap wine? Will we offer God something fouled and “smoke tainted”…like vinegar, or will God delight in what we offer and place us among those considered to be “vintage” Christian lives?