When I heard about the harvest theme for today, I thought about corn. So, I found some corn to bring. It isn’t in season, but it is dried and saved for ornamental fall harvest baskets. So I wondered next about how I could connect corn with vines and branches, the theme verse for this Sunday. Then I realized, it doesn’t say “grape vines,” but just “vine.” Well, lots of things are connected by vines, or trunks or stems or stalks. It is the same image. I thought about corn, I’m sure, because I have come from Native American lands, and they have grown corn for centuries! It was a staple they taught the European immigrants to this land to grow.
I hate to admit it, but vine and branches had become an ordinary and not so thought-provoking metaphor for me. I know this because when I suddenly tried to apply the metaphor to corn, it came alive in a whole new way. The metaphor had just gotten sleepy for me. But corn was wide awake, and fresh in my memory, grown by native peoples for as long as we know.
One day about a month ago I visited several very old villages.
The houses were always on high places, often even built on the edge of a cliff.
Built of adobe or rock and mud. They were visible from a distance.
Then I went to Walnut Canyon, where there were supposed to be more ancient Pueblos. But I could not imagine where, in THIS canyon.
But look closer…
All around these canyon walls, homes were built into the crevices.
Homes like these,
the way, …
There was a family just ahead of me on the trail and they had so many questions! It was so fun to listen to them wonder about life up here on a canyon wall! The question that stumped them all (and me) they finally had a chance to ask a ranger on the way out. “The information signs say these people were farmers. Where did they farm?” I wondered the same thing. Where could they farm on these cliffs?
Up on the mesa tops! The rangers have planted some sample garden plots up on the rim, which I saw later. There were still beans and corn growing there! They used deer paths and crevices in the rock to move up and down the walls of the canyon – to get to the farms on the top and the walnut trees, and to hunt and fish on the bottom.
What it takes to sustain life! I can hardly imagine such a life – living under your corn fields and above your walnut groves!
The corn patches, I saw at all the Anasazi ruins. We can learn a lot of things about vines and branches by looking at corn.
So, what is a vine? Same thing as a stalk. It is that stick, or ropey connection between the dirt and the fruit.
Branches? Leaves are as close as corn gets to having branches, I think. Corn has one single stalk, which has leaves and bears fruit, both. With grapes, there is one main vine which connects to the ground, with lots of branch vines coming out of it which bear the fruit, called canes.
What does the vine do? Same as a stalk – it drinks up water and food from the roots in the ground. The roots travel around finding nutrients for the plant. Cacti actually send out new roots quickly whenever it rains, looking to capture more water, and they let some die when the ground is dry. Juniper trees can intentionally shut off water to some of their branches so that some of the tree will die to save the life of the rest of the tree!
Our connections to earth, with its water and food, are less obvious than the vine, the branches. We don’t have literal roots sunk into the soil. But Jesus said that our connection to his life works just the same way. He said, he was the vine, we are the branches. He draws up the water and nutrients from the life-giving soil and sends it to us branches. Just because we don’t have roots and stay in one place, doesn’t mean we don’t need the vine, the stalk, the trunk.
This vine and branches metaphor goes at least one step further in each direction before the circle is complete. Earth could be a metaphor for God. Jesus stays connected with God, where life comes from and passes it along to us. Why? To produce corn, fruit, flowers, beauty. And to link the circle, the branches produce seeds for the next round of crops. This is really obvious with corn. Corn plants only live for a few months, they produce all those seeds in the head of corn, and then they die. But their life continues in the seed. Corn and grapes are the same that way.
Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we are remembering, reconnecting, with the pipeline of life, keeping God’s life flowing through us, as we return thirsty from producing and scattering seeds, feeding the world, and even offering shade and protection to the weak. It is all one life we share – the life of God, breathed into creation from the very beginning, moving through us and returning to God, with thanksgiving and praise.
As we take the cup today, remember that it is Creator’s life flowing through you because Jesus was tapped into it deep and strong. And gives God’s life to us so that we can be God’s life “above ground” – visible – in this world.
… Pastor Carley, from the Family Service on November 6, 2016
with a few photos from her sabbatical