A few days ago in my exercise class we were asked to do mountain climbers at the same time we did planks while bracing our forearms on the stability ball.
I expect even if you have no idea of what I’m talking about you can guess it wasn’t easy.
For you see, my ‘core strength’, while improving, is still lousy. I’ve gotten to where I can do a ‘plank’ on my knees and hold it for a while, but on Monday we were asked to do a full plank extension braced against a stability ball (which by its very nature is unstable ) and then to bring our legs forward as if we were climbing a mountain. I did it. Still, I’m not quite sure how.
Over and over again I’ve been told how important are those deep muscles in our torsos. Those ‘core’ muscles’ in my abdomen and my back are what give me strength and balance, both of which diminish over time and disuse. Indeed, our instructor will shout at us several times a session, “Take care of your body, and it will take care of you!”
Only I expect most of the time we don’t think about those muscles so much, even though when you stand still and consider it, you know you are using them all the time. Perhaps it’s only when they become so weak that we can’t do the things we once took for granted that we realize how important they are.
In fact, it wasn’t so many years ago when I began experiencing back trouble. My work at then had me on the road a great deal: often several hundred miles a day. When I spoke of it, my boss told me I needed to go home and do sit-ups. I remember thinking his response was not terribly sympathetic… I was blaming my pain on the poor back support in the driver’s seat of the car I had to drive. I was blaming it on the many, many miles that were mine to cover in order to fulfill the obligations of the work I was called to. I didn’t want to take responsibility for the fact that as I grew older I simply hadn’t given much thought to maintaining my core strength. And so I never did do those sit-ups and instead spent time and money on a chiropractor to address the strain in my back.
I think sometimes that it is not so different with the image before us in this Gospel lesson. I am a little familiar with grapevines for when I was growing up we had an arbor in our back yard. However, much of the time I spent back there was in the warmth of summer when the vine and branches both were all but invisible because of their foliage. Come September all we thought about was the fruit: the ‘harvest’ that was ours to help cut from those branches. To be sure, my dad would tend to the vine and the branches. Every New Year’s Day he could be found pruning those branches to ensure they continued to bear fruit. As for me? I never thought about it much.
Perhaps I’m not alone and that is partly why Jesus so aptly compares himself to a vine today. For Jesus can, in fact, also be mostly invisible: hidden even by the fruit of the gifts he brings. Still, if we stand still and consider it for just a moment, we remember that without Jesus our strength and balance, our very ability to bear fruit, is utterly gone.
Indeed, the central gift and demand of the Gospel image before us today is that we are told to ‘abide’ in Jesus — that we are to stay connected to the vine. For while actual branches of vines have no choice in the matter, you and I do. And while there is no means by which you and I can strengthen the vine in the way that we can strengthen our core muscles, by simply taking time to stand still and remember Jesus is there; by turning to our Lord in worship and prayer; by going deep into the Word — not only for our next preaching or teaching responsibility, but simply as a matter of fact on own journeys, we ‘abide.’ Unlike those core muscles which hold me up and enable me to move, Jesus will not weaken. But like those core muscles, I need, at least, to pay attention to the Vine, to Jesus, “apart from whom I can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Amen.
- How do you experience Jesus as your ‘core strength’ or your vine?
- ‘Core strength’ may be another way to think about the vine. Can you think of others?
- When Jesus says that apart from him we can do nothing, what do you think he means?
- What do you do to ‘abide’ in Jesus?