Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Best Vintages by Linden Malki

A great sage was asked about the difference between Heaven and Hell. “Imagine a banquet,” he replied. Everyone around a great table, steaming bowls of delicious stew on the table, everyone there has a long spoon. The problem is that it is strapped to their hand in a way that the diners can't get the spoon to their mouths, so they are all sitting there starving. This is what Hell is like. Now imagine another banquet, the same table, the same stew, the same spoons. But here, everyone is happy and well fed. But here, everyone is feeding someone else. This is Heaven”.

Jesus told His disciples that the key to His Kingdom is that we are servants, each of the others. What are our family, or church, or organization gatherings like? Squabbling about who sits where? Is the “best” food intended to be admired or enjoyed? How much of the conversation is trying to impress others? Do we dress to be admired, or to be able to help out if needed? Do we do what needs to be done, or what we think someone ought to want done because we always know best? It usually boils down to whether our first concern is ourselves, others, or the best interests of all.

Underlying all this is our understanding of who we really are, and what are we called to do? If we are the center of our universe, and are entitled to what we want, and want to do it all ourselves, we are not truly connected the way we were designed to be.
God made us for His Kingdom, which involves seeking His Will and operating in His strength. But it gets better. Jesus began by preaching the Good News of the Kingdom. At the end, His last night with His disciples, He moved from a social relationship to a more integral relationship: I am the Vine, you are the branches. (John 15) Think about the difference: a Kingdom is made up of subjects. A vine is made of branches and leaves and grapes that are a living part of the vine.  Look at the vine: the roots and trunk suck up the water and nutrients from the soil. If that doesn't happen, the vine dies. But when the roots and trunk are sound, branches grow and support leaves and fruit. The leaves open to the sun and combine that energy with the water from the roots and chemicals from the air to make the good stuff that grows into grapes. We may be branches, the framework of the vine. We may be leaves, working to combine the various pieces God provides so that fruit may form. And we may be grapes, turning what the rest of the vine produces into fat, sweet, fruit--but the quality of that fruit is dependent on all the other things that go to grow the vine.

Jesus even says that a branch that is not connected to the trunk is useless. Even a branch that may still be hanging on, if it doesn't support the leaves and fruit needs to be pruned. If the leaves don't get enough water, they will die. But there are times that the leaves are designed to turn beautiful colors and drop, but the vine will survive and produce fresh leaves in the spring. We may have seasons where we change and go dormant, but God can still bring a springtime.  And fruit!  One of the interesting things about grapes is that every season's fruit is different, and fruit that may not look as fat and healthy as another crop's may produce an outstanding wine; another may only be fit for vinegar. An expert can tell from the final product which vineyard and what season produced them.  The vintages that God produces are each distinctive, just like His Children.

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