Today is our Motto Text and Covenant Sunday here at Abbey. A Motto Text is meant to be some kind of inspirational text to carry/encourage us through the coming year. The dictionary defines a ‘motto’ as ‘a short sentence or phrase chosen as encapsulating the beliefs or ideals of an individual, family, or institution e.g. the family motto is ‘Faithful though Unfortunate’. A Motto Text should have clear prophetic element to it because it should be selected thoughtfully and prayerfully as God’s ‘now word’ for a particular people at particular time … which brings us to this year’s Motto Text here at Abbey: ‘Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall’ (Genesis 49:22 NIV).
The context is the impending death of Jacob who calls his sons to his bedside in order to bless them before dies (Genesis 49). Such a blessing was not simply a father’s best wishes for his sons’ futures but God’s blessing – Jacob was the conduit, channel, vehicle, instrument of God’s blessing upon his sons (as the passage makes clear). Jacob blesses each of his sons in turn and each blessing is both ‘appropriate’ (v.28) to each particular son … and prophetic in as much as to some extent it foretells (both the good and the bad) the future e.g. Reuben is promised much but throws away God’s blessing (vs.3,4) whereas Joseph is promised a fruitful future but warned that his future will not be easy, although God’s ongoing blessing (blessings after blessing after blessing) will see him through victoriously (vs.22-26). I am concentrating on the first part of Jacob’s blessing for Joseph (v.22) because (as I waited prayerfully on God) it seemed particularly appropriate for us at Abbey at this particular time in our history, our story – ‘fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, [a fruitful vine] whose branches climb over [the] wall’.
Now it is vitally important for us to ‘be in the blessing’. Blessing (i.e. God’s blessing) here carries sense of being in the flow of God’s grace, God’s favour, God’s Spirit – not just being in the blessing ourselves but carrying that blessing to others. As the old hymn puts it: ‘Channels only blessed Master but with all thy wonderous power, flowing through us, thou canst use us, every day and every hour!’ So, let’s get to the text itself (v.22) … what is God seeking to say to us here … what is his ‘now word’ to us?
Let’s begin by noting the significance of Joseph here – a type of people/person totally committed to God/kingdom of God (not perfect but committed). Why is Joseph so prominent here? He is not the eldest (Reuben), nor the favourite (Benjamin), or even the one from whom the Christ would come (Judah)? Yet there is more about him here than any other brother. Well, Joseph is the ‘key player’ in the game at this specific time. He is the only one strong enough to keep the whole thing together for the conceivable future. God (not just Jacob) needed a committed Joseph to see his plans/purposes for the future through to the next stage. As such [bearing in mind that today is our Covenant Sunday], Joseph is a ‘type’ of the committed people/church/Christian/Church Member that God is looking for today and every day. Akin to that which we see in the early church (Acts 2:42-47). But how can we live this way? Well, we do so on the basis of the prophetic promises made to Joseph (for his ministry/mission) that find here in Genesis 49:22.
A FRUITFUL VINE. Joseph would be a ‘fruitful vine’. He would live a fruitful life in every way imaginable: progeny, character, influence. And in much the same way, we too, are to be fruitful. I am reminded of Jesus Parable of ‘The Vine and the Branches’ (John 15). The New Testament envisages the Christian/Christian Church as being fruitful in three specific ways:
The Fruit of a Changed Life: When the Pharisees professed genuine repentance before John the Baptist he told them to ‘Go away and demonstrate it by the fruit of a changed life!’ (Matthew 3:8). We need to ‘Walk the walk, and not just talk the talk!’.
The Fruit of a Christlike Character: Paul (in his Letter to the Galatian Church) contrasts the way we used to live with way we now live since we have committed our lives to Jesus Christ. He reminds us that the ‘Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control’ (Galatians 5:22,23). In reality there is only one fruit ‘Love’. Someone once put it this way: ‘Joy is love singing; Peace is love resting; Patience is love enduring; Kindness is love’s touch; Goodness is love’s character; Faithfulness is love’s habit; Gentleness is love forgetting itself; Self-control is love holding the reins.’
The Fruit of Others Won for Jesus: Paul writes to Church in Rome about his impending visit and says one of the reasons why wants to come to them is so that ‘I might have some fruit among you’ (Romans 1:13 KJV). Paul wanted to see more people in Rome won for Christ. With all our emphasis on social action here at Abbey, we must never forget that supremely we are here to win others for Christ. To see men/women/young people come to know God in Christ for themselves.
A FRUITFUL VINE NEAR A SPRING. Joseph’s fruitfulness came about as result of living in the blessing of God, the God who ‘blesses you with the blessings of heaven above’ blessing after blessing after blessing (v.24). The Psalmist speaks of a tree whose fruitfulness is the direct result of being planted by a stream (Psalm 1:3). Our minds go immediately to Jesus’ words at Feast of Tabernacles: ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow up from within them’ (John 7:37,38). And John adds, ‘By this he meant the [Holy Spirit]’ (v.39). Now every Christian has the Holy Spirit, but, to quote A W Tozer, ‘Every Christian has the Holy Spirit … but the Holy Spirit does not have every Christian!’ Many of us need to experience (what Watchman Nee) calls ‘The Release of the Spirit’. A surrendering of ourselves to God in such a way that we allow God to work in us and through us rather than attempting to do things in our own strength, wisdom, ways!
A FRUITFUL VINE, NEAR A SPRING, WHOSE BRANCHES CLIMB OVER A WALL: Joseph’s influence was never meant to be contained within his own family/people/nation. Israel’s calling was to be ‘a light to the nations’ (Isaiah 60:3) and at times they were just that. Overall, however, they failed to be that, hence Jesus’ dramatic prophetic enactment in driving the money changers and traders from the Temple, that Israel ‘rather than be a house of prayer for all nations had become a den of thieves’ (Matthew 21:13). Rather like Reuben they promised much but achieved little, resisting God’s prophetic promises.
God’s vision for his Church is that we should grow numerically as well as spiritually and that the Gospel was for ‘every nation’ (Matthew 28:19,20). The church is not meant to be a ‘holy huddle’ keeping ourselves to ourselves. We too are meant to be a fruitful vine … whose branches climb over the walls we tend to build for ourselves. It has been wonderful to see so many different nationalities beginning to worship with us here at Abbey. Our premises being used to serve others as we partner with Reading Red Kitchen and Care4Calais, Reading Refugee Support Group, and 2:19 (with our Abbey iCaf English Conversation Café). It is not by chance that all this has come about since we committed ourselves, as a church, to transitioning into an international, intercultural church and prayer centre. The branches are well and truly climbing over the wall … long may it continue … and long may we, as individuals and as a gathered community, be committed to Christ, to each other, and to the missio Dei!