Due to technical difficulties, there is no sermon recording this week
Gospel: John 15:1-8
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
Afterthoughts: The Pruning
I spoke on Sunday about being connected to God as it relates to Jesus’ teaching from John chapter 15. Connection to God is essential for a life of faith (and I would argue for all of life as well).
As a reminder,
· Connection gives us opportunities to be guided, directed and used by God.
· Connection teaches us who we are called to (the other).
· Connection shows us what love is.
· Connection makes it possible to abide in God.
It cannot be emphasized enough that being connected to God is essential to walking this journey of faith.
One of the potential problematic issues with the Gospel reading from John 15 is the part that talks about pruning and burning. I know that some people find that very confusing and maybe even a bit troubling. Because of this, I would like to take a closer look at it.
Here is the full reading from last Sunday.
Jesus said to his disciples, ”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”John 15:1-8
Now, to the two parts that can be hard to understand…
“He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”
If you have ever seen grapevines in the fall after the harvest, they resemble a bramble patch with sticks going everywhere. The only thing left is a skeletal structure that once supported the fruit and the big, beautiful leaves. In order to prepare for the next season’s harvest, the branches must be cut back. This promotes better growth for the plant and a higher return for the next season.
If a branch looks infected or diseased, it is cut back even further.
An unmitigated disease or infection in one part of the plant will, eventually, cause issues for the rest of the plant.
Jesus says the Gardener (the Father)…literally, the earth-worker, removes the unfruitful branches from the plant. This is a common practice among all gardeners. You want the energy of the plant to go towards those parts of the plant that are healthy and bearing fruit.
So gardeners will examine the plant and thin out the potential fruit bearing parts based on their health.
What does this have to do with us?
We were meant to bear fruit,
Which is to say that our lives were meant to impact others around us.
And God will do whatever it takes to help us get there.
Pruning us if necessary.
Have you ever been pruned in your life?
Cut deep by trials?
Suffer a “setback” in your advancing career?
These things are meant to make us stronger,
To make it possible for our lives to be more fruitful.
James says it this way in chapter 1, verses 2 through 4,
“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
It seems odd to consider something as joy that could be so difficult.
But it works to make us “mature and complete” so that we do not lack that which is necessary for our lives.
So the Father, in a loving act, prunes us to make us stronger.
And if there is no fruit,
He removes us.
For our sake.
And for the sake of others.
So that we might re-engage, again, the life of faith.
God will not force you and I to be in a relationship with Him.
He will let you and I make choices apart from Him.
And when we do, we no longer are a part of what God is doing.
But, we must remember that there is always an invitation to enter back in to the love of the Father.
Okay, Second (and related to the last point that was just made),
“Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
This is a harder verse to understand and come to terms with as it relates to our lives.
It must be understood in the context of this illustration or it appears to be talking about Hell and damnation.
In context, Jesus is talking about abiding.
Making our home in Jesus.
Making ourselves at home in Jesus.
This is intimate language.
When we abide, we are connected.
When we are connected, we bear fruit.
When we are disconnected, that is to say, when we do not abide in Jesus, our lives, naturally, wither and we are like a dry branch.
The Message translates it in this way,
“Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood”
It really has no purpose.
Or maybe better said,
It cannot fulfill the purpose for which it exists.
To bear fruit.
To live in the abundance of God’s design.
Being separated naturally leads to a drying up.
When we disconnect,
We are separated from that which gives us life.
And we are left on our own.
Of this, Jesus says,
“Apart from me you can do nothing.”
I think this may be a nice way of saying “Good luck.”
It is not what God wants.
But we can choose it.
And be on our own.
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
We can be connected.
We can be healthy.
We can bear fruit.
We can have a life that is fulfilled
and impact others so that their lives are fulfilled too.
And on, and on, and on.
God calls us to abide.
And benefit from being connected.
To experience the joy of a life redeemed.
To manifest the fruitful living that comes from an intimate relationship with the Creator.