April 29th, 2018
“Bear Good Fruit”
The Gospel According to John 15:1-8
Sermon by pastor Tim
“Hear now these ancient words from the gospel account according to John, chapter fifteen, verses one thru eight.”
15” I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower.
2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.
Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.
3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.
4 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.
5 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.
6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
“Having heard today’s reading with our ears, let us now open our hearts and minds to its relevant meaning to us in our current time, in the Twenty-First Century.”
“Bear Good Fruit”
When I was a young lad I didn’t know much about being part of a team. I was always a loner, kind of a shy kid. I learned the hard way from my brother, that loners can appear to be rude and be seen as kind of standoffish. It took a while, quite a while actually before I learned to socialize and take part in community and social events. But, it was a really long time before I learned how to be part of a team and contribute to the common goals of a team. This lesson can easily be applied to the life of a church like our own. Learning to be a part of a team, and not try to ‘go it alone,’ is a vital part of building a healthy church. It is a well know, yet, a commonly ignored ‘fact’ that church communities thrive on team work. Unfortunately, a lot of churches find it really difficult to build up their teams and keep them focused on their common goals.
“Do you consider yourself a team player or a loner?” /Larry Broding/ One theologian put this out there as a question in his comments about our scripture lesson today. At first, I was uncertain as to what to do with this thought. When I look at a twisted ‘bunch of vines and branches’ I do not automatically think of a team. These vines and their branches look more like mass confusion at first glance. They twist and turn and wrap around each other in a seemingly unorganized and chaotic fashion! I would not answer yes to being part of this kind of team, based on my first observation. However, it seems apparent that the author of this lesson was not trying to get us to focus on what appears to be the negative aspects of branches flowing from a vine in a vineyard. Rather, to use it as a basis to discuss something much more fruitful and productive!
As we gaze at the branches and vines, which seem to sweep over, under and around each other, we need to step back and see what is actually taking place. Let me back up for a moment… we have all seen a vineyard or a ‘bunch’ of tangled branches and vines, have we not? Well, for those of you who have, you probably realize that people who grow vineyards, that are producing grapes in mass quantities, go to great length to bring some level of order to the chaos. The truth is, these branches and vines will grow in any and every direction if they are left to their own devices. This is why they usually string them up ‘so to speak’ thereby causing them to grow upwards. This is done so that as the fruit begins to grow, it will be able to breath, getting proper access to the basics, nutrients, water and sun light. When managed like this, the system of the vines branching off, causing the growth to expand, is controlled thereby producing more and more fruit! The better the system of controlling the growth the more fruit there shall be. Unfortunately, using a vineyard as a metaphor can take us only so for. Yet, it sets up our discussion and gives us opportunities to draw from such imagery.
In the real world of the Twenty-first Century, we may see more clearly the team of workers whom take control of the growing pattern of their vineyard. In our scripture lesson, we are confined to the one central vine, representing Christ, and all the branches, the offshoots are you and me, the offspring whom are given a great deal of freedom to grow. But in order to become productive and useful vines or let us say ‘off-shoots’ of Jesus, we are going to need to interject some levels of structure and discipline. On a real farm where the fruit of the crops is the ultimate goal, the owner will set the tone for the structure and discipline of the workers, who are needed to tend to the fields. In our scripture the role of the ‘overseer’ or ‘boss’ is seen as ‘God,’ or the ‘Word of God’ – as came forth from the man Jesus. This seems to be the underpinning of our scripture lesson. The crop from any vineyard will depend on the quality as well as the quantity of fruit produced. The measurement of a group of Christians will be seen as the fruit of their efforts to pass-on the love of God to others. Sounds simple enough, does it not?
Hopefully, as we discuss our lesson, for today, we will all get some insights into what being part of a team is all about. Our metaphor of the vines growing off from the one central vine is crucial for us to grasp. The vine grower is looking for nice juicy grapes and a lot of them. The owner would track the yield of his vineyard by the bushel per a given parcel of land or perhaps by the row of plants. How might God judge the harvest of a local church? What are the signs of growth, what fruit of the vine, are we, or ought we to look for from Christians, or from any given church? Is quantity the only measurement? Vineyards, they are primarily used to either grow grapes for consumption, by consumers, or used to produce juices and vast quantities are used to produce wines. If we are a consumer of such products we know there are infinite differences in the ‘quality’ of such fruit, as-well-as juices and beverages. Perhaps, we need to add the concept of quality, as we ponder how we might begin to judge the work of Christians – like ourselves.
One theologian, Karoline Lewis, offers up a warning for us to consider, she tells us “Bearing fruit is risky business. It will reveal who you are and on whom and what you depend. It will expose your lack of self-sufficiency.” Let us put this into perspective. Our vineyard is this church. Each one of us live as an offshoot, a branch, connected to the vine. We all have the opportunity to be connected to the primary vine, Jesus, the Christ! It really is up to us to decide if we want to listen and learn from the teachings of Christ or not. It is up to us whether we shall connect with the Living Spirit of God for strength, guidance and inspiration each-and-every day. Every Sunday we are open for worship at ten A.M. Frequently, we have visitors, perhaps we have a few here this morning. Visitors, if you are here, you have possibly come here looking for a place of worship where you can feel the presence of God’s love, God’s grace and forgiveness. You may also be looking for signs that this church reaches out to others with compassion and kindness. An example is our efforts to assist the hungry, via our food collections and our volunteer team that assists serving a meal, once a month, at the Daily Bread. A visitor may observe we currently have a small population of children here on Sunday mornings. Yet, prayerfully you will note that children are welcome here and we make every effort to offer them appropriate Christian Education – right after the pastor chats with them personally.
When we are judged by God, let us pray that God sees us clinging to the vine, clinging to the teachings of Jesus to lead us. Indeed, “Our lives express our relationship with Christ as the vine for which we are the branches.” /Alye M. McKenzie/ When the fruit of any vine is harvested and before the next growing season takes hold, a vineyard can look ‘mighty barren.’ Surely, churches are cyclical just as the crops grown in the fields of any farm or plantation. Let us not judge ourselves or others more harshly than our God will – on the day of judgement. These notes by Brian Stoffregen, a Christian resource writer, offers us some insightful remarks. “Faith is always changing. Even though one is connected to the true vine. Even though one’s faith is firmly rooted in Jesus Christ. Though the “root” of one’s faith never changes, but from year to year one’s faith needs pruning by God. Maybe some old habits or thoughts or attitudes or behaviors need to die, so that, through the power of Jesus, even more fruit will be produced in one’s life.” As we examine our own lives, as Christians, or even as members of the church we now belong to, there may be some pruning needed or perhaps God is in the process of pruning us, as we speak.
Our scripture lesson is perhaps challenging us to be more diligent and deliberate about passing on the love of God to others. If we stay with today’s imagery of being branches on a vine, we must be sure to look to the meaning of these images and symbols. The Rev. Kate Matthews, retired Dean of Amistad Chapel, urges us to do just this. “Looking closely, we see the many entwined branches, winding their way around one another in intricate patterns of tight curls that make it impossible to tell where one branch starts or another one ends. This is not just intricate; it’s intimate, and the vine shares with its branches the nutrients that sustain it, the life force of the whole plant.” If we follow the illustration of Rev. Matthews, we must accept the concept that we have become intimate with the other branches around us. Henceforth, therefore, let us cherish the closeness and not pull away. Let us cozy up to the friendly fellowship of like minded Christians. Let us open-up to our innermost and in-depth love of God, which we share.
You and me, we cannot go back to our foolish childish ways. Our lives have become interwoven with the lives of those around us, inside this church and outside. As citizens of our local communities and as Christians, who are part of the larger church, whether we have made that commitment or not, we are now part of the team that makes up the body of Christ. Let us look to our team captains to keep our efforts flowing smoothly. Yet, let us be willing to make changes when our team is not accomplishing its tasks and goals. Sometimes, we shall need to prune ourselves, out of love for the greater good; which is to serve the people of God with the hand of fellowship and with the outpouring of Christian love, which God offers to us in abundance!
And yes, you and me, we need to take responsibility for our personal faith journeys. Let us not fall back into that lonely trap of isolation. We need to step out of the shadows of loneliness which ensnares us. All of us can fall prey to this snare, this ambush and be pulled away from the source of our lives, the one true vine which nourishes us, the love of God. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying this about judgement day. “I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, [God] will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’; rather God will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?'”