“Learning to be Good Farmers.”
John 15:1-8, May 2nd, 2021
Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these words from the gospel according to John, chapter fifteen, verses one thru eight.”
1 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 listened with your ears to this ancient writing, believed to be the very words… the teaching of Jesus himself, let us now open our hearts to allow the Spirit of God to prepare us as we seek the deeper meaning in our lives today.”
“Learning to be Good Farmers.”
“Like the (Ultimate) Good Shepherd of last week’s lesson which Brian used to illustrate and develop the message of that day, this week’s image of the (Ultimate) Vine is another expanded allegory, which also borrows from and adapts Old and New Testament scripture for our use in today’s ‘Ultimate Point…’ for our use here in the Twenty-First Century.” /Meda Stamper/ Even as we reflect on the text from these previous weeks, we (you and me) we still seek God’s guidance… as we beseech our God: “Show me, show us the way!” And we thank both Christian and Brian for their willingness to share their understandings of holy scripture! Truly, in order, to grasp, fully grasp the imagery of the ultimate vine from our scripture lesson today, we shall need to build on the concept of the “The Good Shepherd.” Yes, we need to mix the metaphors and ask our God to ‘Show us the Way’… thereby opening our hearts and our minds to a clearer understanding of who God is in our lives, as we seek to follow in the example of the ‘The Ultimate Good Shepherd!’
Jesus calls himself the true vine, thus the primary vine and his Father is the vine-grower. Clearly, Jesus is inviting us to be part of his vineyard and clarifying that we are the branches which grow out from the main vine. Also, in this illustration Jesus is saying that branches are meant to bear fruit and those that do not will be removed. Even with this said Jesus is saying that we shall be pruned so that we shall bear even more fruit! Our vision of the Good Shepherd is taking on a new persona, a new and expanded personality in this allegory. Yes, Jesus is assuring us that we shall be cared for, nurtured, and cultivated with an expectation that we shall grow and grow bearing fruit, nourishment, and sustenance for others to grow also. Yes, we are saved by grace, saved by our faith, however the way, the pathway ahead is to truly follow the example which Jesus left for us to follow; and therefore, we are to be pruned and clipped, trimmed and cut back making room for those that are willing to fully trust and follow the will of God! This may seem a bit harsh yet, as every farmer and gardener know… that this process is necessary.
One day… when I retire, I shall cultivate a portion of my back yard and turn it into a garden. I will build a fence around it to keep out all that is not invited, thereby being a good shepherd and care for that which I seek to nourish and grow. The ground is hardened and uncultivated and it shall take a lot of effort to turn over the soil, fertilize it and prepare it for gardening. It is not easy work, and it shall need constant care. My grandfather Woodard was a great gardener, a truly good shepherd as well, as he had cattle, some pigs and two hen houses with chickens that produced much needed nourishment for others in various ways. He planted corn and an assortment of vegetables. He bartered with other farmers for fruit and other sustenance needed to keep the farm properly nourished and cultivated. He had some hired hands to help manage the farm; yet he relied on his family, his offspring to be his arms and feet as the years went by. Teaching us how to tend to the animals, milk the cows and collect the eggs each day. The crops needed to be planted and the weeds were removed so that the primary plants might flourish and bear more fruit. Then there were those assigned the duties that turned the cream into butter and various forms of cheese were produced. The potatoes and other root vegetables were placed in the root cellar as were surplus fruit and such.
So, you see, planning my retirement will not be a vacation but a change in venue and a new challenge for me and those around me to experience. Relying on past experiences and that which has been gleaned from family and friends will be the bases of a new garden, yet there shall be a need for more pruning and cultivation of new thoughts and new avenues of expansion. As I began my thoughts for how to speak of today’s message, I spoke with an acquaintance and received some good feedback. I opened the conversation saying I was to speak about growing a garden and felt that the need to pull weeds from my lawn was a good place to start! She cautioned me saying: “Some plants seem to be weeds… but wait… they may be, perhaps they are the nectar, the food for butterflies.” So, as we go about weeding out our gardens, our vineyards, perhaps we need to step back and consider the ultimate fruits these vines may bear! My wife’s good friend continued to offer suggestions, after I told her I may use ‘gardening’ as a metaphor in my sermon today, and that also I thought I might illustrate the importance of pulling out, yanking out all the weeds: she cautioned me… first with the reference to the food which butterflies thrive on and then she said, “Even porcupines need a hug!” Her reference here threw me for a moment, but she went out to clarify, for the novice gardener which she correctly assumed I am, by inferring perhaps I might need to learn what causes one plant to be, and what it nourishes before I hastily ripe its roots from off the vine upon which it thrives.
The ‘hug a porcupine’ remark suggests we ought not judge a plant or any living creature without carefully examining its value in the structure, the very realm of creation! What may look like an ugly weed to an amateur gardener like me, may look like a scrumptious meal to a honeybee or a butterfly or even a hummingbird or any variety of other songbird in the neighborhood. We can more fully open our metaphors to include some added concrete examples, examples which we humans may identify with more easily. Yet, staying with the metaphorical a bit longer… tell me why one would shy away from hugging a porcupine? Surely, it is that prickly and spiky coat of spines, or better known as quills, which they use to protect themselves from predators! Coming back into our human relationship’s issues, whom would you label as being the porcupine(s) in your life? A neighbor perhaps who has a drinking problem that spills out into the occasional patrol car that must referee a domestic dispute? Or is it that cranky older fellow that dislikes you because he blames you for what other pet owners allow their pets to leave on his front lawn? What about that tough looking fellow that refuses to wear a mask when he comes into the store you are shopping in? Don’t you want to give him a big hug? We all have someone who has ruffled our feathers and seem to cloud up our otherwise sunshiny day. Surely, you know of whom we speak? My wife’s friend is right. No question about it. Even a porcupine needs a hug every now and then! The hard part is figuring out how to do it.
Let us go back to our scripture lesson. Our scripture tells us that Jesus wants us to know that once we are a branch of the vine, meaning of course that we are part of the body of Christ, we shall have access to some powerful tools! Jesus is quoted as saying: “If you abide in me, (if you stand with me) and my words abide in you, (if you accept what I say, thereby living and trusting in me) ‘then you may’ ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” /John 15:7/ That, my friends, is the ultimate! We can do anything, in the name of Christ Jesus, if we fully trust and live within the teachings of Jesus! When I do retire, I pray I shall bring what I have learned about being part of the vineyard of which our scripture today speaks. I pray that I will gather around me a support group like those that now journey with me as followers of Christ. My prayer is that we have been cultivating, turning over the soil preparing it for a new crop. We are not about planting flowers and growing tomatoes in the back yard. We, you, and me, we are the Church! Not this building! We the people, we are the branches to which Jesus refers. We have been pruned and the weeds have been uprooted and are not here amongst us. We have stuck together through a major crisis over these last twelve plus months! Let us continue to cling to the vine, allowing that the nourishment from our God continues to flow free amongst us.
As we take time to reflect on this lesson regarding the vineyard, adding it to the teachings of the Good Shepherd lesson and the words surrounding the lesson from the Acts of the Apostles Paul. Remembering that Paul is given the gift of healing. He was given this gift because he had and has become one of the branches of the ministry of Christ! Therefore, he has had access to the nourishment and the strength of all that Jesus, as the Son of God, Christ’s Living Spirit, ‘the Spirit which shows the Apostle Paul’ the way! I pray we shall all continue to work on the gardens which we are called to cultivate! May our efforts nourish and feed all who seek to be in union with God. When our time of retirement comes, let us pray that those who ‘will follow us’ that they shall know that we worked hard in the garden. We trusted God to lead us ever forward to do the will of the Living ministry – as envision by Christ himself! May others come to take our places on the branches that have grown out of this place, that has at its center the root, the branches, and the Living Spirit of Christ at its center. Retirement my friends, is only a rearrangement of our energy and our talents whereby we continue to use the tools of ministry now at our fingertips!