"Giving away our lives for others is the greatest of all human arts. This will gain us our lives.” - Henri Nouwen
(Open with the story of the Carrot Seed)
I have loved this story since childhood. And more so, I love its hero. What tenacity this brave little boy shows, going against popular opinion to follow what he knows to be true in his heart.
It wasn’t until I read this story to my kids that I discovered what a wonderful example of perseverance and faithfulness it is. The boy remained steadfast and true and he reaped a great reward. In today’s world, this can be hard to realize. Being called to hold steadfast to a belief that goes against the status quo can be difficult and even dangerous for some.
Now in today’s gospel Jesus knows his time is coming to an end. He gives his followers the last of the “I Am” metaphors as a way to prepare them for the hardships that await them once he is gone. He knows they are ready to share the truth. He knows their faith will be challenged. He knows they will become targets of hatred. He also knows the sacrifice that he and all his followers must make.
Yet in spite of all that he knows, Jesus stands firm in his faith even in the face of death. Because of this, Jesus reaps the greatest reward…the Easter Resurrection.
Jesus tells 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 no fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” God, the creator of all time and space, is a loving, attentive gardener, pruning and shaping us for his glory.
In the vineyard the best tasting grapes are the ones produced closest to the central vine. Understandably, this is where the nutrients are the most concentrated. Now the lateral branches, which are naturally inclined to ramble all over the place, are instead watched carefully...and guided toward growth so they don’t lose their nutrients or become sour. The watchful gardener must prune them carefully in order to yield a bountiful harvest.
Yet this idea of “less is more” seems to go against the cultural norms that say, ‘the more we spread ourselves out, the more we will be able to produce.’ We often kid ourselves to believe that we thrive by multitasking...even though social scientists beg to differ.
Jesus is telling us that we must take a radically different approach. If the best fruit comes from being closer to the vine, then so too will we, when we remain close to Jesus...who says, “Abide in me and I will abide in you. For a branch cannot bear fruit by itself.” We don’t support the vine. The vine supports us. It is through Jesus that we draw a healthy spiritual life...and bear the fruit of his love. We feed on that love and are strengthened by that love. It energizes us to love others.
God is love. And our strength. Through God, we can persevere in faithfulness. Yet there are still those who grow further and further away from the vine. If we dare to call ourselves Christian then we accept that our vocation in life is to bear fruit – the fruit of love. Abiding in Jesus produces that love. And it expresses itself as self-sacrifice for others.
Jesus tells his disciples, this is where we will find our greatest joy. Yet how often do we fall? How often do we get angry with someone we love, never mind our enemies? How frequently do we get frustrated with our kids, or our parents? How often do we lose our patience at work or at home?
The good news is Jesus understands. He gets it. He knows that we fall short of what God has called us to do. He himself witnessed first hand the worst of human behavior. Such is life, when we grow apart from the vine of Christ. What little fruit we might bear is sour and spoiled at best.
We need God to prune us so that we can thrive, and reap a bountiful harvest. We need to give up our self-centered thinking and give ourselves over to the care of our Divine Gardener. We must let God get rid of those dead branches in our life that lead us away from the grace given to us through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We all have fruit bearing potential. God is willing to love all who desire to be loved and yes, even those who don’t. Our proximity to God’s love depends not only on our willingness to build a close relationship with him, but also in our willingness to share that love with others. The two go hand in hand. In this morning's epistle, John writes...“For those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
Christ tells his disciples, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend.” Sacrificial love is the starting point of our Christian faith. This takes perseverance and faith.
Henry Nouwen writes, “Giving away our lives for others is the greatest of all human arts. This will gain us our lives.” And so it is in this paradox we all must ask of ourselves, “What do I want God to prune from my life so that I can be closer to Christ, and stand steadfast and faithful to his love that is freely given to me?
Christ draws us closer together. He taught us how to shared his love at the table... (move to communion table)