"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."
A few weeks ago we picked up this peach tree at a free-tree giveaway. It’s hard to imagine that this lanky twig will one day bear delicious fruit. Or so we hope. Of course that’s what we thought when we planted Oranges, Apples, Avocados, and Artichokes. Over the years we’ve been very blessed to enjoy and share the bountiful harvest each one of our trees has produced with the slightest bit of attention.
This is sort of the gist of John’s gospel story for today. Last week God was the trusted shepherd caring for his flock.
Today, Jesus speaks of God as a loving and attentive gardener – pruning and shaping us for unbounded glory.
Jesus states, “I am the true vine. And God is the vine-grower who removes every branch that doesn’t bear fruit.” He tells us, we are branches. The young, spindly, twisted twigs called to a greater purpose in life.
Even though we’ve been given free reign to climb along the trellises, God is still there watching.
It’s a good to be are part of the vine; to be watched and cared for. But it might also a bit worrisome because this gardener is watching with a sharp pair of snips.
And eventually we will all feel the stinging pinch of pruning.
We don’t have to know much about vineyards to understand the point Jesus is making, or to see ourselves in the lesson. It’s pretty obvious what Jesus means when he says “I’m the true vine. You are the branches.”
Other than loving the taste of grapes and enjoying a glass of wine every now and then, I learned a few things about vineyards and vines from a winery I did advertising for. I had the pleasure of spending a beautiful day in Sonoma Valley learning about the soil, the climate, and even the stress they put grapes through – each one adding to the unique character of the fruit that is ultimately reflected in the wine.
I also learned the best tasting grapes are the ones produced closest to the central vine where the nutrients are the most concentrated. The lateral branches, which are naturally inclined to ramble all over the place, are watched carefully...and guided patiently so they don’t lose their nutrients or become sour.
This had me thinking. If the best fruit comes from being closer to the vine, then it should go without saying that we too would do better by being the closer to Jesus, the true vine who said, “Abide in me and I will abide in you. For a branch cannot bear fruit by itself.”
Just as the life of a branch is sustained by being connected with the vine, our lives are sustained through a close relationship with Christ. When Jesus says to abide in him, he’s giving us a personal invitation to be with him; to learn from him and to produce fruit like him.
When we are connected to Jesus we are able to draw from his spiritual abundance. And bear the fruit of his love. This is an important for us because Jesus is the perfection of God’s love manifested in the world.
To abide in Christ frees us to express and share God’s love in the way we live our lives. From our inward emotions to our outward actions, this is how we bear good fruit. Loving and forgiving one another as God has loved and forgiven us.
Yet it’s nearly impossible to bear fruit if our branches are not being nourished by a healthy source. Let’s face it, we cannot feed ourselves or even prune ourselves without the help of the vine grower.
We need to be close to the source of God’s love and grace so we can become stronger, not weaker; more faithful and not less. The further we are from being in a relationship with Jesus, the more vulnerable we are to the elements in the world that seek to draw us away from loving God; rendering whatever fruit we might be able to grow sour and useless.
“Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:11)
John the Evangelist emphatically repeats this idea that God loves us, no matter what. And that God wants us to be a part of the redemptive story. But John also raises a very interesting question: What are willing to do to show God’s love to one another?
To love God and be loved by God is one thing. To be faithful to that love is another.
You see, our goal is not to remain a scrawny, twisted branch. But to become one with the true vine so that others can sprout their faith and grow in their love. I like to believe heaven happens once the world is tangled up in the vines of God’s love.
Our proximity to this love depends not only on our willingness to build a close relationship with God through Christ, but also in our willingness to be faithful, and to share that love with others. The two go hand in hand.
As Henry Nouwen wrote, “Giving away our lives for others is the greatest of all human arts. This will gain us our lives.”
It seems to me that the more we allow God to snip and prune away our useless branches, the more we grow closer to Christ and to one another. The more creation becomes unified.
So it is we all must ask of ourselves, “What is going on in my life, inside my heart and outside in my world, that I need God to prune so that I can abide and flourish in Christ’s love?”
Is it an attitude? An addiction? Certain wounds, or pains, or fears? Is it a bad relationship? Or perhaps an unforgiving heart? Maybe you’ve just wandered along the trellis of life but haven’t really gotten anywhere or done anything?
Those things no longer matter once you accept the invitation to abide in Christ. Your past is snipped away, allowing your future to bloom and blossom the good fruit. God is here, in the garden, ready to reshape your heart and transform your life with the grace and love that has been given to us through our Lord Jesus Christ.
With great patience and perseverance, God is snipping and pruning us for something greater than we can produce on our own: a greater sense of peace; an enlightened path to discern and navigate our way around the vineyard; and a reason to embrace all the seasons of life, from the pruning to the flourishing.
God does this for you and me, so all of creation can bear the fruit of love and receive the joy of a blessed life, now and forever, Amen.