“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 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. (John 15:1-4 NRSV)
We live in a great nation. It’s a country where we can make something of ourselves if we’re willing to work hard enough. Men and women come to this country knowing that they stand a chance of pulling hemselves up by the bootstraps. It just takes hard work and perseverance.
And we’ve done that well. We’ve done such a good job of it, that we’re a nation of individuals, going it alone, depending on no one for anything.
“Can I help you with that?”
“No thanks, I’ve got it.”
“Let’s call someone and get expert advice.”
“No. We can do this ourselves.”
We don’t need anyone. And if we do, we pay for it. To rely on someone to assist us is anti-American. We can’t stand to be in debt to someone else.
And that’s what makes this scripture passage so difficult. Jesus is saying that he’s the vine and God is in charge. God cuts out the dead wood; prunes the producing branches so that they can bear better fruit; and even determines what that fruit will be.
Being disciples of Jesus isn’t a particularly private matter. You don’t hide it in your purse or under the kitchen cabinet. You can’t stick it in the trunk of the car until you’re ready for it. It’s out there and people know it and see who and what you really are. Disciples are just that: followers of Jesus bearing fruit as God determines.
About twenty years ago I came down with mononucleosis. Yes, the so-called college disease caught up to me much later in life! After several months of working half-days and sleeping the rest of the time, I got over it and resumed my life. A month later it came back. All the same symptoms had returned.
Only this time, it wasn’t mononucleosis. It was Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Imagine going 72 hours without any sleep at all. You’d move slowly, Your thinking wouldn’t make sense, you’d forget basic words and you’d be too worn out to do anything but sit. That’s what CFS feels like. You can’t sleep enough and sometimes you can’t sleep at all.
I took sick leave and sat in my favorite chair in the quiet of my home not caring. I prayed to God, “I’m tired of fighting to get well. I know you didn’t do this to me; chances are good that I brought it on myself through overwork. Lord, I’m in your hands. Do as you will. I’m too worn out to care.”
God took out the pruners and starting snipping at dead branches. God pruned out the guilt and shame that I felt and tossed it into the fire. He snipped away worries about the small stuff. He pinched off and cut away the unnecessary.
As I look back on my life, I can see now that God pruned away the bad stuff and helped me learn a new way of thinking and being. By the time I returned to work a month later I’d begun to change. God was transforming me to be someone better than I thought I could be. When I began to bear fruit I was surprised. I learned that I was good at my job and that I could do it while abiding in the vine.
It would take a lot longer to learn that fruit-bearing wasn’t something I controlled. We bear fruit when God determines it’s time. And the fruit we bear
may surprise us. Look at your lives and see where you have made a difference in the world. Ask yourself:
Who determined this direction?
The intimacy of the branch to the vine is one that you can hardly tell where the branch ends and the vine begins. That’s the intimacy we have with Jesus. As growing disciples, we have an intimacy that is so close that when we pray, we know what to pray for because we are so centered on God’s word.
We aren’t stand-alone human beings. The poet John Donne reminds us that no one is an island.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians about being the body of Christ. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body —Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:12-13 NRSV))
This is, indeed, Good News: we need each other and we are connected to Christ in whom “we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:28 NRSV) In him we thrive so that we can make a difference in the kingdom.
You don’t know exactly what fruit you’ll bear. You can’t be sure when it’s time to be pruned. God is in charge. And, that’s the exciting part.
All glory and honor be to God.