Posted on Apr 29, 2018 by Pastor Dave Whetter
I find it very interesting that on the same weekend we have our annual spring outdoor cleanup day that we also read this text about pruning. If you look around outside there was a lot of pruning that went on here yesterday.
As I read our text for today I decided to look up the definition of the word “prune” in the dictionary and literally it means:
“to trim (a tree, shrub, or bush) by cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems, especially to increase fruitfulness and growth; reduce the extent of (something) by removing superfluous or unwanted parts.”
Pruning involves cutting away of parts of a plant that are keeping the plant from doing what it is supposed to do, and that is to “bear fruit.”
With that in mind I have reworded the first two verses of our text today. [Jesus said:] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He cuts away dead branches that bear no fruit and he also cuts away part of those branches that are bearing fruit, so that those fruit-bearing branches can bear more fruit.” It makes sense to me to cut away those branches that aren’t bearing fruit, but I am always puzzled by the notion of cutting away some of the branches that are bearing fruit. But in our text Jesus is very clear that even some of the fruit-bearing branches are cut off and thrown away to be burned (John 15:6). Ouch!
Now when it comes to a real plant, I don’t think many think pruning is a bad thing, and by the looks of some of those bushes out front, some of you really enjoyed your time pruning yesterday. But, when I think of pruning in the sense of God taking away parts of me, or my faith community that I like and that are good, I don’t much like the idea of being “pruned.” OK, I can live with the notion that if something in our faith community isn’t doing what it is supposed to do that we should get rid of it, but the very idea of getting rid of parts of this community that are working, that scares me. And it sounds even worse when I think that based on Jesus’ own words, God is the One who is most willing to “cut away” part of this community that is doing what it is supposed to do. Where is the good news in that?
Well, the answer lies in the reason for all the cutting. As Jesus points out, the cutting is necessary so that the branches that are bearing fruit can bear more fruit. The purpose of the branches in this image that Jesus uses to describe the church is to bear fruit. So the question becomes, what is this fruit? Well, had we read this text today along with the stories that came right before it in Chapters 13 and 14, we would have known that the fruit we are called to bear is “love.” Now, we will hear more about the meaning of love next week, but when we, the branches, are not providing love to this broken world, then we are not bearing the fruit we are called to bear; or, put another way, when we aren’t bearing fruit, we aren’t loving this world as Christ has commanded us to love.
To expand this a little further, beyond the Gospel of John, if we take into account Jesus’ command of the Great Commission, that is we are to go make disciples of all nations, then I would also suggest that part of loving God’s creation is also seeking to grow the church. That is, bearing fruit involves growth and not just by adding new members who are already followers, but by increasing God’s church by “converting” nonbelievers.
What? Our call is to go get converts? No, that isn’t Lutheran! Well, in some ways you are right. It isn’t our job to convert nonbelievers. In fact, as I have said many times, we don’t have that power, but the Holy Spirit does, and that is why Jesus is so adamant that to make all this work, we must “abide” in Jesus. Eight times in our eight verses Jesus used the word “abide.” As I have shared with you many times before, if something is repeated it must be important; what’s important for us to remember today is this notion of abiding.
In Greek the word “abiding” is “meno.” Literally meno means to remain, to stay, to not depart, not to leave, or to continue to be present. In other words, Jesus is telling us today that we are to bear the fruit of love, but to do this, we must stay connected to Jesus. If we want to love this world as Jesus loved this world and if we are to grow God’s church by bringing in more people to the church then we can only do this if we stay connected to Jesus. If the secret to a productive branch is its attachment to the vine, then our connection to Jesus as a faith community and as individuals is essential.
There is something else here that is critical. This also is not about us as individuals. Jesus is talking about the community. If we were reading this in the Greek we would see it clearly, especially when we got to verses 7-8. The word “you” in these two verses is used five times, and each time it is plural.
If y’all abide in me, and my words abide in y’all, ask for whatever y’all wish, and it will be done for y’all. My Father is glorified by this, that y’all bear much fruit and become my disciples” (John 15:7-8).
This is a teaching about the community's life together. He wasn’t speaking about our individual wants and desires, but about the needs of the church. Jesus is calling us as a community, the church, to love this world as he loved it and he is calling us to grow his church. And to do that we must come to know his word, live his word, and we must let God prune us even when things seem to be going well.
You see, it isn’t good enough to keep things the same. It isn’t good enough for the church to be comfortable and be willing to stay as it is. God is on a mission to reconcile the world to God’s self, and to do that you and I as a community have been called to love the world by sharing the Gospel. We have been called to make sure people know about this God that loves this world so much that he died for us, and help the world know that no matter what, this God will not let us go, not even in death.
Brothers and sisters, today we are challenged to look at our lives and understand that we need pruning. We are challenged today to ask the question, What must we let God cut away from us so that we might love and grow God’s church? Our God loves us, our God has died for us, our God overcame death for us, and now, our God calls us to never turn from him so that we might love. Amen.