Summary: Pruning is essential in gardening and in life. We are created to love and a pruned connection to the true vine results in the fruit of love.
5 Easter B John 15:1-8 18 May 2003
Rev. Roger Haugen
I don’t know a lot about vines and grapes. I have a brother who helps out in a vineyard near Victoria where he is learning about the wine business. He tells me that in the fall they prune the vine aggressively, down to just a main vine and a few strong buds. An awful lot of material goes onto the burning pile. I have planted a couple of grapes vines in my backyard and I know if I want to have grapes, I will need to learn how to prune them.
I do know about tomatoes. When they are transplanted you need to nip off the lowest leaves and plant them in deep. As they grow, the little suckers that grow at the junction of the main branches and the stem need to be taken off. A tomato plant really likes to grow branches and leaves. I am sure they would never get around to setting fruit if they had a chance. Bushy leaves look good, but there would be few tomatoes. I grew tomatoes with a friend of mine this past year. I did my regular pruning all year long, which wasn’t too noticeable, but as the summer came to an end and the frost came near, I pruned them for harvest. There were a lot of tomatoes but a long way from the size we wanted. There were still blossoms, but they had no hope of forming fruit before the frost. I pruned of almost all the green leaving a bare stem with tomatoes hanging from them. I took a certain amount of ribbing from my garden partner, he thought I had surely killed them all. I told him to wait and see. Sure enough, when the boxes of tomatoes were gathered at the end, my boxes held a lot more tomatoes.
Someone once said that the secret of pruning is to trick the plant into thinking that it is dying so it will produce great amounts of fruit. This is language that we know, it is the language of faith. We are to “die to self”, “those who love their life will lose it”. This is the language of baptism. “Our Father liberates us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is the language of funerals, “When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried, therefore with him by baptism into death . . .” Like a plant, we are reminded over and over again in worship that we are dying, that the time of pruning, the time to bear fruit is now. We know the language.
Sometime we are like the tomato plant, we want to send out a lot of branches that make us look good but do little to achieve the purpose for which we are created, to bear fruit. The main stock gets over-burdened with foliage and the fruit loses out. Over and over again, thirteen times, in our lessons today we hear the word “abide”. Our life comes as we are connected to the vine, Jesus Christ. All the rest is show if it does not connect us to the vine and help to bear fruit. This fruit is love. 26 times in 1 John we read the word ‘love’. This is how we know we are connected to the true vine, as God abides in us and we in God. Love flows to all those around. For love we are created, in love we find our purpose and joy.
If we were to be pruned today, what would be cut off? What looks good in our lives but does nothing to contribute to our ability or willingness to love? What are the basic essentials of our lives that help us to love and what gets in the way? Our basic needs are food, shelter, clothing and transportation. Once those are achieved, we have all we need. The rest is foliage that either contributes to our ability to love or is fair game for the pruner’s knife. If we were pruned today, what would go and what would stay? Jesus makes it clear that the measure is love. Anything that helps us love God and others will stay, and all that detracts from our love for others can go.
The old favourite hymn, “Abide with Me” speaks of some of the pruning that happens in our lives. It uses the word, ‘abide’ drawing us to the centre of our being, drawing us to the main vine, pulling the life energy away from the extremities and concentrating it in the main vine. “Abide with me fast falls the eventide”. As life draws to a close, darkness closing in around us we need Jesus to abide with us, so much that means so little falls away. “When other helpers fail and comforts flee”. When the other things we have looked to that we think give life meaning show for what they truly are, we need Jesus to abide with us. “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away.” What seemed so important but isn’t comes clear at the end of life. Oh, if we could only see it when we are young? The hope in the hymn comes with a question and an answer. “Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still, if thou abide with me.”