Summary: Branches (people) that do not bear fruit and the love commandment.
Sermon for 5 Easter Yr B, 18/05/2003
Based on I Jn 4:19-21; Jn 15:6
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (Jn 15:6) “We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (I Jn 4:19-21)
Doing love; practicing what we preach; faith translated into action; is what today’s gospel and second lesson rather vividly teach us. What good is love if it is not translated into action outwards towards others? If our faith has no consequences for the way we live our daily lives, then it is worthless. Most likely you’ve heard this Ole and Olga joke before:
Ole and Olga lived on a farm. Olga was starved for affection. Ole never gave her any signs of love, and Olga’s need to be appreciated went unfulfilled. At her wit’s end, Olga blurted out, “Ole, why don’t you ever tell me that you love me?” Ole stoically responded, “Olga, when we were married I told you that I loved you, and if I ever change my mind, I’ll let you know.”
According to our gospel and second lesson, Ole’s answer is not enough. Daily we need to express our love for one another just as God does for us daily in Jesus Christ. Love is new each day. It is an ongoing way of living out our faith.
Dr. Albert Schweitzer was eighty-five years old when Andrew C. Davison visited his jungle hospital at Lambarene, on the banks of the Ogowe River. You can imagine the deep and profound effect of that three-day visit, which included opportunity for some leisurely conversation with that great humanitarian, theologian, musician, and physician. But one event stands out in a special way.
It was about eleven in the morning. The equatorial sun was beating down mercilessly, and the visitors were walking up a hill with Dr. Schweitzer. Suddenly he left the group and strode across the slope of the hill to a place where an African woman was struggling upward with a huge armload of wood for the cookfires. The group watched with both admiration and concern as the eighty-five-year-old man took the entire load of wood and carried it on up the hill for the relieved woman. When everyone reached the top of the hill, one of the members of the group asked Dr. Schweitzer why he did things like that, implying that in that heat and at his age he should not. Albert Schweitzer, looking right at all of the group and pointing to the woman, said simply, “No one should ever have to carry a burden like that alone.” 1.
Is that simple act of Albert Schweitzer not a clear demonstration of what Jesus and the writer of our second lesson are teaching us today? Namely to love one another in concrete, practical ways in our daily living.
Some years ago now, I was talking with a farmer and member of the parish I was serving at the time. He was telling me about one of his cows. The cow repeatedly lost her calf and would quit milking within three months. Besides that, she was uncooperative, refusing to go into the barn for milking, among other things. Yet, she continued to consume as much food as other more productive animals. He had kept this cow for three years, then, one day, he decided that she was going to the stockyards.
This cow is similar to some people who consume and take the gifts of God, but give little or nothing back. In today’s gospel and second lesson, we learn of the rather tragic and severe consequences of those branches (people) that do not bear fruit; and those people who say they love God, but hate another human being. These are difficult and troublesome words. Who wants to wither and be thrown away? Who wants to be cut off and thrown into the fire and burnt? Who wants to be called a liar? The images here seem so horrible. The language so judgemental, black and white, and absolute. Gone are any second or more chances in the gospel to provide further opportunities to bear fruit. Is that the case? Is there a limited time placed on the opportunities in life to bear fruit? Is there a time in our lives where we reach the point of no return—making it impossible for us to have another chance to bear fruit? According to our gospel today, there seems to be—as the fruitless branches wither, are thrown away and burned. Herein there is no opportunity for another chance, for repentance, for restoration—rather; the unfruitful branches must now face the severe consequences of their fruitlessness—namely, judgement and destruction.