Summary: God wants us to grow. Like plants, if we actually want to grow, we’ve got to be pruned. God’s discipline is always loving. Accepting it is the key to becoming who God means us to be.
In Hampton Court near London (start video-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxzG6C-jrwE), there is a grapevine under glass; it is about 1,000 years old and has but one single root which is at least two feet thick. A formidable root. Some of the branches are 200 feet long.
Without careful tending, this vine would eventually come to yield very little fruit. But because of skillful cutting and pruning, the vine produces several tons of grapes each year.
Even though some of the smaller branches are 200 feet from the main stem, they bear much fruit because they are joined to the vine and allow the life of the vine to flow through them. And the fruit is good. Among the very best grapes produced in the world.
Our Scripture today is John 15:1-8. Let’s have a look.
John 15:1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
You may have caught wind of a story from Nova Scotia this week where a grade 12 student was suspended for wearing this t-shirt: “Life is wasted without Jesus”.
He wore it daily for a number of weeks, obviously in an effort to make a point. There were all kinds of predictable responses from the media and from the school.
They didn’t like it. Somehow they took personal offense to what is obviously a personal statement of faith by a young Christian man, a statement that reflects his beliefs. The problem is, his beliefs are not mainstream.
If the T-shirt had said: “Life is wasted without Beer”. or “Life is Wasted without Budda”, we would have never heard about this story.
Christians, we know in our polite Canadian society, are the last minority that our culture is permitted to suppress, oppress, dismiss and marginalize. And some feel that that is just. Go figure.
I can appreciate the young Nova Scotian man’s point of view. I also understand why his point of view is unwelcome by some.
The life that God intends for every human is one that is abundant. That overflows with joy, with purpose, with meaning and with fruitfulness.
The prophet Jeremiah quotes God communicating his best plans for humanity: “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. (Jeremiah 29:11)
The issue is not all this good stuff. We’d need to be pretty loopy to NOT want this good stuff. The issue is that God knows that the best life is lived in Jesus.
God knows that His intention and desire from the very beginning of creation was to dwell in intimate communion with people, with you and with me, AND, for that matter, with everyone who currently rejects Him.
The problem is that humanity in general goes after the ‘best life’ in vain because it seeks what can only be found in God. It looks in empty vessels for what can only be discovered in God.
And God has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ. That’s what people don’t like. They either want to have a connection with God through a path that is not Jesus, through a false path; or they want to achieve the ‘best life’ through some form of idolatry. Either way, they want fruit through a false vine, they want blessing from gods who are no gods. They want the best possible while at the same time avoiding the only way possible to have the best life.
But this is not God’s way. Let’s look more closely at what Jesus says in our passage today.