My sermon for this week was based on John 15:1-8.
To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.
Apple trees grow apples. Orange trees grow oranges. Grapevines grow grapes. I think this is all pretty obvious. Suffice to say, a tree, vine or bush must grow what it is in its nature to grow, and it cannot grow anything else.
In the Gospel passage for today, Jesus employs the metaphor of the grapevine, and this metaphor calls us to reflect not only on how abundant our fruit is, but by extension, what kind of fruit we grow.
He is not talking about actual fruit, obviously. He is talking about the fruits of the Spirit, the fruits of our labours, the fruits of our faith and life.
Let's back up: Jesus was not the first person to employ the metaphor of the vine. The people of Israel are referred to as "the vine" a number of times in the OT. As an observant Jew, Jesus was well familiar with Hebrew Scripture.
But it is important to note that wherever the analogy of the vine is used in the OT, it is used in a negative sense. Without fail. The authors who refer to it (Ezekiel, Hosea, Jeremiah, the Psalmist) use the vine to refer to degeneration, wildness and uselessness.
If you have ever planted a grapevine, you might be able to relate. It is pretty for a while, but then it begins to run rampant. Grapevines grow like crazy, pull down trellises, eat away at brick and wood walls, and they take hours of trimming and pruning to make them bear fruit.
Which is, of course, what you want a grapevine to do. And that's what Jesus is getting at in this Gospel passage. He wants the grapevine to bear fruit, and he makes a direct connection between himself and the people: "I am the vine, you are the branches. Abide in me as I abide in you".
There is a tender note here: we are all connected, we all rely on each other, we all require support from others. This is true of any plant: alone, a root, trunk, branch, vine, leaf or shoot will die. Together, their activities and functions lend themselves to the good of the whole. In short, we all feed from one another as much as we feed one another, and it is in this way that we bear fruit.
But there is also a stern warning: bear fruit or you will be pruned. Do something useful or you will be deemed useless and treated accordingly.
But I would actually like to push Jesus' analogy one step further and say that the kind of fruit we bear is just as important as being fruitful to begin with.
But while it is pretty obvious that love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance and acceptance bear their own fruit, it ought to also be equally obvious that hatred, anger, intolerance, hypocrisy and greed also bear their own fruit. Some of these fruits will help us, those around us and the world at large. Some will not.
So bearing fruit is not enough: we must bear the right fruit.
As spring deepens into summer, most of us have been turning towards our gardens and flower beds. We have been considering what we want to plant, what we want to eat, and what we want to embellish our yards and windows. We have been spending time thinking about what we want to grow and produce in a physical sense.
But when was the last we stopped to consider what we wanted to grow in a spiritual sense? When was the last time we stopped to consider that spirituality is actually a slow process wherein we actually have to deliberately plant what we want to grow, and what we eventually want to harvest?
Today, I invite you to reflect on what is at the very heart of you, what is at your "root". If love and generosity are at your root, good fruit will have to proceed.
But remember that if hatred or greed are at your root, the harvest will be just as predictable.