We Bear Fruit
John 15:1-8

by | Apr 29, 2024

PRAYER:  Jesus the true vine, we give you thanks for the connection we have to God the Creator through you.  Teach us to remain in that connection that we may always bear fruit in your name.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

Earlier this week, I went into a jewelry store to get a new watch band for one of my watches.  As the young lady behind the counter took my watch to the back to be worked on, she invited me to look around the store and then made a not-so-subtle reminder that Mother’s Day was coming up soon.  I chuckled at her words and thought to myself how incredibly fortunate I am that my wife does not have – and really has never had – any interest in jewelry.  The occasional pair of earrings, but the truth is that buying jewelry for Anna is typically a waste of money because she doesn’t want it.

Long ago, we reached the point in our relationship where we each buy our own gifts.  It makes it a lot simpler for both of us because we always know we’ll get what we want.  But what Anna always wants, more than anything else is not a tangible thing, it’s time.  She wants the people she loves to spend time with her; that’s her favorite gift of all.  Working together in ministry or going on a day trip somewhere… Anna’s favorite thing is having time to spend with those people who are most important to her.

Somewhere along the line, we learn that giving to someone you love is not about giving what you want to give, but giving what they want to receive.  I know; it seems simple now, but it took a long time for me to get there.  It took a lot of gifts that were received with grace and gratitude but were not terribly useful or practical or even used after the holiday had passed.  It took a lot of me trying to make her into my image of her, trying to think what I would like if I were her, trying to imagine she was something other than what she was.  I think it was the first year we were married, I bought her a lovely watch.  Why?  Because I like watches.  In all the years we’ve been together, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her wear a watch… and that one… I don’t think she ever wore one time.  Instead, what I should have been doing was asking what would make her happy, what would please her in who she was.

Long before Jesus came on the scene, the use of a vine was frequently used as an image to connect God with God’s people.  In the tenth chapter of Hosea, the prophet writes, “Israel is a luxurious vine that yields its fruit.”

Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel all use the image of the vine to describe the people of God in Israel.  In Jeremiah, the reference is to a vine that was planted to produce good fruit and now has gone wild, producing fruit unfit for nourishment.

But Jesus takes it and turns it a little bit from the usual understanding.  Instead of Israel as the vine, instead of the people of God planted and tended by God, Jesus says, “I am the vine.”  More than that, he says he is the vine, and we are the branches.

You could choose to view this strictly from a standpoint of hierarchy, and you wouldn’t be wrong necessarily.  Jesus is the vine, the one in charge, and we are the branches.  That tracks!  There’s a reason why every organizational chart looks like a tree with branches.  But I believe that there is much more to this description than a simple org chart of where we fit into the structure of God’s kingdom.  There is a functionality to the vine that goes well beyond its simple structure.  Jesus is the source of sustenance.  Jesus is the connection to the root system that keeps us stable and fed.  Jesus’ function as the vine enables us to tend to the business of the branch, which is producing fruit.

Our role therefore, is simple: stay connected.  Stay connected to the vine, to the source.  Without that connection, there is no hope to bear fruit.  Branches that do not bear fruit will ultimately be replaced by branches that do.

So that would be a warning for us all to watch out for the pruning.  We always read this as judgment, and it is.  But the real power of the image is that what is pruned misses the vitality of connection; you miss the verdant life offered; you miss out on the sustenance and strengthening and the glory of growth and life and joy.  And you miss the opportunity to produce fruit.

Again, we read this as a responsibility, and that is what it is.  We are to produce fruit, that is clear from these verses.  It is our job; it is our responsibility, our reason for being.  But it is also our fulfillment and our joy; it is our opportunity and hope.  It is the way we have of responding to the one we love.  It is the gift we give to God and to others.  It is the gift we give to God because that is what God desires.

Gift-giving, whatever the occasion, is a chance to express love.  To return love.  To claim love.  It is our opportunity to do something, not for ourselves, but for one who loves us.  And while our inclination may be to try and find something that we like, something that says something about us for the one that we love, maturity invites us to find something that brings joy to the receiver, something that speaks of the kind of person they are.

It is our joy as branches of the vine to bring glory to God.  That’s what verse 8 says anyway.  So, how do we give glory to God?  By producing the kind of fruit that says more about who God is than about who we are.  By producing the kind of fruit that God calls for rather than what might be our preference.  That means we need to learn and discern about the God we love.  We need to know who this God is and what it is that this God wants before we can bring the offering; before we can produce the fruit that gives God glory.

We do that by abiding in the vine, by dwelling on the words of Jesus until the words of Jesus become our words.  Until we absorb his will; until we are so attached, so much a part of the vine that it is his blood that courses through our veins; it is his love that causes our hearts to pound; it is his joy that fulfills us.  Apart from that, we wither.  Cut off from that source, we feel, and we are empty.  Filled by that love, we can produce the fruit that gives God glory.  Not our will, but God’s will be done.

There is a very famous chapter in the New Testament about love.  I’m sure that if you’ve ever been to a Christian wedding ceremony, chances are very good that you’ve heard this passage read from 1 Corinthians 13.  In a wedding ceremony, it sounds great, but Paul was not talking about romantic love when he wrote this chapter.

Paul is describing God when he says that love is patient.  Think about how we bear fruit, bearing the love of God that is patient.  How often do we lose our patience when the person in front of us at the checkout has 13 items in the 12 or less aisle?  How often do we lose our patience when there is a person who’s first language isn’t English has trouble illustrating a point?  The truth is that those people were created in the image of God.  This is a theological term called “Imago Dei”, the understanding that all of humanity is created in the image of God.  God’s love is patient.  We bear fruit in our patience.

And that’s why when Paul writes that Love is kind, he’s talking about a God who sees the stranger, the immigrant, the person who doesn’t speak our language as created in God’s image.  We bear fruit in how we demonstrate the same kindness that God would show us.

Paul says that love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  A couple of weeks ago, there was an anonymous post on the Frenchtown facebook page about the Open Door Community Pantry.   This post was complaining that they saw someone come into the pantry and take – in their words – too much.  As a rule, I don’t respond to anything anonymous, but this particular comment warranted a response because it was a post that was envious, arrogant and rude.

The Open Door Pantry was built with dignity at the forefront of everything that we do. We believe our neighbors who are having a hiccup in life shouldn’t have to jump through hoops just to receive basic necessities that should be a human right to have. They shouldn’t have to provide a mountain of paperwork to prove to us that they truly are in their most vulnerable time. It’s demoralizing and to some embarrassing, which is a reason many people struggle in silence.  Don’t even get me started about just the overall stigma against those individuals – against people who’s kitchen cabinets are lacking even the most basic items.

So are there a few that possibly wouldn’t “qualify” if we did put restrictions in place? Sure.  But we bear fruit when we place the priority of human dignity at the forefront of what we do.  The focus of our ministry must be on bearing fruit even when our instinct is to insist on our own way.

We bear fruit when Imago Dei is at the forefront of our ministry, seeing others through a lens of grace instead of fear and suspicion.  We bear fruit when we stretch ourselves out of our comfort zones and seek to love the stranger with all that we have, even if that leaves us lacking.

Everywhere we turn in today’s world, we have examples of fruitless living.  We turn on the news and we’re told how angry we’re all supposed to be.  We are constantly being told how someone else is getting what we are supposed to think should be rightfully ours.  We turn on the internet and we’re getting pummeled with reasons to be afraid of people who don’t fit into some narrowly defined parameter.  Losing patience, quoting rules and regulations, living in fear and suspicion… these are easy.  These are activities that require no commitment.  They require no love.  And they do not bear fruit.

Over the next three weeks as we engage in our short series “How Shall We Love”, devote your prayer lives to bearing fruit, in our ministry, in our community, in buying groceries, in filling up your tank, in our work, in deciding what we’re going to read or listen to.  Bear fruit by way of Imago Dei, in viewing all of humankind in the image of God.  Who are those people that are on the bottom of your list?  Imago Dei.  They are created in the image of the God who created you.  Bear fruit in how we seek to live in peace and how we speak out against injustice.  Bear fruit in how we love our neighbor, and seek to put their needs ahead of our own.  This is the gift that God gives to us, and this is the gift we give, the fruit we bear.  In love.

To God be the glory.