May 2, 2021 “The Path of the Disciple”

“The Path of the Disciple”

Acts 8:26-40

John 15:1-8

    “Immature love says : I love you because I need you. Mature love says: I need you because I love you.” ~ Erich Fromm

    “What makes one strong is not the ability to confront adversity and cruelty, but rather the ability to love in spite of it.” ~ Christopher Earle

“You will never know the purest love you can give a person, until the day you hurt because they hurt. You genuinely want them to succeed in life and be free from all the chains that keep them from being happy, whether you are in their life or not.”
― Shannon L. Alder

Although it’s not so common a practice around here, one of the rites of spring in MT is burning of the ditches. Every year, rather than clean out the old grass and knapweed that grew up the year before, it’s a common practice to simply torch it and call it good. It’s quick, it’s efficient, and doesn’t take a lot of time and energy. The trick is to pick your time. If the grass is too wet, it won’t burn; if it’s too dry -especially with a little wind – you might have a real problem on your hands. The same thing goes for hedgerows. Our house at the time was one of those historical landmarks. It was built in 1912 and I’m pretty sure the lilacs that surrounded the back yard were planted about the same time. Anyhow, one year I got the bright idea to clean things up a bit. I raked and I pulled and I prodded but these lilacs were so massive and tangled that after an hour or so, it was obvious that I had to figure out some other way. Then it hit me: “I’ll just burn it.” Quick, efficient, and doesn’t take a lot of time and energy. As it turned out, it was a bit too quick and efficient because when I struck a match to a 30-some year accumulation of dried grass and leaves buried in one of the corner lilac bushes, it burned – and it burned real good. It burned so good that by the time I got the water turned on we had flames taller than me roaring up into the sky. Well, I did manage to get the fire out and after a few days, I could see that the lilac was toast (no pun intended.) What was once an eight foot beautiful bush was now a series of black stubs sticking out of the ground. Add to that the fact that it cost me $174.00 to replace the neighbor’s trampoline that flying ashes had potholed, and I wasn’t feeling too proud of myself. It’s hard to call something a “learning experience” when you knew better in the first place.

But here’s the thing: the next spring as I was trying to figure out what to do with this gaping black hole in the wall of lilacs, I noticed some green shoots coming out of the ground. I hadn’t killed it after all, and to make a long story short, it was 4 foot tall by the end of the summer. The next year, this once burned out lilac stood as tall as the rest, but it didn’t blend in with the rest. It was healthier, it was greener, and you could spot it right away because the blossoms were so thick and heavy that they were almost drooping to the ground.

(Jn 15:1) I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branches that produce fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. Every year, I drive by the many vineyards in our area and I am amazed at how these vines get hacked down to nothing at the end of harvest when winter is setting in. And every spring I am amazed at how they bounce back. This is all fine and good, but we all know that John’s gospel was not written to teach us how to prune grape vines. And we all know that when Jesus speaks it is often in those tricky metaphors that sometimes give us fits. So how are we to understand this gospel? How does it apply to those of us who haven’t spent time cutting and pruning and grafting in a vineyard somewhere? So what’s it all about? Judging by the number of churches that are named “The True Vine Fellowship,” this must be important.

So what does John tell us here? First of all, let’s keep in mind that Jesus is speaking to the disciples in this text. Out reading today is a teaching moment that followed a long question and answer session. Let’s hear the Lord’s opening statement once more in chpt. 15 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. I find it interesting that Jesus is talking about himself here: I am the vine and my Father keeps me pruned back. Every branch in me that doesn’t produce fruit, he lops off. And what’s more, the branches that do produce fruit aren’t left to do their own thing. They get pruned so they will produce even more. My first thought was that this makes no sense at all. I mean, how is it that the Messiah, God in the flesh, needs some sort of outside force to keep him in line? The one who is without sin, the one who defeated death, God incarnate who came to the world to grant us salvation and eternal life – this Jesus, this the Son of God, the True Vine – what’s he telling us here? That without God’s oversight, he might grow wild? Somehow, I can’t buy into that notion. Instead, I believe Jesus is showing us the path of the disciple. He is telling us that if we really want to go down this road, we need to be fruitful: we need to produce fruits to the glory of God. “OK, fine,” you might say. “I’ll give up some stuff. I’ll prune back my time spent in front of the TV, I’ll cut back on this, that, or the other thing.” But you already know that’s not what Jesus had in mind here. We don’t get to make the call. We’re attached, we’re hooked up to the life-giving love of God Almighty, and until we allow him to call the shots, the fruits of the Spirit that we produce are going to be slim at best.

The path of the disciple: it can seem like a scary idea, at first. It involves change, it involves surrender, and it involves taking a hard look at where we are on our journey of faith. What has helped me are the words of John in his first Epistle that we read earlier where he told the congregation (1 Jn 4:7) Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. Could it really be that simple? That the pruning God does for us is to teach and encourage us to love? That’s how we can be fruitful? Actually, it is; it just takes practice. When we get cut off in traffic, it’s so easy to call that speedster a jerk and then move on. But love them anyhow. When people hurt each other; when they lie and cheat and steal and show no sense for compassion whatsoever, how might they ever learn the value of compassion except through you? So love them anyway. Nobody will ever learn to love like Jesus overnight, but along the way the fruits you produce might surprise you. I was always taught that hate is a pretty strong word, and there is good reason for that truth. Love, on the other hand, is a whole lot stronger. It does require a bit more effort, but the fruits, the benefits, are out of this world. Praise be to God for his abiding love: a love that inspires us to be glad to follow the path of the disciple.

Amen & Shalom


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