Thursday, April 30, 2015

Life on the Vine; John 15:1-8

Rev. George Miller
May 3, 2015
John 15:1-18

When you want to ease your brain and watch trash TV, there is perhaps nothing better than TLC, which ironically stands for the Learning Channel.

You can catch re-runs of “What Not To Wear,” “Say Yes to the Dress” and “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.”

There is also the show titled “Hoarders: Buried Alive” about people suffering from severe psychological wounds in which they just can’t throw things away.

This show is a hit, and I think I know why- because deep down we all have a bit of hoarder within us and anyone here, at any time, is probably a step away from having a house overfilled with stuff.

I know there’s an element of hoarding in me. That question of when to hold onto something and when to let it go.

Perfect example: birthday cards. When is it ok to trash them? Is there a set expectancy in which you are to display them or have them in your filing cabinet?

Does putting them in the trash a year later mean you don’t love and appreciate the person who gave the card? What about a month? What about a week? What about the next day?

What about shoe boxes and gift bags? What wonderful things they are that can be used to store things, mail things, to remember what you purchased or received.

How many empty shoe boxes and gift bags become too much? 10? 20? 100?

Perhaps this possibility of becoming a hoarder comes from having a transient nature. People come and go, places change, loved ones die.

But physical items? They remain.

I always wonder when is it the right time to throw certain things out. For example: flowers, like bouquets or altar arrangements.

When is dry too dry? When is faded color too faded? When is dead, dead?

This translates to my miniscule experience of gardening. My parents were gardeners. We always had a vegetable garden with peppers, tomatoes, string beans and corn.

My mother’s flower garden was the beauty of the neighborhood with marigolds, pansies and other perennials.

Me- well I don’t have that gift. It’s not that I have a green thumb or a brown thumb, but more like no thumb.

Every few years I’ll plant a few flowers, water them a few days, attempt to weed, and after a few weeks just let nature take its course.

It’s a shame because anyone who’s seen my lake house knows it is rich with land perfect for planting. Cacti, citrus, even a rose bush grows there.

I remember the first time I pruned the rose bush. A neighbor gave me her sheers and explained to me how I had to cut it back in order for it to live.

I hated to do that- felt like I was killing it, so I only cut back a small amount.

Incredible thing- the pruning did not kill the rose bush; instead a bud soon started to show.

Slowly, I took the chance and cut off some of the dead branches, then the leaves that were yellowed and eaten up by bugs.

Over the years I’ve watched that rose bush grow and produce pretty pink blooms.

This year I took a big step and pruned a lot of it, to the point I thought I was looking at nothing but a twig. This can’t be right- how can anything grow from a twig?

But then, this month I saw something I had not witnessed before- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 buds all growing, at the same time, in different locations of the rose bush.

The first 2 bloomed and I cut them off and put them in a little vase in the kitchen.

Then the other 3 bloomed and I cut those off and also put them in the kitchen.

That’s when I noticed the first bouquet had faded into pale pink and the petals were pitiful and falling. The new ones were a magnificent salmon and coral color.

It took a full day for me to feel it was ok to throw the 1st bouquet away; soon I will have to toss the second.

When does one prune? When does one clip and place into a vase? When does one completely throw away???

…today’s scripture must be a Green Thumbs dream. Completely based in the world of agriculture, it features an analogy based on viticulture- the art of growing grapes in order to make wine.

Wine making has been around for a long time. Noah planted a vineyard and then proceeded to get blazingly drunk.

Growing grapes is a noble profession, and the grapevine is the symbol of Israel, much like how the bald eagle represents America.

Grapevines were essential to the local economy, providing employment and revenue, much like orange groves here.

Wine used in celebration was seen as the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom, in which heaven appeared to be a possible reality, such as we experience at the wedding in Cana and during the Last Supper

Throughout the Old Testament, in Isaiah 5, Hosea 10 and Psalm 80, the grapevine is used to represent the people of God, those that were taken out of slavery and placed into the Promised Land where they grew and thrived.

So, it is no wonder that the Gospel of John has Jesus use this analogy of the grapevine, an analogy in which Jesus claims to be the vine and God is the vinegrower.

And anyone with a green thumb, or anyone who knows how to grow grapes knows that you need soil that is good, you need the right amount of watering, the right amount of light, and the right amount of pruning.

Pruning that takes away the things that are dead, pruning that takes away the things that slow the rest of the plant down, pruning that prevents new, beautiful, sweet life from blooming and being productive.

According to today’s scripture, it is Jesus, as the true vine, that we all get to abide in; it is Jesus as the true vine that we get to bear much fruit.

This notion of abiding in Jesus makes me recall a fact about the wine industry. In the 19th Century, the European wine industry was almost wiped out.

Their grapes were being eradicated by a tiny louse called phylloxera. This louse had emigrated from America and proceeded to feast on the roots of the European grapevines, wiping out vineyards across the continent.

To this day there is no known remedy to protect the vines from phylloxera.

What saved them; what offered them healing? Grafting vines onto rootstocks of American species that were louse resistant.

This practice continues to today. The fruit bearing part of the plant is able to maintain its own distinct character, but its roots are of someplace else.

Perhaps we can say the same of Christians. That we each bear our own unique mark, personality traits, physical appearances and cultural uniqueness, but our foundation, our roots, comes not from this world, but from Jesus Christ.

Last week we celebrated the Greek word “sozo”, meaning how Jesus is able to save and Jesus is able to heal.

Using this vine imagery presented in John, we also say the same.

That we are each a branch; we each have the ability to produce much fruit. But that as branches, we are susceptible to the louses of our day and circumstance.

What are those louses? We can call them sins, we can call them mistakes, we can call them transgressions, historical particularities, and personality perpetrators.

We all have them. We always will. It’s the nature of being human; it’s the reality of being imperfect.

These louses, these things that nibble on us, that cause us to be unwell or to produce rotten fruit can be many things:

Anger, resentment, the shoulda-coulda-wouldas, the replaying of the past, the set-ups for future fails, the inability to see or speak the truth.

Many are the louses that can eat away, destroy, wipe out what is good in us and what is able to produce much fruit.

Are we helpless to these louses? Are we permanent victims to these things that eat away our branches and tear apart our leaves?


Because we are not separate. We are not alone. We are united; we are grafted onto Christ, the true vine.

And Jesus is resistant to all these things.

Emotions and actions like rage, resentment, regret have no power over the resurrected Lord. Christ is resistant to them; Christ is able to stand up to whatever these louses may attempt to do.

Also, here’s something else- thanks to the event of the Resurrection, Jesus is eternal. Jesus is ever present. Jesus is always there.

What this means is that Jesus is not limited to space, time, circumstance, person or situation.

Jesus is the vine that is always there; above you, below you, beside you, within you.

Which means regardless if you are in New York, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Grand Rapids or Florida, you abide in Jesus the true vine and Jesus abides in you.

Which means regardless if you live in the house you were born in, or a college dorm, or an army barracks, or your 1st apartment in which the shower doesn’t work, or your dream home or a retirement community, you abide in Jesus the true vine and Jesus abides in you.

Which means that regardless of your siblings, classmates, dating partners, military comrades, spouse, children or great-grand children, you abide in Jesus the true vine and Jesus abides in you.

When we realize this, when we embrace this, we become a little less restless. We become more restful; more content.

As such, we get to strike root, grow a bit more, and welcome the opportunities to be pruned: to let go, to get rid of, to gladly lose the leaves that have yellowed or the branches that’ve been damaged by the louses of life.

In doing so, we become vines that are happy to seek nourishment, to seek the rain, to seek out the sun, to be thankful for good soil.

In Christ, we abide; in Christ we find a home; in Christ we bear fruit.

Fruit that tastes sweet of justice, fruit that tastes sweet of peace, fruit that tastes sweet of joy.

Fruit that tastes sweet of love that’s not phony or enabling, fruit that tastes sweet of honest welcome, fruit that tastes sweet of forgiveness, grace and compassion.

In Christ, we are each a branch of a heavenly vine that encourages us to grow ripe, that empowers us to let go, that encourages us to deal with what is alive, and empowers us to thrive, thrive, thrive.

In the Resurrected Christ we experience “sozo”: we are saved and we are healed from the louses that try to destroy our fruit, that try to stop our bloom.

In the Resurrected Christ, we have been grafted on the healthiest of vines. In Christ we have found our roots grounded in the best possible soil.

Amen and amen.

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