the one about pruning...
April 30, 2018, 8:15 AM

Sermon from April 29, 2018

Text: John 15:1-8, Acts 8:26-40

Grace and peace to each of you from God our creator and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ.  Will y'all pray with me; may the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen!




So, those are things of the world, which I cannot do. I really don't have a lick of horticultural skills within me. In fact, if it requires any more than ‘water’ I am almost at a loss at what to do. I can be witness to the great beauty of seeing plants grow, of flowers blooming, and fruit bursting forth from the branch it is on, but asking (or expecting) me to care for it and help it grow and form, that I do not possess the required gifts. I’ve shared the story from my first call that I was gifted a poinsettia plant after my first Christmas there. For months I believed that that little plant was either the most hardy plant ever conceived – or that it was fake. I never watered it. I didn’t care for it. It just thrived! It’s a miracle! Of course, as I recounted to that possibility to someone at the time, I was told the real story. The custodian had been watering it for me since I received it. Without her, that plant would’ve ended up the same as every other potted plant in my life. Scraggled, withered, and dead. Today, I like to joke that the only reason that our kids and animals are alive and well in our house is because I can hear them tell me that they’re hungry.

However, though I don't have a lot of skill when it comes to gardening, tilling, planting, or watering plants, I do know some of the hard things that are required in caring for those plants. I know that at times one must prune a bush for it to yield further growth. At times one must cut off from the bush either that which is not growing or cut the ‘excess’ growth so that more energy in the plant can be given to those areas needed to let the plant thrive. It is not fancy work and the plant itself doesn't look all that great when the pruning is complete. That selective cutting off of what doesn't help the plant leaves it bare and open; vulnerable. But, the plant isn't left to its own devices. It is continually cared for, watered, looked after, and checked upon as it continues to thrive and grow. Without those parts of it that limited its growth no longer a part of the plant, the beauty it will give will be wonderful.

The same can be said for us as we live out our lives as disciples of Christ. In our gospel today, Jesus tells us that he is the vine, we are the branches, and that God is the vinedresser (or farmer). From Jesus we are given life, we are a part of this great vineyard that grows wonderful fruit. Fruit that is bursting with the love and nourishment from Jesus. God is there cultivating us, caring for us, watching over our growth. And yes, God does prune us where we need to be pruned. God does indeed selectively point out, cut off, and cast away those things in our lives that keep us from seeing God's presence and keeps us from growing the fruit of God's gospel - serving God and neighbor, loving God and neighbor, and dwelling in Christ as Christ dwells within us.

There are those parts of ourselves where, while it is growing from us, keeps us from growing fully into the faith and life that is intended. God, working through ourselves and through others, points out and prunes those places that we focus too much on. Those areas which can keep us from growing in the way that God has intended. A snip here, and a snap there. To us, it can feel like God is just taking those gardening shears and just 'going to town' on us as God casts out those areas that we sinfully enjoy and that which comes easy to us, but that which draws us away from God and way from being a part of the vine that is Christ.

God points out and prunes those areas where we draw into ourselves - those areas where we think more about 'me' than we do about 'we.' The part that seeks to horde instead of share of God's creation, that part of us which is quick to judge those around us instead of forgiving out of love. Those parts where we feel compelled to speak without listening to the hurts and needs of those before us. Those parts where we only view ‘our stuff’ as most important, and that other ‘ideas’ or not worth the time, space, or air they are devoted to. Those parts where we are more apt to concern ourselves with just 'us’, yet God prunes us as we are directed to help and serve those in need around us in and through our love and faith.

This is hard stuff and when we are pruned we feel open, raw, and exposed. We ache at the world in which looks at us in this vulnerable state.

My second year in seminary I was able to go on a trip to Mexico City. Mexico City is a beautiful, vibrant, and historic city. There are so many cool things about it - ancient ruins, wonderful museums, delicious (DELICIOUS) food. Vibrant colors, fantastic music, and a lively culture. Mexico City is awesome, but it is also not without its downside.  

Rampant poverty, appalling living conditions for many, crime, violence, hunger, pollution and needs beyond belief. While there, our group went to a shanty town; homes built simply with corrugated steel roofs, cinder block walls, and dirt floors. We helped teach and play with the local children and we ate a delicious meal prepared by the women of the town. It is here that I could see how much I had looked inward in my life. 

Where I complained in a restaurant back home if the water tasted a 'bit funny,' while these children couldn't even drink the water in town or they might get horribly ill. Where I could fret here about 'what to wear' while those fathers and husbands only had one shirt to work, live, and play in. I can tell you now, that was a pruning experience for me. After that time, I felt raw, broken, and vulnerable because for so long I could see how much I cared more about 'me' than about those around me, not caring to see the great needs that surround us all.

But, I wasn't left alone, just as those plants in the vineyard are not left alone after they've been pruned. We are not left alone as children of God, branches of the vine that is Christ. After the ‘pruning’ in faith of our lives, we are cared for by God through others around us. Where we seek conversation, dive into prayer, and reach out in relationship with others to help ourselves grow into that beautiful fruit that God has intended all along.

After that experience in Mexico, I’ve wanted to be a part of conversations. I’ve strived to gently correct those who hold stereotypically untrue views regarding are sisters and brothers from that beautiful country. I’ve sought to learn more about the struggles they live with by listening to those who have experienced it.

We are all a part of the vine, grafted into Christ through our baptisms. Where we do live and abide in Christ, as Christ dwells within us. God doesn't prune us and open us to those needs around us so we just feel bad about ourselves and ask simply for forgiveness for our pettiness. No, God prunes, but then nourishes us in Christ and encourages us to grow in ways that the fruit of God's labor is made in us so that we might proclaim the Gospel for all, so that we might LIVE out that Gospel for all, so that we might know that Gospel for all in us.

We are a part of this great and wonderful vine that gives us life, we are a part of the vine that is Jesus the Christ. Without whom we can do no thing.  Without whom our joy is never complete. All of our readings this morning point us to what life in God, life in Christ is all about.

It is a relationship of love and service.

We are part of a vast body, the Body of Christ, grafted and adopted through our baptisms. We proclaim along with the eunuch today that, "What can keep me from being a part of this?" NOTHING can keep us from being a part of the body, nothing stands between us and the holy waters of baptism that wash us and give us new life in Christ. We read today that we love and serve because God first loved us, sending us the son so that sin and death are no more. Finally, we read that we receive life and nourishment from Christ as a branch, which bears wonderful fruit. We are comforted by the fact that God is the vinedresser, watching and caring over us and the world - the entire body, the entire vineyard - that is in Christ our Lord.

We are fed and nourished, we are pruned to grow, and we are encouraged to bear fruit in faith so that others might know that God loves, God cares, and God watches over us in grace just as a farmer cares for his or her crops and flowers.

With this message, with this truth, we are called and encouraged to live out that Gospel for others.  Where we live our lives caring for all instead of looking inward upon ourselves which sin causes us to do and that which is so easy to fall into. Where we are open to God's pruning, where we know that God's pruning isn't to make us shameful or judged, but so that we can continue to grow and thrive in the light of God's love. Bearing fruit in the growing of our faith, the spreading the Gospel message to all, and the serving of others over the inward looking toward ourselves.

Pruning at times isn't a glamorous job. But, when those plants bloom; when faith thrives. It is a beautiful wonder and sight to behold. Amen.

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