Pruned for a Purpose
I. Jesus has come to his last day upon this earth. There are some things he wants to do; there are some things he wants to say. And more importantly, Jesus knows that the end of his life is coming. He had predicted his death several times already. There is no evidence that he had predicted the exact day of his death or how it would unfold. But, clearly, he knew it was close.
The day began with preparation for the Passover Feast – a feast which turned into the Last Supper. At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. Everything finished, Jesus began to talk with only his disciples. It was an intimate, thoughtful speech. It included the passage we read this morning. As we look at this portion of his farewell address to his disciples, remember that this came at the end of the Last Supper and just before he would be arrested and condemned to die. This was clearly important!
Jesus began by saying:
1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.
A. I hear Jesus reaching back to finish the prophecy of Isaiah; the original prophecy is called the Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard; you can find it in Isaiah 5.
5:1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? (Isa 5.1-4)
In that prophecy, Isaiah understands that lost, rebellious Israel is that vineyard. Then, he goes on to declare God’s punishment on that rebellious vineyard.
B. Now, at the Last Supper, on the last night of his life, Jesus declares that he is the true vine that will produce the kind of fruit the Father wants. As Jesus talks about his role as the true vine, he speaks of the pruning that is necessary so that good fruit may come.
I don’t know anything about pruning grapevines. We never grow any grapes except the wild muscadines that inhabit the woods below the house. I do know something about pruning azaleas, though. When we moved into our house, most of the azaleas had grown too large for their locations or they had lost their shape. I pruned them back over three years, cutting away the dead limbs and shrinking them until they were the right size. All this pruning worried my wife; she didn’t like it much; she was afraid that I was killing them rather than pruning them. I found that it was better to prune azalea when she was away from the house. After three years, with the azaleas blooming better each year as I shrank them, she decided that I might make a gardener after all. And I saw that pruning the azaleas gives us a more beautiful and valuable plant.
I believe that the disciples would be familiar with the farmer pruning the vines. People in that time lived close to the land and farming. They would have watched farmers tend to their vineyards; they would know how pruning worked to produce more fruit. In contrast, I believe that many of us have never seen anyone prune grape vines.
As Jesus said to the disciples that night:
Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.
This is hard text for me to take at face value. I believe we are called to take the Bible seriously and never discount anything in it. Still, I find passages in the Bible that are just hard for me to accept: the moral standard may be difficult; the example may be one that I would never want to keep; or on first reading, a passage seems to go against my deepest values. I hope you have passages in the Bible that make you squirm, too.
A. On first reading, I am uncomfortable with the idea of God pruning us or those I care about.
+First, I do not imagine any of us coming passively before God; I prefer to consider the well-spoken Gospel and respond with commitment.
+Second, teaching submission to pruning by God models submission to all kinds of forced pruning by those more powerful than ourselves.
+Third, reminders of frustrations, disappointments, failures, abuses are not the most attractive parts of religion.
I can only resolve this by recognizing that we all have suffered difficult experiences in our lives.
+Some of those difficult experiences were at the hands of another person.
+some of those are just the random events that fall on any of us as we live in the world;
+some of those are those life challenges by which we measure ourselves from time to time.
We may not be able to decide whether those challenges come to us. Still, we can determine how we will respond. We can decide whether we will respond with strength and grace and determination and maybe forgiveness OR we can decide to respond with fear and reactivity and confusion and maybe resentment. Our godly response may be compliance and acceptance; it may be objection and resistance. The way we respond may determine whether any difficult experience leads to more fruitfulness or leads to fruitless bitterness.
III. First, understand the arrest and cross as Jesus’ pruning experiences. I wonder if Jesus had in mind the pruning of the vine/himself that was about to happen with his betrayal and arrest. I wonder if Jesus saw himself being painfully pruned so that he might bear good fruit first.
B. Second, the disciples were about to experience their own pruning in Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. Would their pruning lead to more fruit or to their falling away? Before that terrible week would end:
+Judas would betray Jesus and completely cut himself off.
+Simon would deny Jesus and discover how fearful he was.
+Thomas would doubt the resurrection.
+and all the rest would run in fear from the arrest and then hide in the Upper Room.
Certainly, they were painful experiences for the disciples. Ultimately, those pruning experiences led to bearing more fruit for Simon and Thomas and the rest of the 11; those pruning experiences led to failure for Judas.
[APPLIC:] Think about our hardest moments as pruning experiences. Think about the pain, about the fruit that comes from the pruning. Could God use our worst days to prune and prepare us to become more fruitful? I hope we can count on that. Paul said in Romans 8:
28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
IV. As I looked over this passage again…
B. Jesus said: “The Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit.”
The job of Christians is to be fruitful in God’s kingdom.
+Fruitful in our witness.
+Fruitful in our daily work.
+Fruitful in our family and community life.
It is our fruitfulness that glorifies God.
D. Fourth, “10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”So, this is the way we abide in Jesus love – by keeping his commandments. We know what he has taught us; his commandments are plainly written in the scriptures. This is not hard.
E. Fifth, Jesus said, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Jesus wants us to live in joy – not in fear, or constant duress, or backbreaking work. Jesus wants us to live in joy.
F. Sixth, Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” OK, this is harder; he gets very specific. 13 “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” Jesus knows that the cross and his death lie before him, and it will not be long. He clearly asks us to lay down our lives for our friends.
+Our soldiers on the battlefields of Afghanistan know exactly what this means.
+In everyday life, I believe that laying down our lives for those dear to us means doing the right thing even if it means putting your job on the line.
+Other times, laying down our lives is the ordinary: Going to work every day for our families.
+Taking a risk to let go of the familiar in order to make a better way for our families or our communities. Every one of us can find some tired old habit that keeps us from going in a new, untested direction. Who knows? That new direction may be the best way to break out of a rut that is holding us back.
[CONCL:] Jesus calls us to be fruitful and to abide in his love. The way into that fruitfulness and love is to work with God when we are pruned. Pruning can be painful because it can cut away parts of our lives that we want to keep. But, if we will allow God to prune and to shape us, then we can become the Christ-persons we know God wants us to be. As Jesus said: “Abide in me as I abide in you. What a promise! What a challenge! What a blessing!