The poets tell us that there are two great metaphors for life: the river and the garden. That’s likely why after declaring, “I am the bread, the light, the door, the good shepherd, the resurrection, the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus says, “I am the true vine and my Father is the vinegrower.”
That makes us the branches. And the question John’s Gospel raises is why do we have to be pruned?
John 15:1-8 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
Otherwise, we’ll graft ourselves to an unhealthy host
Keeps us close to the vine
We can’t prune ourselves
Produce more flowers and fruit
God cares more about faithful fruit than random growth
Fred Craddock, so the story has been told, was invited to preach on an Easter Sunday. The sanctuary was covered in lilies, 500 in all, white potted plants arranged in the shape of a cross from the chancel to the communion rail, around the baptismal font and lining the windowsills. As the service went on, Craddock felt more and more uneasy. He stood up for the sermon, offered a word, and sat down still unsure. The final hymn was sung, the hands were shaken and the smiles exchanged. He went back into the sanctuary, walked down front and realized what was troubling him. The flowers were fake. They don’t have to be cultivated and cut, they don’t have to forsake their blossoms to find them again. Plastic lilies don’t die.
Broken limbs that serve no function, thorny stems that pierce without discretion, tangled brambles that twist with constriction, spindly sprouts that trail further and further away from the source, we are so often a people rooting in rotten soil. There’s a term for it horticultural: dead growth.
Life in the garden, we believe, is better as an uncultivated self, but the gospel truth of our green thumb Savior is that yields are increased and harvests are healthier on the other side of the blade.
Christians are, perhaps, the only people who willingly submit themselves to the sheers, who pray to be snipped, who offer thanks to a God who not only abides with us on the vine but who also gathers up our plastic and dead places for the fire.
Why do we have to be pruned?
Because “today’s cut is tomorrow’s fruit” (unknown author).