We Bear Fruit

How Shall We Love

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Throughout the three weeks of this series, the theme of giving glory or glorifying God arises again and again, which raises important questions for worship planners and leaders: "How do we give God glory?"

Rocks. Not just rocks, but nine-tenths of a ton of rocks! Those are some serious rocks. It was a gift for my wife. Of course, she went and bought them herself. She didn’t trust us to get the right kind, and I don’t blame her. Rocks are rocks as far as I can tell. So, she went to Fort Wayne Rocks and bought just shy of a ton of rocks that now sit in our driveway. Waiting.

Now, when I say rocks, just so there is no confusion, I don’t mean precious stones. At least precious as in valuable, as in gemstones, as in the kind you would wear. This is limestone. Rocks. Not even the pretty Indiana limestone that they use to face buildings all over the country. No, this is the stuff they break up to make back roads that no one really wants to drive on. They aren’t pretty, in a conventional kind of way. Just a pile of rocks. Waiting.

It is always difficult to buy presents for my wife. Whether Christmas, birthday, or Mother’s Day - she just doesn’t like normal kinds of gifts. I see the retailers pulling out the stops trying to get us to save the whole world’s economy this Mother’s Day by encouraging us to buy almost anything. Jewelry for Mother’s Day, flowers, technology, heck, buy mom a new car, some of them plead. But not a single one has mentioned rocks. Just sayin’.

Still, somewhere along the line, I learned that giving to someone you love is not about giving what you want to give, but giving what they want to receive. I know; it seems simple now, but it took a long time for me to get there. It took a lot of gifts that were received with grace and gratitude but were not terribly useful or practical or even used after the holiday had passed. It took a lot of me trying to make her into my image of her, trying to think what I would like if I were her, trying to imagine she was something other than what she was. Instead, what I should have been doing was asking what would make her happy, what would please her in who she was.

What does all of that have to do with the vine in our text for this week? And about bearing fruit? Well, I’m not exactly sure, but it seemed appropriate, in a way. That maybe there was something here about how we bear fruit for one another, about how we love one another. That’s the theme for the series, anyway. Let’s see if we can find a link.

The vine had been used by earlier rabbis and prophets, but to represent Israel. “Israel is a luxurious vine,” claims Hosea, “that yields its fruit” (Hosea 10:1). Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel all use the image of the vine to describe the people of God in Israel. Sometimes, as in Jeremiah, the reference is to a vine that was planted to produce good fruit and now has gone wild, producing fruit unfit for nourishment. The vine has a long tradition in the mindset of the people of God.

But Jesus takes it and turns it a little bit from the usual understanding. Instead of Israel as the vine, instead of the people of God planted and tended by God, Jesus says, “I am the vine.” More than that, he says he is the vine, and we are the branches. We can view this as a hierarchical statement if we want to, but it makes more sense to see it as a description of role and function. Jesus is the source of sustenance; Jesus is the connection to the root system that keeps us stable and fed and able to tend to the business of the branch, which is producing fruit.

Beyond that simple description, there is advice aplenty in these eight verses. Stay connected, that’s number one here. Stay connected to the vine, to the source. Without that, there will be no fruit. There is also a warning - watch out for pruning. Not because of being cut off so much, as being left out. We always read this as judgment, and it is. But the real power of the image is that what is pruned misses the vitality of connection; you miss the verdant life offered; you miss out on the sustenance and strengthening and the glory of growth and life and joy. And you miss the opportunity to produce fruit.

Again, we read this as a responsibility, and it is. We are to produce fruit, that is clear from these verses. It is our job; it is our responsibility, our reason for being. But it is also our fulfillment and our joy;, it is our opportunity and hope. It is the way we have of responding to the one we love.

Gift-giving, whatever the occasion, is a chance to express love. To return love. To claim love. It is our opportunity to do something, not for ourselves, but for one who loves us. And while our inclination is to try and find something that we like, something that says something about us for the one that we love, maturity invites us to find something that brings joy to the receiver, something that speaks of the kind of person he/she is.

It is our joy as branches of the vine to bring glory to God. That’s what verse 8 says anyway. So, how do we give glory to God? By producing the kind of fruit that says more about who God is than about who we are. By producing the kind of fruit that God calls for rather than what might be our preference. That means we need to learn about the God we love. We need to know who this God is and what it is that this God wants before we can bring the offering; before we can produce the fruit that gives God glory.

We do that by abiding in the vine, by dwelling on the words of Jesus until the words of Jesus become our words. Until we will his will; until we are so attached, so much a part of the vine that it is his blood that courses through our veins; it is his love that causes our hearts to pound; it is his joy that fulfills us. Apart from that, we wither. Cut off from that source, we feel, and we are empty. Filled by that love, we can produce the fruit that gives God glory. Not our will, but God’s will be done.

So, rocks and stones. They sit out there, waiting. You see the real gift is not the purchase of the stones. That’s already been done. The real gift will be when we work side by side and lay them out where she wants them. The real gift will be when we work in the garden, building up the borders, defining the contours, laying down the foundations as she directs. The gift we give, the fruit we bear, is the willingness to work, in love.

In This Series...

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes


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In This Series...

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes