Sunday April 29, 2018- Based on John 15:1-8
A few weeks ago, I was watching my grandson Joey- it was that Saturday when the temperature was in the 80’s – a bit too hot and humid for an April day in my opinion. I decided to prune back some of my bushes in my flower beds. As is always the case, Joey wanted to help. While I was determined to take my pruning sheers and cut a certain bush with its spindly branches to the ground – Joey said “Wait Gigi= I like that bush– don’t cut it.” I proceeded to explain that unless I pruned it, It wouldn’t continue to grow into a healthy plant. The branches would remain skinny and frail. It became a teaching moment.
In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus is also having a teaching moment with his disciples. Because the writer of John tends to be more shall we say creative with his language and prose, he has Jesus teaching about his life and ministry in metaphor, a way to describe an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true. We hear Jesus describe himself as a vine and God as the vine grower. God’s job is to prune plants, cutting off branches which no longer promote growth on the plant. The plants or branches that Jesus was referring to are His disciples from the time that Jesus walked the earth to the present as well as into the future.
Plants are really quite amazing. They do not stay put, but grow in every direction if given the opportunity. They need support to grown in the correct direction – many gardeners use stakes or fencing to keep them in check.
If the plants are not trained to go in a certain direction or if they are not properly pruned, they can become destructive to surrounding plants. The gardener’s goal is to have healthy plants which bear new growth. We too have the goal to grow in our faith which we hope will bear healthy fruit.
How are we as disciples “trained” to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God?
We begin by reading the scriptures – to understand what is expected of us as Jesus’ disciples. For many of us, this was reinforced in attending Worship and Christian Education classes.
Parents bring their children to Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, worship and other opportunities to learn about the faith. But it’s not just about children – because Christian education is lifelong learning –
Through education, sermons, worship and community, we are taught what it means to bear fruit for the kingdom – The fruit of love and compassion for our neighbors, the fruit of serving those in need, the fruit of telling others about our faith, the fruit of patience and understanding, the fruit of being in fellowship with each other and holding each other accountable for our actions for our refusal to bear fruit.
Most of us learn at an early age what it means to behave as a disciple of Jesus.
Robert Fulghum wrote a book entitled All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten
In his book he says that Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic,
hold hands, and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.
This sums up what being it meant to be a disciple – Of how we are to treat each other, be aware of God’s creation that surrounds us; offer forgiveness, to be grateful for even the simplest things that God bestows on us and the knowledge that even as disciples we will experience death.
But as followers of Jesus, we know that death is not the final answer – we are not plants that simply shrivel up and die, but will bloom as part of God’s eternal kingdom.
Robert Fulghum also emphatically states that we are to LOOK – be aware of our surroundings –
As we look to the kind of ministry Jesus call us to, how much of our lives are spent “going wild”? How far do we grow from the vine we call Jesus? And how much are we letting ourselves be trained, guided, by the master gardener, God?
At times we can be that vine that seems to grow everywhere- like mint – if you have ever grown mint; you know that it doesn’t take long before your entire garden is overtaken by this plant. It can begin to cover other plants and zap nourishment from the soil. When you try to pull it out of the ground, you will find what seems like endless runners that are clinging to the dirt refusing to let go.
Like mint, We can start out with the best intentions; but we can quickly begin to lose sight of God in our lives. We stray from where we are planted, we overtake good soil by not sharing our time, talent or possessions, we refuse to forgive, we love ourselves more than our neighbors, or we leave messes for others to clean up. Our actions (both good and bad) have consequences in our relationships with others. Our negative behaviors may cause the death of those relationships or at the very least have negative effects on the lives of those around us. These actions can help disrupt the intentions God has for our community.
We may need to be pruned – it is never too late for us to ask God to intervene in our lives. While we may grow in a direction away from God – God never leaves us and loves us even when we grow wild and spindly!
I have to admit, that being the director of outreach and education that I was thrilled to be able to preach on the core value of learning. It dove tailed nicely with our High school senior recognition Sunday; a day we honor those seniors who have gone through at least 12 years of education – both at school and here at our church community.
One of my mantras is that Christian Education isn’t just Sunday school – St. Peter’s offers a wealth of educational opportunities to assist us on our faith journeys.
Worship is a great place for education – you come into this sanctuary and you listen to liturgy and music that gives us insight into God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit – you begin to learn and understand that each Sunday when you profess the Creed that God creates, Jesus died for our sins, we are to forgive the sins of others and that we are part of the communion of Saints both those living and those who entered God’s eternal kingdom.
I always tell our youth if you learn the church seasons and the liturgical colors, that once you enter the sanctuary you will know the season of the church – or at least have a good guess – If you see Red, you know that it is most likely Pentecost Sunday or Reformation – and if you know that Pentecost happens in the Spring and Reformation is always in the month of October, you can figure out the season.
During the Scripture readings and the sermon we learn to understand how scripture does in fact apply to us today; and the sacraments are a reminder that we are given God’s grace; that our sins are forgiven and we are all branches in God’s family tree.
We learn anytime we are in community with each other. We learn what it means to carry out God’s call together. We learn through serving the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing those in need. We continually learn about the nature of God through many varied experiences not only here in church, but out in the world as well.
Going back to Fulghum again, it is interesting to note the term for Kindergarten is actually German for garden of children. In 1817, Frederick Froebel established a school where he believed that God’s reason should be the center of the educational system.
Froebel called for German women to come together and support the kindergarten. He described children as plants and teachers as gardeners. So this bit of history parallels our Gospel Reading.
We are called to be both the branch and the gardener or the learner and the teacher – we can help equip those around us to do God’s work in this world. We hear the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child, but I am also a firm believer that it takes a whole congregation to raise a disciple.
Or to put it in gardening terms – we are all called to tend God’s garden – helping to weed out bad behavior and to fertilize the seeds that have been planted by Sunday School teachers, Pastor’s, youth leaders and the community of St. Peters. It is part of our Baptismal promises that we make for every child of God that is baptized. We are all called to nurture each other to grow in the faith.
Author C. Joy Bell has this to say about growth and Education:
“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open.
We are called to be risk takers for the kingdom of God – to reach our branches out as far as we can and we are fortunate to have God as our master gardener. God not only gives us fruit to consume, He wants us to produce much fruit. Again we point to John 15:5 where Jesus tells us “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” He’s telling us that to be able to do the things that make a difference in the world that we need to stay attached to Him. He is our primary source of nourishment and we need to be solidly connected to Him. Just as fruits that we eat nourish us, being closely attached to Him gives us what we need most to do the things He wants us to do in our lives.
Today we honor our high school seniors who will soon be graduating from high school. They have been tended by many adults in many gardens – The gardens of their home, school, clubs, work and here at Church. We lift them up today and recognize that while their high school journey is coming to a close –their faith journeys continue; just as our faith journeys continue.
We all need to remember that we are the branches, branches that are connected to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and in him we are given new life – new life which includes bearing fruit for the Kingdom of God. Amen.