Rooted, Growing, Bearing Fruit - John 15:1-5, 8
I want us each to imagine ourselves as a tree or plant of some kind. Maybe you’re a sweet strawberry vine. Perhaps a wise ancient oak. How about a colorful maple tree in the fall? Or maybe you’re a hard-shelled coconut tree. Jesus says here that we are connected to Him, the True Vine. Not just the disciples He was speaking to then, but all Christians from all times and places are branches on this magnificent tree of life.
This fruit metaphor is something Jesus and the New Testament authors use a lot to describe the Christian spiritual journey. And it’s an image Old Testament prophets used a lot to describe God’s relationship with Israel. Keeping that image of you as a plant in mind, let’s consider the phases of our growth from being a little seed planted in soil to being a tree at harvest time that bears good fruit. First, we are planted in good soil, and rooted and grounded in God. Hopefully our family and our faith community helped lay a good faith foundation and allowed our roots to become firmly established. As young Christians we hopefully stayed connected to the Vine and made our roots stronger by being involved in church, Sunday School, Confirmation, or youth group. We stay connected to our roots when our family actively talks about faith at home. When we talk to parents, grandparents, siblings and friends about God. And as we grow up, we know we are connected to Jesus Christ the True Vine.
After the first phase of our roots getting firmly established, we come to the second phase of our stem or trunk growing tall. As we grow up physically in life, hopefully we mature on the spiritual journey as well. Being part of a faith community is important here. Taking advantage of adult education, bible studies, retreat opportunities, and service projects all help us grow. And being faithful to our own individual practices like prayer, reading scripture and devotions, making time for silence and complementation—all help us mature as Christians. These practices build on our solid root system and help us grow upward, like a flower starting to grow a stem and move toward the sun.
The third phase as we grow in life and on the spiritual journey, is when we come to a point when we’re ready to bear fruit. If the groundwork has been laid. If we we’re in good soil with a strong root system in place. If our branches are sturdy and strong. Then fruit emerges naturally. Just like a tree naturally bears fruit, so the mature Christian will naturally do good works and acts of love and service.
We are all vines of some kind or another. Connected to Jesus, the True Vine. Hopefully we’re all growing up and staying connected. And bearing fruit in the world. Now what does this fruit look like? It might look like volunteering somewhere, doing acts of charity or advocating for justice. It might mean sharing your faith with a friend and inviting them to church. Or it might mean mentoring youth or teaching Sunday School. And in a few weeks we’re actually going to have “God’s Work Our Hands Sunday” where we as a congregation go out and Bear the Fruit of Service on October 17th.
And bearing fruit isn’t just about doing things, it’s also a way of being. The fruit of a healthy relationship with God can manifest as the gentle calmness we feel in the midst chaos, the peace we have with life. A simple acceptance of what is. This fruit can come in the form of improved relationships with others. Or increased compassion and kindness. Humility and open-mindedness. St. Paul lists the fruits of Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
I think of this time of pandemic as a period when we’ve been in the soil. To paraphrase what I wrote in our summer newsletter: “In many ways the past 18 months have been a time of dormancy, a period of spiritual germination in the soil. Surrounded by decaying plant matter, a seed spreads out its roots and grows upward toward the shining rays of sunlight. In a similar way church, and society in general, has spent the past 18 months germinating in the ground awaiting something new. Our religious tradition is filled with themes of rebirth and transformation, of death and resurrection. And we are well poised for rebirth and transformation in our own time. Like any true rebirth experience, the circumstances that led us here are not what we would have chosen. There has been much loss. There has been loneliness and suffering. There has been disease and death. But the months and years ahead offer us a time to spread our roots, emerge through the mud, burst forth into new ground, grow, and bear good fruit…Let this fall be a time of harvest for us. For the work of visioning for our future. For the work of discerning our God-given calling and growing in Christian maturity. For the work of loving and serving the world in our own unique way. For the work of digging deep, reaching out, and changing lives.”
And if that sounds like a challenge, remember we’re not in this alone. Jesus is the Vine and God the Father is the Vine grower. It’s not on us to come up with a plan about how to establish roots. It’s just what happens naturally when we’re planted in good soil; when the Spirit plants its seed in us. And just like we don’t take credit for our physical growth, it just happens to us naturally, in the same way it doesn’t make sense to take pride in our spiritual growth either. It’s all God’s doing. And that third phase of fruit that we bear isn’t something that earns us God’s favor or salvation; that fruit is the natural consequence of a life lived in connection with God. The good works we do don’t set us right with God. The good works we do are the result of our already being set right with God.
And so we as the church get to share those results with the world. We get to share that good fruit in whatever form it takes. That’s our calling as Christians. To be branches on the Vine who is Christ. To be rooted and connected, to grow and mature, and to reach out and bear fruit. So let us enter this time of harvest, and bear fruit in the world. Pray for guidance about what form your fruit takes. Which ministries to be involved in. What spiritual practices to do. How we engage with the world at this uncertain time. And trust that God will guide us in our growth and bless us with the good fruit to share.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pastor Brian 09/19/2021