You were created to bear God’s love, complete God’s love, in the world, and Jesus invites you to rejoice in the pruning God needs to do to help you become your purpose and meaning.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifth Sunday of Easter, year B
Texts: John 15:1-8; 1 John 4:7-21
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
I discovered the importance of pruning in my first call.
Mary had planted spirea in front of the parsonage, and I learned that in late fall you need to cut the bushes back to only about 6 inches. It all looked wrong – these beautiful shrubs reduced to short stick bundles. But the next spring, the spirea came back rich and full and flowering. Without the pruning, the bushes would grow long and leggy and look terrible.
That’s the sum total of my plant lore. Mary is definitely our plant specialist. But I’ve never forgotten the wonder of both the painful-looking cutting back in late autumn and the lush beauty that came from it in the spring.
Sometimes you have to have things trimmed away to produce the true blessing that the plant can be.
It’s the same with you folks, Jesus says today.
To bear the fruit you were created to bear, Jesus says, you might need occasional trimming back, cutting away. There are two important truths here.
First, this means you’re meant to bear fruit. It’s your purpose, your reason for being. The elder in 1 John says that fruit is love: abiding in God’s love (like a branch joined to a vine) means you also love with God’s self-giving, sacrificial love 1 John proclaims today. In fact, the elder says that God’s love is only made complete when it is lived out in your love and in my love. Without our fruit, God’s love isn’t fully what God needs it to be.
The second thing is that Jesus does speak of cutting away, removing things that draw away from what makes fruit in you. And that might be painful. I don’t know if bushes and trees feel pain, but you and I should be prepared for some pain in being pruned.
You also can’t prune yourself, God does it.
That’s because pruning requires someone with the right knowledge, vision, and skill. I’ve been told that lilac bushes need pruning so they can blossom even more fully the next year. You can’t just cut them back whenever you like, though. Lilacs begin to set buds for the next year’s flowers not long after this year’s flowers are done. So you have to prune them right after the spring flowers are finished, or you might be sacrificing next year’s flowers. And you have to know what to cut.
Point is, we need someone who knows us better than we ourselves to see and cut away the things that keep us from loving as God made us to love.
So this could be your prayer, to ask the Spirit to open your eyes to what needs changing in you and also to do that pruning. To bring you healing for when it hurts, courage to face what needs facing.
And wisdom to still see yourself as God’s beloved, even as God works on you to become more like Christ.
But what does Jesus think needs pruning?
Jesus gives a huge hint today: “You have already been pruned by the word that I have spoken to you.” He says this pruning has already begun in the word he brought the disciples. So listen to Jesus’ teaching, his words that give life. That’s where we’ll see what he means.
One of the things Jesus hopes to prune away is fear. Fear shuts down your ability to bear love in the world. What happens if you risk? What if someone takes advantage? What if you are rejected or harmed? But Jesus’ word is constant: “don’t be afraid.” You are beloved of God, always. God can trim that fear away from you and open the way to love’s fruit.
Jesus also wants to prune away bias and prejudice. People didn’t use those specific words 2,000 years ago, but Jesus constantly called followers to see with God’s eyes and love with God’s heart. He called them to let go of their preconceived notions of outsiders and aliens, of people who struggle with obvious sins, their views of gender and patriarchy and legalism and privilege, and even race. God can trim away any bias or prejudice in you, remove any blindness to privilege or status you might have, and open the way to love’s fruit, which will lead to justice and peace in this world.
Jesus also wants to prune away hatred and enmity.
Those who hurt you, those who cause you pain, even those that others teach you to call “enemies,” Jesus knows that if you allow yourself to hate them, wish them ill, hope for their harm, you won’t be able to love as you were made to love. This is a hard pruning God needs to do; we far too easily relegate people to this place outside our hearts. But God can trim even your hatred and dislike away and open the way to love’s fruit. Even for that now-former enemy.
If you listen to Jesus, there are many more things that need pruning away for God’s love to emerge and be visible in our lives. Stick with Jesus’ word and you’ll see what needs cutting and also learn to trust God to do it for the love God knows is ready to flow from you.
There’s one more joy: your fruit and my fruit might not all look alike.
1 John is clear, all the fruit you and I bear is love, love like God’s. But just as there are Honeycrisp and Granny Smith apples and they’re both the same and different, so God loves diversity in what you and I bear in the world. What needs pruning in me or in you will sometimes be the same, but sometimes not. Likewise, you and I will both produce the fruit of God’s self-giving love, but how it works, and looks might be very different. God’s love has to address all the things that need it in the world, in whatever way needed. God will make sure the right fruit gets to the right place.
Just remember this: it’s pruning time, and that’s going to be a blessing to you and the world. You don’t need to be afraid. This is what you were made to be. To be God’s love. To complete God’s love. God just needs to do some things to help that happen.
In the name of Jesus. Amen