Bearing Fruit
John 15:1-11

Today we take the next step in our journey through the seasons of discipleship.  We aren’t following chronologically though.  Today we are looking at ‘Bearing Fruit’.  Our Gospel text uses the wonderful metaphor of Jesus as the true vine. 

Whenever I’ve heard or read this reading I’ve always imagined grape vines and here we are in such close proximity of the Yarra Valley.  It would have been great to transport you all out to where I conducted a wedding on December 20, under a rotunda at Wild Cattle Creek, with the grapevines just a few metres away.  Then we could have walked amongst them and seen more clearly what they look like and how they grow.  But I’m sure most of you know what a grapevine looks like anyway!

I love driving through the valley and looking out across the vines when they are all green and beautiful, with their fruit hanging beneath the foliage. 

They of course look their best when they receive the nourishment they need, the fresh new growth is connected to the earth through the main vine, and this is the source of their sustenance.  We are connected to Jesus, our true vine at our Baptism, it’s when we become members of God’s family that we become connected to the Father through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Christ is the centre and source of all that we are and through him we are empowered to grow and bear fruit, just like the vines in the vineyard.

Do you think the vines in the valley would look so healthy and produce lots of fruit if they hadn’t been pruned regularly?

I don’t have much experience with grapevines, but apparently they need to be cut back quite heavily to ensure that they produce well each year.  I do know that the rose bush at the front of my house wasn’t pruned last year and all it did was grow a couple of extra long branches and only managed a couple of decent flowers.  My bet is that if we prune it this year, in the proper way and at the proper time it will be magnificent next year.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus says that his Father, the vinegrower, will remove branches that don’t bear any fruit and even those that do bear fruit he will prune so that they will bear more fruit in the future.

If we then look at our own lives in the context of this metaphor I think we can learn a great deal.  The vinegrower cuts off any branches that don’t bear any fruit, these are taken away and thrown into the fire.  This is the tough part of the reading, “where is the grace in that?” is the question that’s always asked.  This is the stark reality of life.  If we cut ourselves off from the source of grace, that is, from our Lord and Saviour, the end result will most likely be that we are thrown into the fire.  But as the reading says, when we abide in him, when we remain connected to the vine, we will bear much fruit.  Only a branch that is bearing no fruit will be cut off and burnt.

This might be a good point to discuss what constitutes bearing fruit?  Now I have to admit that on my first couple of readings of this text and probably for most of my life I’ve thought of bearing fruit to mean the things that we do as a result and in response to the gift of salvation that God has given us through his Son.  It was only this week that I tied Galatians 5:22, the fruits of the Spirit to this text.

And you may be asking, “What are the fruits of the Spirit?”  I’m sure you’ll recognise them, LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GENEROSITY, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS and SELF-CONTROL.  That’s a fair list, but when you think about those things are as much about being as they are doing.  They are about who we are as God’s children.  They are the result of growing through Christ and his Word that is coursing through us and nourishing us.

When we remain connected to the vine we still require pruning though, old growth in a vine is cut off to allow for the new season’s growth, to bear fruit in abundance.  I think it’s here that the Ten Commandments are important to our growth.  When we measure ourselves against them we become aware of our sin, we know where we fall short and our growth has been stunted, where our branches have perhaps withered a little.

Sin gets in the way of our growth, when we are drawn into a cycle of sinning we need to cut it off, repent, seek forgiveness, before we can hope to flourish again and bear fruit in that limb.  When we are forgiven it’s a lot like being pruned, we cut off the part that has caused the sin, not literally but metaphorically!

To me it’s a bit like the system restore function on a computer, if things go a bit haywire with a programme or you pick up a virus, you can go back to a point before the incident and restore the system to how it was.  I think it would be great if we could have a “do-over”, go back to a point before the sin was committed, before we upset someone, or did some wrong by them and start again, with a clean slate. 

But we often learn by our mistakes don’t we, if we erase them completely we may do them again, so pruning is a better example, where we leave some of the new growth there, but cut some off to enable an abundance of new fruit to grow.

I remember as a child our house at Cummins had pampas grass plant in the front yard.  I remember as being huge, there was nothing that would kill it.  My dad would sometimes even burn the thing to try and control it and lo and behold, it would bounce back stronger and healthier each time.  We should be the same, when we are pruned back by God, having our sins forgiven we are able to bounce back, to flourish, and like the pampas grass, put forth seeds in the world to encourage growth in others.  When we bear the fruits of the Spirit, LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GENEROSITY, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS and SELF-CONTROL, others see them in us and may ask the question, where do they come from?

Then we need to be ready to reply that it comes from living our lives connected to the true vine, to Jesus Christ, who feeds us and nourishes us and even prunes us back from time to time, because he knows that we can then bear more fruit.

May you remain connected to the true vine, may you be prepared to receive a little pruning from time to time and may you bear much fruit through the power of the Spirit flowing through you.

Amen.