When I take Holy Communion to home or hospital, I often read a portion of today’s gospel. Jesus abiding with us, especially in times when we are anxious or distressed is reassuring. I skip the threat of pruning and burning useless branches, though. That’s not comforting. Do you think much about where you abide? Sometimes crises can get us to consider these things.
Jesus uses a botany example to illustrate what happens if we abide in him. I hesitate to talk authoritatively on plants, horticulture and growing things. We recently had cut tulips in our dining room. One evening I notice they’d turned toward the window. I think I’ve offended them and they turned away, or someone turned them. Karen tells me they are drawn and turn toward light, even after being cut. Really? It was dark outside. That’s where they’d turned. They are mad at me. Honestly I don’t think even Gardening for Dummies could help me. So with that disclaimer, here we go.
I am uncomfortable thinking of God with shears to whack at branches like me if I don’t bear good fruit. Even if we bear fruit, we still get pruned. But if we abide in Jesus, all will be okay. Cut off from the flow of his life, we’re as good as dead.
Everyone abides in something. Where we give our time, attention and energy nourishes what we become. Notice how many people abide with their smartphones – doing something that must be more important than watching where they’re walking or driving? Or they take a call while talking to the person eating lunch with them. Many abide on Facebook or Twitter. I guess it’s important stuff. And aren’t we blessed with a plethora of selfies people take these days? Even if we fail to notice, we bear the fruit of where we ground ourselves, O ye fellow branches. Jesus isn’t threatening here. He illustrates a universal truth. We become where we abide. Abiding in a vase of water was not enough for those tulips to survive.
God is the vinegrower. Some days we may feel God has cut us from the vine. Maybe we are inattentive to God, until we get into hot water. How do we know we abide enough or at all? We branches have a knack for winging it on our own, don’t we? All Jesus asks is that we abide in him to nourish and grow us by that endless flow of love between Jesus and the Father, where we can absorb a love beyond our knowing.
You know, we may be first cousins to tulips – and God’s method of growing us is to draw us toward the light of his love – shaping and helping us become what we have been created to be – bearing God’s kingdom for others?
How do we know if we bear worthwhile fruit or not? Raising the question raises Jesus, into our minds and consciousness. Now we’re conscious of him. What is the fruit of bearing Jesus’ life in ours like? This past week, Pope Francis calls a man he’d heard was ill to ask him how he was doing. The Pope sometimes does that, I understand. The man answers his phone: “This is Pope Francis.” Click! The Pope calls a second time. The man hangs up again, thinking it’s a prank. At this point I’d probably just let this guy go – turn him in to the vinegrower. No – the Pope calls a third time. This time the man realizes it is the Pope. He’s speechless. Pope Francis is not offended. He’s amused and humble enough to take the man more seriously than his own ego. So he invites the man and his wife to his public audience on Wednesday. There Francis meets and hugs them, assures him he really did dial him up. That’s what someone who abides in Jesus will do. A church abides in Jesus when we take his teachings seriously and put them into practice. When we share food with the hungry do we realize God is present at meals and tables? That makes what we do different than just serving at a soup kitchen. The fruit of eating at this table takes life in what we do for others. When people tutor the kids of Our Next Generation – when some of you take the elderly and frail to doctor appointments – this is the fruit of abiding in Jesus. Bearing kingdom fruit becomes the natural thing you do – nothing heroic, often simple, like giving a cup of cold water, a smile – speaking kindly to another, forgiving even if not asked, and if St. Paul’s is good for you – you’ll want to share the wealth with others. Invite them to join us. A connection into the vine and life of God – produces a fruit bearing life in us.
I’ll bet some of you caught Jesus’ words – that if we abide in him, ask, then we get whatever we wish. By now you probably know that doesn’t really work. You can ask, but he probably won’t send you a new Ferrari. So trust me here. Ask for what will help you abide and bear fruit. You’ll get that answered in spades. It’s the way we glorify God. Abide in Jesus, the vine, and leave the gardening and growing to God. After all, he created the Master Gardener program, and His spirit still tends the garden – and if we abide in Jesus, we abide in the Father, and through us branches God ever abides with those yet to be connected.