Pruning the Vines
Text: John 15: 1-2,4-5
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
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Every once in a while I get surprised by a familiar item in my life. I don’t know if anything like this ever happens to you, but there are some things that you think you know all about and then something happens and you realize that you have been missing something this whole time. That happened to me about a month or so ago with my truck.
About a year ago when we decided that the house project I was planning was actually going to happen, I decided at that time, and rightly so I might add, that it would be necessary for me to have a truck rather than the SUV we had been driving. In the past year the truck has proven to be very useful and I think a wise investment.
When we first got the truck I read all the manuals and became familiar with some of the gadgets. It has a blue tooth connection for my cell phone which I really like, but it honestly doesn’t have nearly as many bells and whistles as some of the vehicles now days. After a time you become familiar with your vehicle and feel like you know it fairly well. Then one day I got really surprised.
I was working outside near the truck one day when it just started all on its own. The engine started and all the doors locked and no one was in the vehicle, it was just sitting there in the driveway running for no apparent reason. This, of course, was a bit of a surprise, because I really didn’t have any idea what was going on.
In the past I knew I had set off a panic alarm on vehicles when I carry the key fob in my pocket and somehow when I bend over or get in an odd position one of the other keys pushes the button and the darn thing goes off. This went through my mind when the truck started all by itself and I had no idea why. I pulled out my key fob and looked at it, this time looking a little more carefully than I had in the past. There it was, down in the lower left hand corner, a little key icon. I unlocked the truck, turned the engine off and tried it again. It worked. I didn’t realize I had that feature until I ran across it entirely by accident, even though I had looked at that key fob several times a day for the last year. I never noticed the remote start feature, and no one ever pointed it out to me. I felt a lot like the little boy in our commercial must have felt; really surprised!
This happens periodically with scripture texts as well. When there is a text that you think you are familiar with and you already think you know what it says, when you read it again, you don’t really read it, you just sort of take it in quickly, because it is so familiar. When this text in John that I read a few minutes ago came up in the lectionary readings for this week, I looked at it again, but failed to catch something that has been in there the entire time. I needed someone else to point it out to me.
I’ve been following a blog recently that is being published by the conference in coordination with our health insurance. This blog recently has been all about wellness and finding ways to make us clergy accountable for our own well-being. They have recently asked us to start tracking our vacation days, for example, to make sure we take off as often as we are supposed to. The blog last week began by asking some interesting questions, they asked about the number of hours of sleep, if we have been eating a healthy well-balanced diet, the amount of time we spend in spiritual disciplines; questions of this nature. Then there was a question that sort of threw me a curve ball; they asked how many times this week did I say “no”?
They then elaborated a little on this question and referenced the text I read a few minutes ago. I had to go read it again to see exactly what they were talking about. For all this time I thought I knew what the text said, and basically understood the pruning process to be the deliberate elimination of things in our lives that are not helpful, not productive or not positive. In other words, the branches that bear no fruit get the axe.
But there is a follow-up text that is a little more obscure. It is right there in the second half of verse two. Even the branches that do bear fruit, still get pruned, so they can bear even more fruit. I had not ever looked at the text this way in the context of saying “no”. In other words, if you are a person who likes to volunteer, for example, you are bearing fruit. But if you volunteer too many places, and have too much going on, and can’t really focus on one or two things that you are doing because of everything else that is going on, then you are bearing less fruit than you could.
This article went on to say that the importance of being able to say no, the importance of us being able to limit our involvement to a few things, ultimately makes us more productive. It is like taking a branch that is already bearing fruit and cutting it back so it can bear even more fruit. This was a new way of looking at this text for me. And I think it makes some sense.
If you think about it, there are certain professionals that have had this idea figured out for a long time. In the medical field, for example, many doctors specialize in certain areas. If you have sinus trouble, there is an ear, nose and throat doctor that can help. If you have knee trouble, there is a specialist for that as well. Musicians, I think, are also great in narrowing a focus. A great musician generally doesn’t play every instrument, they play a particular instrument amazingly well. We all know this to be true, but have you ever really thought about how it applies to your daily living?
Asking yourself the question “how many times this week have you said no” I think is a really valuable way of measuring if you are spreading yourself too thin. We want to do everything, we want to help everybody, we want to bear as much fruit as we can; but the thought of bearing even more fruit by saying no is not something that seems obvious. I think for most of us, if we feel like we want to do more, if we want to help more people, then we have to respond when asked in the affirmative. We have to say yes. How can we say no?
I believe this text points out that with a little pruning of our own lives, we can eventually do even more than we are doing right now. It’s just that we will become more effective and more focused on what we are doing, rather than having our attention and energy spread out among too many different things.
There is another point to all of this that I think is equally important. When our lives become overly chaotic, for whatever reason, that chaos robs us of our joy. Life is no longer fun, it becomes a series of one obligation after another.
I find it very interesting that in the very same Gospel, in the very same chapter, just a few verses later, we find a text in John about joy. Many commentaries don’t connect these two scriptures as having any level of continuity, but I’m not so sure. In John 15: 11 we find these words: I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
Give this some thought; think about the idea that your joy might be directly connected to how effectively you prune the areas of your life that currently bear fruit. I’m not talking about pruning away the bad habits or the major things you want to change. I’m talking about learning how to say no even in the areas where you currently bear fruit. Learning how to say no even when it is for a good cause or it is important work; we cannot do it all. No one can.
Connect these two scriptures in your mind. Jesus tells us to prune the areas of our lives that currently bear fruit, so we can bear even more fruit. Then Jesus tells us that he said this to us so that our joy may be in us, experienced by us and that our joy may be full or complete. I think there is a direct connection to learning how to say no, or learning to prune, and experiencing full and complete joy.
So go in peace, go with God, learn how to prune, learn how to say no, experience your joy and may the force be with you!