Old Testament Reading- Isaiah 4:2-6
New Testament Reading- John 15:1-8
By Henry J. Rafferty CLP -May 2, 2021
Going to the grocery store is, for most of us, a weekly priority. Maybe some go less than that and maybe some go more, but I am going to play it out as once a week. While we are there, especially in this modern age, we can buy everything imaginable, from cleaning supplies to deli items. Usually, the first thing we see in most store layouts is the produce section. Produce is all the fresh selections of fruits and vegetables in their natural state, but how often do we think of that. It’s like asking some children where milk comes from and they tell you the store instead of from cows. Much of society has lost a sense of where the food we eat comes from, or how it was produced. In the produce section alone, I bet many adults couldn’t tell you how an eggplant was produced, or how asparagus grows. I don’t say this to belittle those who don’t know, but to illustrate how far removed we have become from the basics of growing and harvesting the food that we consume every day.
In Jesus’ time on earth, it was not that way. People were highly aware of how the food they consumed was grown. Many families in the Jewish culture grew much of their own food or were part of the people growing the things that the community would be sharing. Orchards, vineyards, and gardens were a daily part of life and most, from young to old, were acquainted with, at the very least, some parts of the process. Jesus taught lessons to people by illustrating His message through these everyday common practices that people could relate too. Fishing, growing fruit or olives, working vineyards, and raising sheep.
Last week we talked about Jesus the good shepherd. We talked about how a shepherd doesn’t keep the sheep alive as much as they help the sheep to thrive thereby increasing the worth of the whole flock. This week our Scripture lessons talk about vineyards, a similar message with a little different package. You will find Jesus’ parables were often the same message delivered by a different method, allowing for different people to learn in different ways. We don’t all learn the same way, some learn by doing, some by watching, and still, some by reading, no one is better than the other, just different. Jesus knew this about people and would alter the delivery of His message so that all could learn.
I was a horticulturist first and still am, even though I am now also a pastor. I feel like Paul, not a perfect man, and to be true, quite far from it. Paul is thought to have been bald, another similarity we share, although Paul is reported to have been short, where I, at six feet am considered above average for male height. Paul was a tentmaker before he became a servant of Christ, and never really left his profession, as he was noted to do this kind of work to help others and to earn his keep, all the while He preached the Gospel. I am the same way; I love what I do for a living and I am not sure I would leave it even if I didn’t need the money. Like Paul, I am blessed to be called as a servant of Christ as well, and like him, I also continue my work to earn my keep and to explain to you the meanings behind things having to do with plants, like growing grapes.
Grapes, like sheep, were created by God and live and grow just fine in their wild form beyond any help from human beings. They are the fruit of a vine that grows and climbs using tendrils, and they will climb anything they can wrap themselves around. The vines are woody, very strong, and can climb to the tops of the tallest trees. They have a tendency to take over some areas of forest and have even been known to cover trees and shrubs so much that they cover the leaves of the support plant which stops photosynthesis and can kill the support plant. The vine does not know to stop, even though it is killing its own support. This is where farmers come in. Remember last week when I told you farmers don’t create but cultivate and domesticate. Cultivate means to raise or assist the growth of crops and domesticate means to tame. That is what farmers did with the wild grape vine. People observed that wild grapes were very good to eat, and like all fruits, can be used in multiple ways for food. Farmers took the qualities of the wild grape and tamed it by planting them in vineyards. Vines would grow up poles or on lines hung horizontally from poles in long rows. This type of agriculture is the cradle of civilization, where humans could stop hunting and gathering food and could stop and build settlements and farm using both animals and crops.
If you plant the vines and allow them to grow without care, they will do what is natural to them, and they will grow out of control. This does us no good though, so we learn the art of pruning. By pruning the plant, we control the amount that the plant grows in a single season. This causes the vines to be contained within the row, which allows for easier picking. The reduction in growth also produces less grapes per vine but increases the size of the grape three-fold. Farmers also learned over time to find the best grapes and to cultivate these grapes allowing for a bountiful crop of bunches of large, delicious grapes. Some grapes are grown for specific uses. Grapes used for wine making are: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot noir to name a few. Concord grapes are well-known for juice and jelly but can also produce a fruity flavored wine. Some grapes are seedless and are cultivated mainly for fresh eating, while others are used extensively for drying to create raisins. All of these wonderful food and drink products that we consume every day, but they do not come easy. Stop and talk sometime to a grape grower and they can tell you it is a labor of love, but they can also tell you all the problems that can come with it. Being that it is a single season crop, meaning that it bears one crop of fruit per year, many things must go right to bring the grapes to market. Late spring frosts, wet seasons, not enough sunlight, diseases, and insects all pose risks to grape crops even to the point of losing an entire crop. Imagine you owe your living to this crop and one spring frost during flowering time freezes all the fruit sets, your money is gone in one night, that is the reality of farming. That is why farmers will do everything they possibly can to remedy these problems.
In our New Testament lesson today, Jesus tells us, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” Like we talked about earlier, the branches of the vine must be pruned, not let to go wild again, so that they can produce better fruit. If the branch is removed from the vine, it will wither and die because it does not have the vine to supply it with life any longer. Jesus goes on to say, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
Hear what the parable tells us, first you are not the farmer, God the Father is the farmer. The vine is Jesus the Son. You are not the fruit either, the fruit is the Word of God and Scripture tells us people do not live by bread alone, but on every word of God. You are the branches. The branches of what, no not the support for the vine, we are not the support for Christ. We are the branches of the vine itself. Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches, apart from Him we can do nothing. Jesus is our support; Jesus is our life. God prunes us, disciplines us, so that we do not revert to our wild nature, our sinful nature. This is a daily process, a process that we are never really done with. Fortunately, we have a loving God who is patient with us, and is willing to continuously prune us, forgive us, for wanting to grow in our own directions. God continues to prune the branches of the vine producing fruit that is so wonderful and sweet, yet full of depth of taste. Like grapes, God uses us in many ways to further His kingdom. Some of us, the branches will produce grapes for wine, some for juice, some for raisins, and some for fresh eating, but all are full of the glory of the Lord. All of us, though used in different ways are just as important to the farmer, God.
You and I are branches in this lesson, but we are capable of something that a real branch is not, free-will and a mind to use it. In our lesson the farmer can remove the branches and prune others. We have the ability to resist the farmer and go our own way. We can choose to be guided and care for by God, or we can choose to follow our own path. Our lesson tells us that apart from the vine the branches can do nothing and that if the branch produces no fruit, it is of no value and will be cut off. How about you? What will you choose? Are you the farmer, the vine, or the branch, or maybe you are all of them? I know what I am, I am a branch. I am not ‘the branch,’ I am a branch. I am content to be part of the living vine, Jesus Christ. I am content to be pruned by the farmer, to be a servant of the Living God. I am blessed to be pruned to produce God’s fruit to feed you good people, the message of the Word made flesh. May God bless us all with His contentment and His eternal love. Thanks be to God. Amen.