While at my first-call clergy retreat earlier this week, Bishop Lohrmann shared a story about pruning vines. His father-in-law had a vineyard and provided some wisdom about pruning vines and trees.
One day he was pruning the vines and after removing the dead branches, the Bishop noticed that his father-in-law began pruning branches that still had life. When asked why, he said the vine won’t be fruitful if the canopy of leaves blocks the sun from getting inside.
Obviously I’m not an expert on growing grapes because that was eye-opening insight. It makes all the sense in the world. I’ve been told that in the parsonage yard, the thick canopy of leaves on the trees blocks rain and sunlight from nurturing the growth of grass below. Maybe it’s a blessing when it comes to yard work!
But the point is that the pruning process is not simply about getting rid of the dead wood. In order to be fruitful, to have meaningful growth, and to become who God created us to be, we need to experience the uncomfortable and sometimes painful pruning process. “He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”
While it is necessary, I’m not a fan of getting pruned. I’m forced to face insecurities, truths about where I have fallen short, and different opinions or convictions can be a blow to the ego. In some cases it might test one’s core beliefs. Pruning might shake the very foundation of our faith. We feel so much safer ignoring uncomfortable truths. Please keep the shears away from me. Go to someone else that needs it.
I’ll never forget the conversation with my pastor when I told him I was going to seminary. He was aware that my faith background was a mixed bag of theology with some Lutheran, some United Methodist, and even some Baptist teachings. Pastor Anderson looked at me and said, “Randy, hold tight to your faith through this seminary process. Because your current beliefs are going to rock and roll and possibly even crumble.”
Does it sound odd that a Christian man might experience a ‘belief earthquake’? Pastor Franklin Lee explained exactly what I went through in a devotional on Friday (Luther Seminary, God Pause devotional, 5/1/15).
“I was not brought up by my parents and community to be a lover. I was raised to be able to make it on my own. Success was not measured by how much I loved others, but by how much I was able to achieve in studies, athletics and the working world. When I accepted the call to be a pastor, I heard Jesus say to Peter as if it were me, "Do you love me? Then love my brothers and sisters." If this is the call and commission of the Risen Christ to all of us, then we must stay close to Jesus and His words and actions, because it is a quite different message than the one we receive from our world.”
Our culture and society emphasizes individualism. Being able to do things on our own is engrained in our thinking at a young age. Unfortunately, the individualistic concept runs contrary to Christ’s message. The individual branch is dead without the vine. The branch cannot bear fruit without the vine. It is impossible to love another if we are focused on ourselves.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus teaches us to love God and one another, to give generously to others, and to even pray for our enemies, so that we might be fruitful. The truth Jesus teaches prunes us when we think more of ourselves than others; and the truth usually stings. But through the process, we grow. And by abiding in him (connected to him), by turning our attention away from ourselves and toward loving others, we become abundant fruitbearers. Amen.