Editors Note: This is a sermon shared at the Transfiguration Retreat in Sewanee, TN on May 6, 2012.
Abide and Bear Fruit
This is perhaps a perfect text given to us by the lectionary. Just as the transfiguration story can serve as an icon for the church’s ecological mission, perhaps this image of branches abiding in a vine should serve for us as an icon of sustainable eco-ministry both within our own hearts, and among us in church life.
There would be a lot to unpack with this icon:
- God as an active vinedresser, clipping this and shaping that, and what it means to live with and into that.
- Remaining, abiding, staying attached and drawing nourishment from Christ the vine, and what that is and how we go about doing that.
- Bearing fruit (guaranteed if we do abide and certain to fail if we do not), and how to discern between God’s fruit and our own ego needs.
- Drying out, being discarded and being burned, and where this shows up in our lives and in the world – and how to live with that.
- Allowing the word of Christ to abide in us, and the resulting synergy and flow of asking and receiving that seems guaranteed in this text, as perhaps a fundamental rule of the universe.
That is certainly a whole other retreat, and perhaps it is one we should do. We do need it, we know. We have heard expressed here that you brought with you to this retreat a sense of weariness and/or isolation and frustration with the work at hand and the responses or lack of them among the churches.
We are not being inactive or lazy. We have a sense of passion and vocation. There is, among us a substantial amount of activity and effort being applied to these issues we all recognize as vital and crucial to life and faith. We are busy, and the churches are busy. But do we wonder about the fruitfulness of our busyness?
So, lets finish our retreat with a reflection upon abiding. Lets talk about sustainability – not of “natural resources” but of our own hearts and souls. Jesus made a clear statement in our text, that without abiding in him, we cannot bear the fruit of the life of God which is, I assume, what we are wanting for our selves, our churches and for the whole earth community.
“No one can bear fruit by itself, it must remain in the vine.” Jesus declares. An obvious truth to the farmer, but of course, not so obvious, spiritually. I think perhaps, as Jesus looked around him at the crowds, with his holy insight, the spiritual issue was that obvious to him, however. To him, all the reaching and grasping and yearning for what in truth are the things of God; but by those not rooted and abiding in God – this must have looked to him like so many clipped off grape vine branches withering in the sun, but waiting nevertheless to bear fruit.
So perhaps it is with our own yearning to heal the planet and be healed along with it. In our passion and urgency we muster our best ego strength to rush to the front lines and stand in the gap, assuming that God is somehow bringing our ground of being along with us so that we will remain rooted in life’s nourishment as we go about consumed in our busyness, our networking, our organizing, our information gathering and our programming.
But our icon of the vine and the vinedresser, with its call to abide and to trust, calls us to pause and take stock of this frenzied way of being. It invites us to a different way. Let me take just a moment to invite us to consider just two aspects of this icon.
Its seems our icon is saying to us that one of the skills of learning to abide is learning to be at peace with being pruned. Pruning is the death and removal of things that were once living, things we perhaps thought vital to us. Pruning also involves a forced change of direction – a twisting, turning and tying down that changes our plans and the direction of our growth. Making peace with pruning involves our learning how to let some things, directions, plans, hopes and ideas (that for perhaps unseen reasons, just do not seem to bear fruit) — to let them go, not in despair or resentment, but in trust that the life blood for other fruit is indeed flowing through the vine and will emerge in its time. Learning to be pruned means remaining open to what remains after loss and making peace with seeing only a part, but not the whole.
Being pruned also means that we remain green enough to be bent in directions that were unplanned and feel unnatural. This ability to go with the flow requires some abiding level of humility and trust. For perhaps some of our weariness comes from maintaining an attachment to outcomes that elude us over and over again.
But then, in our yielding, we must somehow discern the differenced between giving in to the motion and movement of God’s hand and giving up in despair and grief. I think this is perhaps where the abiding in the life of the vine is so crucial. For if we were not abiding in the vine, how would be know when to push, pull, yield or stand firm? Only in the clarity of purity of heart, poverty of spirit, and having made peace, can we know. And those are gifts of the spirit, not skills of the ego.
And perhaps this points us to a central charism of our ministry – that if the church is to have a role to play in the transfiguration that is healing and being healed, it will need to be shown how to abide in the vine. Perhaps this charism is core to environmental-ministry, creation care, green teams, eco-justice, and so on. Perhaps we need to be known first for our abiding, and only second for our zeal. Let the vine teach us.