I AM The True Vine - September 10, 2017

John 15:1-8

I think a lot of us hear this passage and think....If I'm a branch, I don't want to be cut! Cutting hurts!!!! It does. That's true. The irony of a grapevine is that both that which is fruitless and that which is fruitful have to be cut in order for there to be new growth in the coming year. Which is to say that those of us who feel cut, don't have to worry about the scorn of those who

haven't....we're all getting cut by the end of the season.
Nevertheless, it's still scary and most of us would rather avoid being cut. Maybe we've met a few careless farmers, or maybe, more likely, we've been the careless gardener who had no idea what we were really doing, but that bush, tree, or vine had to be cut back so we did the job!!!
Anyone?! Yeah, I've done that more than a few times. A few years ago, Rick and I bought a house that had a bunch of fruit trees. I could see they needed to be cut back. If you looked up from the trunk they were tangled and messy and needed to be pruned. So I got to work. Man, I cut a bunch of branches. This way and that way. I was so proud. I even practiced enough humility to pause and ask Rick, who knows what he's doing, for pruning instruction. Only what he said went over my head, so I just went back to cutting....I got the job done. Just not properly or well.
So when I read a scripture that talks about a gardener cutting the vines, I worry that it might be more than a little haphazard. But then I have to remember that the gardener here is God, and God is far from careless or haphazard or ignorant. God can be trusted. God has done this job of pruning a time or two. We might even venture to call God an expert. So, if that's the case, couldn't we trust God to do a bit of pruning work? Of knowing what's actually dead and what needs a little trim? Of seeing what's been really fruitful and knowing it can do so much more if it's cut just right?
I should hope so. And then when I really started to think about it, I was so grateful that God would be willing to cut off the dead and fruitless parts of my life...because I am often so unwilling to do it myself! But why would I want to hold onto something that doesn't bear fruit? After all it doesn't just hang out like a wall hanging helping me remember a beautiful time....it still requires time and energy and attention. In essence, even though it bears no fruit, it still saps energy. Why not allow the pruning and then use the good stuff I had been giving that fruitless part to do some good in my life and in the world?

But I venture we're still afraid, we hear: 6 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. We're worried about being thrown into the fire and burned. Not necessarily because we're wicked, but because, at the very least, we know we stray from Jesus...we don't abide in him all the time. We don't remain connected. So we know we should be in trouble. But Jesus doesn't say this to make us scared, it's not meant as condemnation, it's meant as instruction. Think about it this way, if you go to your doctor and they say your cholesterol is 300 and your arteries are 80% occluded, either you diet and change things now or you're headed straight for a stroke or a heart attack. Do the doctor's words scare you? Sure they do....the thought of a stroke or a heart attack are scary. But the doctor's words aren't a condemnation. The doctor isn't saying you're a horrible awful person and there's no hope for you. The doctor's words are a statement of fact. If you stay unhealthy....bad things will happen. In a similar way Jesus is pointing to the obvious....if you cut a branch from the vine, it won't live....not for long. It can't sustain life without the root system. You have to stay connected. So, instead of being afraid of being cut and burned, we need to focus on staying tied to the source.
In essence, Jesus is saying, "Let me be your life source." That may seem obvious or overly stated in the church. But here's the thing....we're always seeking after something to fill us, to prop us up, to calm us down, to make us worthy, to make us important. Most of us use our job for a lot of that....but we do it with prizes and medals, with board positions, with reputation. With who we once were. Some of us use flirting, some use booze, some use chocolate....we try all sorts of things. And we don't think of them as our life source....we just want to feel good, decent, enough....somehow better about ourselves. But really what we're using is fiction....some sort of something that creates an illusion of importance, or being "ok"....but what if we sought after the source of life....what if we plugged into Jesus more than we tried to look like we have it all together?

It takes time and intention and focus, but it can happen. I know I use stuff, just like the rest of you. If I want to disconnect from how I'm feeling I use Facebook, I use sugar. i use a temporary high of insulin to fool myself that things are ok. And I saw my temptation getting worse. So I decided to fast. I have been fasting from Facebook, ice cream, and soda for about a month. I do use Facebook for work, but I don't just scroll and scroll. I deleted the app from my phone. And when things get hard and I start to think, "I want ice cream, I have to stop and say, "That's not what I want, or what I need. What I need is to feel better and that comes from Jesus."
I have this spot on my phone where my Facebook app used to be. It's still empty. And for the first week or so I noticed how I'd take out my phone and go to that screen and punch the empty spot...it had become a mindless habit. Clearly, I needed to stop. It's not that Facebook is evil or wicked, it's that I wasn't using it in a way that built me up or made me better, so I had to set it aside. I had to break a bad habit. And in its place, I pray. I read scripture. I read my daily devotional. It's not because I am pious and holy, it's because I'm human and tempted....so I have to be intentional. For me, that helps me stay connected to Jesus. It reminds me that HE is my life source....not any of these other things. And if I want to feel better, really better....less stressed, more at peace, more whole, that will only come from him.
Abiding in Jesus is a daily practice. And if you don't have a regular practice that might seem as impossible as quitting Facebook or ice cream or wine. But one thing about the vines that serve as a really good reminder....growing and changing is a gradual thing that needs a little attention at a time. As the shoots grow, they seek to wind around something....and they'll grab most anything. So, you have to watch them just a little each day....It's not monumental, it's simple. Which is to say, start with the simple. If you have no practice, maybe do once a week. Schedule it on your calendar. Start with 5 or 10 minutes. If you have a weekly thing, maybe add in one more thing. Maybe it's fasting to better hear where there's an issue.