Monday, May 3, 2021

The vine and vinedresser. . .

Sermon for Easter 5B, preached on Sunday, May 2, 2021.

At first glance, it might just seem like the vine and the vinedresser are at odds with each, in competition, even enemies.  Surely the job of the vine is to put forth branches – as many branches as are possible!  But the job of the vinedresser is to cut back the growth of branches in order to promote fruit bearing.  We have all had plants that looked great but gave us no fruit.  So the vine is out there sending forth branches and the vinedresser is there ready and waiting to cut them off.  Or so it seems.

The real job of the vine is not to produce branches but to produce fruit.  If you will remember, the seeds of the vine are in the fruit – not in the foliage.  It does not matter how nice the plant looks but how much fruit it bears.  This is the key to the survival of the vine.  Fruit.  Plain and simple.  

We have become accustomed to the idea that how we look to others matters, even to God.  Appearance is everything.  Even though we dress down and not in formal clothing, we are a brand conscious people and we choose our look to fit our personality.  Even the Church is judged by appearances.  How many of us would be here today if this building were broken down and in need of repair or replacement?  Churches need to look successful in order to be appealing – need to look like they have people and money in order to attract people and money.  At least that is the business model.

God is not so superficial.  His interest is not in looks or appearance or even our comfort.  He has one concern – fruit.  While it might seem that the easy and happy and successful Christian life might attract people to this preaching and this congregation, God does the unthinkable.  He warns us against ease and comfort and insists that you and I will face persecution, rejection, and perhaps even death for the cause of the faith.  How can God expect to succeed in the competition for numbers with such a message?

That is the point.  God is not looking for big bushy churches but fruitful ones.  He is not looking to prune us like people take a perfectly good bush and turn it into a topiary of a dog or a cat or whatever.  God is looking for fruit, plain and simple.  He will prune back our lives so that the energy and life flowing to us and through us produces real fruit, good fruit, and abundant fruit.  Think about that the next time you complain about your life.  This pruning is painful, to be sure, but it ensures the right result.

My friends, some of what happens to you that is painful is borne of the devil who seeks your harm.  To be sure, we have enemies of the faith and it is their intent to injure us and our faith.  But the pruning of the Lord is not without its own pain to our sinful self.
We have been told a lie for so long it is almost impossible to challenge – that lie says you can have it all.  You can be single and not be chaste, friends with benefits.  You can be married and still be free to pursue what interests you.  You can juggle spouse, job, career, kids, and hobbies and have time for it all and do it all well.  You can be a Christian without being holy or seeking holiness, without giving up your worldly pleasures or surrendering your worldly values.  These are the things the Lord prunes away from us that our faith may be strong and produce abundant fruit – for our good as well as God’s glory.

The source of these lies is the devil who seeks the ultimate harm – to steal us from our heavenly Father, to render impotent the power of faith and the Spirit in our lives, and to make Jesus one of many and not our only Savior and Lord.  The devil will tell you that your sins are not so bad, you can fix things on your own, and that you can indulge in sinful pleasures and wear the facade of righteousness.  All of these are easy lies because we want to believe them.  But they are the most destructive lies of all because they teach us to give up the Lord and His baptismal identity and give into our sinful passions and fears.  The devil wants a fancy bushy plant with lots of leaves but few buds or fruit.

God will not harm us.  His pruning will not destroy us even though it causes us some pain.  It is His work to make us confront our sins and despair of our ability to answer their guilt and shame.  It is His work to plant us by the cross where the blood of Christ cleansed and still cleanses us from all our sins.  It is His work to warn us of the consequences of living with one foot in the devil’s world and one foot in God’s kingdom.  It is His work to make our lives bear the fruit of holiness, righteousness, and goodness, delighting in the lamp of the Law to guide our feet upon the way of truth.

In the past pandemic, what the devil meant for harm became a test put to our faith.  How much do we trust in the world around us, the voices of science who may preserve our lives but at what cost, and the government that insists the faith and the Church are not essential to who we are, to how we live, or what it most valuable.  But it does not take a pandemic to bring about these kinds of tests and trials.  We face them everyday.  We are constantly making choices in which we must decide to be faithful or faithless, to be holy or to give into the ways of sin, to endure in righteousness or to indulge in evil, to trust the Lord we can see only by faith or to trust more what we see with our eyes, and finally, to trust the voice of the Lord in His Word or the voice of our own desires, wants, and passions.

Yes, my friends, God is pruning you.  God is taking away the comfort of the world so that you will trust in Him only.  He is taking away our unfailing confidence in science, in politics,  and in technology so that we may trust only in Christ.  He is taking away the ease of our American lives in order to teach us what fruit Christ’s suffering bore on the cross and how living a cross shaped life will mean suffering but result in readiness for His coming again and being fitted for our eternal lives in heaven.

My greatest failures as a child, a man, a husband, a father, and a pastor have never been the many times I have said yes but my failure to say no – fearing what those to whom I say no will think.  God is not afraid of taking away what we want but what is wrong or unnecessary.  That is the pruning of the Lord designed for your good and mine.

Do not be afraid of the Lord’s pruning.  This is the growing pain of faith, the pinch of the moment that delivers the ease of eternity, and the sacrifice of the present to grasp hold of the forever life that we have in Christ.  It needs to happen.  Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. - Romans 5:3-4  These are not empty words.  God is at work right now and in you and in the Church today moving us from suffering to endurance, from endurance to Christian character, and from Christian character to honest hope in Christ.  He is pruning away what we do not need and what will distract us from what is our greatest treasure.  

Do not be afraid.  For God is at work in this pain and from this pain will be borne the good fruit that will last, that is our calling and vocation, and what will glorify God and honor the noble character of our lives as God’s people.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

    Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

1 comment:

Timothy Carter said...

"God is pruning away what we do not need and what will distract us from what is our greatest treasure."
Excellent sermon, Pastor. I sent this one to my "big-shot" adult children who don't go to church due to COVID (they are all "Health Care Professionals.) They need to hear that they need to be pruned to faith in God for the sake of their immortal souls. God Bless the Preacher who Preaches the Word. Timothy Carter, simple country Deacon, Kingsport, TN.