Pruning for Maximize Impact Sermon
John 15:4-9, June 21, 2020
Rev. David J. Clark
Not long ago I watched a father and his kid playing ball. The kid was small. He had his cap, his glove, an Angel’s jersey. He was all decked out, chalk under his eyes, ready to be the next Mike Trout. The dad and the kid stood a distance from each other but whenever the kid threw the ball, it landed far from the target. He had the arm strength, but he was wildly off target. The kid was getting frustrated. He decided that baseball wasn’t his thing. He threw down his glove, ready to explode into full monster 5-year-old tantrum mode.
The dad did what any good dad would do. He moved closer, cut the distance to help the kid focus his effort. He trained the kid how to aim, how to throw. He didn’t do it for him but helped him learn.
Right now, when things are frustrating maybe you feel like you aren’t hitting your mark or even feel like throwing down your glove in some aspect of your life. Quitting. Maybe even quitting faith because it is just hard to believe that it’s working for you or that God is really involved.
God Moves Closer
Here is the good news of this day. God knows what you are going through. God sees your struggles and you know what God does? Moves closer. You may not even see it or be aware of it, but it’s what God does. That’s the doctrine of the incarnation. In Jesus God moved closer to us, to train us to show us how to do things, to encourage us not to give up.
When God helps close the gap, we can become more focused.
God moves closer through all sorts of means. Maybe the fact that you are watching this is in part something of God’s inspiration moving in your life to remind you to connect. God is near. Knows your frustrations. Trying to help you in this season. Look around. God works through people, the encouragers, the others who show up, who praise and pray and learn and put themselves out there to inspire you with the good they are doing. When you see someone’s pitches going wild, move closer. Gives strength in silence.
The scriptures say God is as close to you as your very breathing. The word for Spirit is the same as breath. God has moved so close that God’s wisdom is in you. God’s compassion and mercy are with you. God’s peace within you. It’s right there for you to tap into any time, day or night. Everything you need in this world is already within you.
“The Dude” Abides
In our scripture, Jesus said he is the vine and as we abide—remain connected to him–we will bear much fruit. Abide is a great word. It means to reside, to stay with, to be immersed in. In the harsh seasons, it’s important to remember to abide. Don’t run away. Don’t throw down your glove and quit even if faith isn’t working out the way you envisioned at the moment. Abiding, Jesus says is the way to ensure you will bear much fruit later down the road. It is your path to increase when you go out of your way to help someone or when you don’t seek to get back at someone for something you didn’t like.
Since I said the word “abide,” there is a certain demographic that has been triggered. Fans of the movie, “The Big Lebowski” will remember the lead character called himself “The Dude.” And his catchphrase was, “The dude abides.” It was his way of saying, no matter what comes, he hangs in there, it connotes a sense of loyalty, adherence to his code in life, stability–no matter what mischief life throws at him.
I like to boil Jesus’ message for you down to this, “Dude. Abide.” Reside in God’s promises, hang in there. Do the right thing. Keep the faith, and when nothing makes sense, go back to basics. Follow his teachings and example. You can move closer, too. Remember the Seals and Crofts song, “If you want me to be closer to you, get closer to me.” We are adults in our relationship with God and can choose to move closer.
Feel Closer by Following in the Footsteps of Jesus
On this Father’s Day, I’m thinking about how I feel a closeness when I carry on the lessons from my dad, when I follow in his footsteps by claiming for my life things that were important to him.
There are so many of them. I have his warped sense of humor. He posted on FaceBook this week that he doesn’t believe women should have kids after 35 because to have a 36th child is just too much for anyone to handle. He taught me to care about what happens to the little guy that the system tramples down. To be loyal–even as far as remaining true to the Cleveland Browns who are so known for their ineptitude that some people suspect that the year 2020 is being managed by the front office of the Cleveland Browns. It’s that bad.
As a young man the Air Force stationed him in Mississippi in the early ‘60s. While there, he got arrested just for walking down the street with his black friend. The police told him to stop but dad says, “That was the dumbest thing I ever heard, so I said, ‘No!’” That story has such power for me that it became part of my story. Clarks are people who don’t back down for standing for justice and equality,
When I let what is important to him into my life, I feel closer, abiding in his lessons. To abide in Jesus is to let the things that were important to him, his teachings and his example of selfless service live in you.
Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, you will bear much fruit”. He talks in this passage about fruit, more fruit, and much fruit. The way to increase is simply by abiding. He was saying, when things happened you don’t understand, things that don’t make sense, when you could be bitter, you could slack off, instead, if you’ll trust me, if you’ll believe I can bring good things out of bad, if you praise me, even when it’s not fair, if you’ll stay faithful when you could be frustrated, if you’ll abide and bear good fruit. That means you keep doing the right thing, you keep a smile on your face, you keep being good to people, you keep leaning into God’s grace, then you’re passing you’ll come into a season of bearing good fruit..
A Season of Pruning
Jesus said that bearing good fruit means that you understand about pruning, or cutting back. A vineyard owner told me that one of the hardest things to get new laborers to understand is pruning. You essentially take away 90% of the foliage and branches that had grown the previous year. There is even a process called culling where you cut off a lot of perfectly good grape clusters at a certain stage.
But it has to be done for a variety of reasons. The vines only have so much energy, the grapes won’t ripen properly if there are too many, so you have to concentrate the energy into the grapes, closest to the vine, and cut the rest away. The plant has the energy to produce high-quality flavor-packed fruit when you do this.
If there are too many clusters, they all turn anemic, sour and don’t ripen properly. Jesus was saying that we have to watch in our own lives for the things that distract us from bearing the fruit we are intended to bear. Be careful about trying to do it all, to “have it all.”
This season of quarantine has reminded us of that, it’s helped us to realign some priorities, focus on what is important. All of that can help us in the long run. But is it always good to ask if there is something you should prune back for future growth. Are you focused on the things that are bearing the fruit you really want. Maybe there are attitudes, behaviors, activities you need to cut out.
We have a culture that celebrates busyness. We’re told, “Don’t be a slacker. Be busy.” For a while everyone bragged about multi-tasking. Not only should you be doing more you should do more all at once. And then they came along and said, “All the studies show that when you are multi-tasking, you are really distracted and do everything you are trying to do worse than if you focused and did them one at a time.”
It’s something I encourage you to think about this week. Prune back. Stay close to your source. It may seem painful and wasteful right now. But take it from the good gardener. It results in the best fruit, season after season. The fruit is justice and righteousness. Looking out after others and living your own life in accordance with Jesus’s teachings. Amen.
Prayerfully delivered at Bay Shore Community Congregational Church (UCC) in Long Beach, California.