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Pick Up Your Pruning Shears

5B Easter

28 Apr 2024


Abide.   Wait, remain, stay, delay, remain behind; survive; wait for, await; expecting.  This is a good English word.  Nothing Latin here. It is a word I like; a word as comforting as fresh hot grits with butter. Yet it has another more sinister meaning.  The need to abide by the rules can be stifling; I do not like to be forced to do anything!  But to have someone ask me to abide with them suggests I am welcome and wanted.  It is that sort of abide that Jesus offers to us.

I have a wild grape vine growing on the fence by my garden.  I paid scant attention to it for several years; it was providing grapes for the critters (and yummy leaves for the Japanese beetles) and otherwise I paid it little attention.   But it was getting away from me.  It was covering a good chunk of the fence and shading part of the garden.  So this year I got out my pruners and went to town, cutting back to only the two main shoots.  One of them “bled” a lot of sap when I cut it and I thought I had killed it.  But now it is starting to leaf out.  Will it produce more and better fruit?  I don’t know yet, but I know the pruning eliminated a lot of problems. No suckers.

Now when I hear the story of the vigneron (a fancy French word for someone who takes care of a vineyard)  I wonder what he or she had in mind.  If we don’t measure up, will we be cut off from the Vine?  Or is it that each one of us is a vine and there are things about us that are not only extraneous but drain the life from us?  What do you think Jesus had in mind when he spoke of this?  I think Jesus wants to cut off the branches, the parts of you and I, that are dead or, like my apple tree, full of suckers that draw all the energy from the plant. Jesus assures us he is with us, he will nurture and care for us and never abandon us.  That is the nature of God. We are one with Jesus and he is one with us.  Inseparable and indivisible.

This is not a story of exclusion, but one of inclusion.  We need Jesus!  God does not “need” us; God needs nothing.  But the Good News is that God wants us.  Why does God want us?  Because the very nature of God is one of love and of the desire for wholeness and health (salvation, after all, means health.)  God wants good things for all of us.  

The Ethiopian, one from somewhere south of Egypt, must have understood some of this.  He was a God fearer and a man of authority and intelligence. As he reads from Isaiah, Philip appears and told the story of the Good News to him and he believed.  It did not matter he was a foreigner nor a eunuch. He had in him that which would grow in love and in faith. God will be with him; he is one with Jesus and Jesus is one with him.  Inseparable and indivisible. Could this be what Teresa of Avila meant when she said we are Jesus’ hands and feet in the world?  We are inseparable from Jesus and he from us. This should not cause us fear; we do not need a “better watch out” mentality. Jesus says when we become part of The Way we will indeed shed much of our old life and ways, but all of it is extraneous and a burden keeping us from our true calling.

Jesus teaches us how we are related to God.  In John’s Gospel he does so using the “I am” statements, of which this is the final one and perhaps, even more than “I am the Way”, Jesus indicates what life with God, Jesus, and each other is all about.  We are to live closely with one another, a symbiotic relationship and companionship which gives life to all. We are to exude a vibrant and all-encompassing love, for God, for each other, and for the world. We are to exclude no one.  I repeat, we are to exclude no one.  Jesus has dropped all the barriers; torn down all the walls that exclude. We are to create a new community, free from all the extraneous crap that has been pruned away.

Think of a healthy garden.  It is one where the worms and the insects and the plants all have a place, where one benefits the other.  Like my beautiful peonies, which will not bloom without the ants to remove the sap, a garden is a place where harmony and balance live.  We can make that a reality; just be ready to grab your pruning shears.

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