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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Root Determines Fruit (John 15:1-5,9-11)


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything.

 

“As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete.

 

Spring has officially sprung here across the Piedmont of North Carolina.  I don’t know what that means around your house, but around ours, it means the start of garden season.  It’s all about the flowers at our house – a non-stop show of changing color from spring through fall.

 

Now, I enjoy working in the garden, but Ashley, she is the avid gardener in the house.  When we moved here two years ago, we did so in two trips.  The first trip was the furniture and boxes and all that.  The second trip was odds and ends and clothes – and the garden.  We literally moved Ashley’s garden from our home in Davidson – 37 choice and favorite plants to be transplanted to our new digs here – in the middle of summer, mind you!  37 plants in pots lined up in the back of a moving truck – people sometimes ask why we don’t have kids, and I respond, “Do you know how many we already have?”

 

I won’t say we spend a lot at the garden center, but when they see us coming, the manager calls home and tells her husband, “Call the orthodontist – we can afford braces for the kids.”

 

There is something incredibly rewarding about getting your hands in the dirt, planting, watering, feeding, nurturing, and growing.  Indeed, there’s something Biblical about it, too.  The Bible begins in a garden.  It ends in paradise, and the word “paradise” literally translates as “the king’s garden.”  After the crucifixion, Jesus is laid in a garden tomb, and on Easter morning, Mary mistakes him for the gardener, a delightful play-on-words to identify Jesus with “THE gardener,” or “the vineyard keeper,” as Jesus refers to him in today’s reading from the 15th Chapter of John’s Gospel.

 

Every person who works with plants is interested in healthy growth, are they not?  Farmer, gardener, vineyard keeper – all want their plants to flourish and be as healthy as possible.  Right now, Ashley is checking her irises every morning to see how many buds are forming and getting ready to bloom.  She did that on her Lenten roses earlier, next it will be daylilies and roses.  There is a correlation between health and growth – parents look for growth as evidence of the health of their children, and our Heavenly Parent looks for growth as the evidence of our spiritual health.

 

The analogy Jesus uses is about branches connected to a vine – he is the vine and we are the branches – we grow healthy and strong and produce Godly fruit insofar as we are connected to him.  The branch is only as healthy and strong as the vine to which it is connected; likewise, any vine is only as good as the soil it’s planted in.  Before transplanting our garden here, one of the first things we had to do was bring in truckloads of new dirt – rich, black, organic, living dirt.  We’ve discovered that’s the secret to good gardening – good dirt.  Good dirt is foundational; it’s where the plant draws its nourishment and energy, where it derives the essential things it needs to grow and be healthy.

 

It all starts in the soil, because the soil is where the roots are, and root determines fruit.  Say that with me: Root determines fruit.

 

Friends, the soil is so important.  Is the foundation from which the fruit grows.  And if Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, then we are rooted in whatever Jesus is rooted in, his soil is our soil, and his soil is nothing other than the love and grace of God.  Root determines fruit, right?  Say that with me: Root determines fruit.  And if the root is love, then the fruit is love.  Say that with me: If the root is love, then the fruit is love.

 

Friends, the life of faith starts in God’s love and grace.  It doesn’t start with me or you, it doesn’t start with humanity, it starts with God’s love and grace.  Jesus is rooted in that love and grace, he and his teachings are the very embodiment of God’s love and grace, and we who are his followers are branches connected to him, which means God’s love and grace courses within us, until finally, our lives produce the Godly fruit of love and grace, and it all starts at the root, because root determines fruit, and if the root is love, then the fruit is love.

 

You can have the fanciest, most expensive plants in the world, but if you root them in lousy soil, you’ve wasted your time and money.  You’ve heard that saying, “You are what you eat;” true for plants, true for us, both physically and spiritually.  And, lives of faith are to be rooted in the soil of God’s love and grace.  Without that love, Jesus says we can do nothing.  We can have all kinds of fancy church clothes and know a lot of Bible verses and go to Sunday School and serve on committees and sing in the choir and the praise team, but unless we are connected to Christ and rooted in God’s love, then all of that amounts to nothing.

 

1 Corinthians 13 says it this way: If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing. If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.

 

That’s why when you come to church here, the sermon is probably going to tie in God’s love and grace.  That’s the foundation upon which this whole thing is built, the soil in which this whole thing is rooted, because root determines fruit, and in the life of faith, the root and the fruit are always love.  The great theologians, John Lennon and Paul McCartney said, “All you need is love,” and I’d wholeheartedly agree, as would Jesus, as would St. Paul, that love is always primary, and without it, there’s little we can do that’s worth anything.

 

Love is all you need, or at least, it’s the first thing you need.  It’s why every sermon, every Bible study, every Sunday School lesson, even every committee meeting should have God’s love as its focus.  Is that redundant?  Maybe.  But let me ask you this: is it redundant to tell your spouse you love them every time they leave the house?  How about your children or grandchildren when they come to visit or they call you on the phone?  I don’t think so.  The important things, the foundational things in life bear repeating.

 

Ashley has a friend who teaches Kindergarten Sunday School at their church.  Nicole has just started the Sunday School lesson and is reading the Bible story.  And you know, there’s always that kid that like 30 seconds into the story raises his hand.  You know, it’s the kid who already knows everything.  You sorta shush him, like, “C’mon, I’ve got more of the story to tell.”  Another minute in, and his hand shoots up again, and you shush him again, and say, “Not yet.”

 

About the third time he puts his hand up, he’s just beside himself and he’s gonna explode if you don’t call on him.  And so you finally go, “What, Tyler?”  “Uh, Miss Nicole - you’ve already told us this story.”  “Well Tyler, come up here.  Do you know why Miss Nicole tells you this story again and again?” to which Tyler at this point is going, “Mmmm-mmmm.”  “Because, I want it to get from your ears to your head.  And do you know what happens after that, Tyler?”  “Mmmm-mmmm.”  “Cause if it gets to your head, then it can travel to your heart.  And do you know what happens after that, after it gets to your heart?”  “Mmmm-mmmm.”  “Once it gets to your heart, it can move into your gut, and you know what your gut is, Tyler?”  “Mmmm-mmmm.”  “Your gut is your soul, and you know what happens after it travels from your ears to your head to your heart to your soul?  It’ll start shootin’ out your fingers!  And you’ll live the story, not just hear it!  You got that?”  “Mmmm-hmmm.”  “And THAT’s why Miss Nicole tells you the same stories over and over and over again - so it’ll move from your ears to your head to your heart to your gut and start shooting out your fingers, and you’ll live the story and not just hear it.”

 

John Wesley said the character of a Methodist is “one who has the love of God shed abroad in his [or her] heart.”  The love of God shed abroad – sounds like another way of saying, “Shootin’ out your fingers.”  They both sound like a branch connected to the living vine of Christ, rooted in the soil of God’s love.  They both sound like a life rooted in love, whose fruit is love, and God’s story becomes our story.

 

Now, I realize that none of us can make that happen for anyone else.  I can’t make you embrace and live into God’s story.  I can’t change your life and make God’s love start shooting out your fingers.  I can’t make you do anything, but I can encourage you to inspect your fruit, because Jesus said a tree would be known by its fruit.  So, take a look at the fruit your life is producing – your own, not your neighbor’s – and see if looks anything like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  I can point you toward the good soil, again and again, in the hopes that God’s love will be your root, in the hopes that God’s love will be your fruit.

 

So, bear with us if we’ve told you about God’s love before.  Maybe I’m sort of like Miss Nicole - I hope that by telling you again and again about God’s love that it will get in your ears, and into your head, and into your heart, and into your gut, and start shooting out your fingers.  Or, maybe I’m sort of like Tyler - I hope that by hearing it again and again myself, it will get in my ears, and into my head, and into my heart, and into my gut, and start shooting out my fingers.  Bear with us if we’ve told you about God’s love before.  Bear with us as tell it again and again.

 

A life rooted in God’s love will grow the fruit of God’s love, because root determines fruit.  And if the root is love, then the fruit is love.

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