I grew up in the fruit belt of the Niagara Peninsula. From a very young age – like ten years old – I spent my summers working in orchards. Whether it was pruning trees or harvesting the fruit, it was something that most kid my age did as a way to earn money in the summertime.
It wasn’t easy work. If I recall, I think we used twelve quart baskets for picking cherries. It took quite a while to fill one of those baskets which earned us, I think, about 45 cents. If we worked really hard, sometimes we made $10 a day. And that was amazing. Times are different now. It’s hard to even get people to do that work.
Those early days in the orchards of the Niagara fruit belt instilled in me a love of growing things, especially fruit. If you were ever to go on a tour of my back yard, you’d find two apple trees – one empire and one gala. I just planted a new plum tree last weekend with the grandchildren. We also grow berries. I love berries because you can do so many things with them. Every summer, we harvest them and enjoy them in different ways all winter long.
Jesus spoke a lot about food when he taught. And when you read the Gospels, you also discover that much of his best ministry revolved around occasions when food was enjoyed. His first miracle, the turning of water into wine, happened at a wedding reception. He was invited to many dinners including at the homes of tax collectors when he shared the good news. He fed 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish. And the last night of his life he celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. Jesus loved food and much of his ministry involved food. Today, we are going to talk about food and I hope that by the time we’re done, you’ll be hungry. And not just for food but also hungry for the Word of God that is revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
THE VINE, THE GARDERNER & THE BRANCHES
Today’s reading from John 15:1-8 is all about food, particularly fruit. And just to be clear, it’s generally considered that, in this passage, Jesus is literally talking about grapes on the vine but his analogy works for any fruit and so I’m going to take some liberties and bring some other fruit into the conversation. Let’s read John 15:1-8 (NIV)
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 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. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Jesus begins by saying, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” This is an important place to start. There are two things that we need if we are going to grow good fruit. We need a vine – or a bush or a tree as the case might be – and we need someone to look after it. Jesus says that he is the vine and the Father is the gardener. Without a vine, there can be no fruit. The vine is vital. You cannot grow fruit without it. If we want to bear good fruit, then we have to be attached to something and if we want to bear the fruit of faith that something is Jesus because he is the true vine.
And then Jesus says that the Father is the gardener. The gardener is the one who plans out the garden and looks after things like weeding, watering and fertilizing. Without the gardener there would be not garden. Without the garden there would be no fruit. But there is a garden and there is fruit because there is a gardener who designed it that way.
And let’s be clear about something. It takes a lot of work to grow good fruit in the garden. It doesn’t just happen. It takes time and energy and dedication. And do you know what else it takes? It takes love. Let’s be honest. I don’t need to grow all that fruit in my backyard garden. As the gardener at my house, I do it because I love going out there and looking after the plants. Not only do I love doing that, I also love the results which we get to eat when things become ripe. Gardening is a labour of love for me. I think it’s also a labour of love for God who loves his garden and his children.
Jesus said that he is the vine and that God the Father is the gardener. Did you hear what he said we are. In verse 5 he said that we are branches. What comes from the branches? That’s where the fruit grows. And so there is a connection between the gardener and the vine and the branches and the fruit. It all goes together and when it goes together well, we end up with very good fruit.
Jesus then talks about what the gardener does. The gardener cuts off every branch that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
Right now the apple trees in my garden are in full bloom. Last Sunday there were just little buds all over the tree but on Tuesday they just exploded in colour and fragrance. Based on the number of blossoms on the trees this year it looks like there will be a good harvest in the fall. But to improve the harvest it is important to prune the tree. There are two different aspects of pruning. The first is that the branches need to be pruned. Over the course of time, some branches die off. These need to be trimmed off because you don’t want dead branches on a fruit tree. There are also branches that don’t have very many apple blossoms on them. That means that these will not have much fruit so I cut those off too. And then I trim some of the branches because they are too long. If I let them stay long, the weight of the apples in the fall would cause the branches to bow and even break. That will never do so the branches get trimmed. So I cut off and trim the branches.
But I also prune the fruit when it starts to form. My apples generally grow in clumps of three or four. I usually prune one or two of them off because then the remain apples will grow bigger and I will get better fruit. To get good fruit, it is important to prune my apple trees.
When Jesus talks about pruning the branches, he is warning us of the danger of not bearing good fruit in our lives. But keep in mind that Jesus, in this verse, is speaking in metaphor. He is talking what human gardeners do with their vines. We should not take this too literally and suggest that God somehow cuts us out of the body of Christ if we don’t measure up. I believe that the Bible actually speaks against that. Once we are in Christ, I don’t believe that we can ever lose our salvation. Rather the warning is for us as the branches to remain connect to the vine who is Jesus. Otherwise, we won’t be able to produce the good fruit that God wants in our lives.
If we want to bear good fruit, we have to be intentional about staying connected to Jesus. We don’t want to be like that branch that has been cut off. We want to bear good fruit.
RED CURRENT JELLY
But what does it mean to bear good fruit? That’s an interesting question and I have all sorts of analogies from my garden to cover this off. But I want to look at specific outcomes that can happen when we bear good fruit. The first thing that can happen is that things turn out just as you expect.
One of my favourite berries that are grown in our yard are red currents. Some of them go into the freezer because I add them on my oatmeal in the morning with a bit of cinnamon. Yummy. But the best thing to do with red currents is make jelly because red current jelly is just about the best jelly ever. It’s a lot of work. In fact, it takes all afternoon to make a small batch. And, in order for it to turn out right, you have to follow tried and true methods. First, I wash the berries to remove any dirt and little stick. Then I boil the berries in enough water just to cover them. Then the pulp is strained through cheese cloth to get the juice out but you can’t squeeze the cheese cloth because that will make the jelly cloudy and that will never do. But that doesn’t usually make much juice. So here’s a little secret. I add more water the pot and boil the red currents again and I strain them in cheese cloth again. When that’s done I take the pure uncloudy juice, add sugar and boil it down to the point where two drips form on the wooden spoon after I stir the pot. Those two drips mean that it will set properly when it cools in the jars.
It’s a lot of work and after all of that work is done I might end up with five or six little jars of red current jelly. But it is so good because when everything is done properly and with care the jelly in the jars it is as bright as red rubies and clear as crystal. You can almost see right through it. And it tastes heavenly on my toast in the morning.
Good jelly starts off with good fruit. It takes a lot of work and, if you want it to turn out, you have to do it right. Bearing good fruit in our lives sometimes means that we follow tried and true ways of sharing the gospel message. Preachers need to preach well. Bible studies need to reach the true meaning of scripture. We know that when we serve our community, people sew seeds of faith in people’s lives when they see the good that the church can do. And, of course, nothing beats good old one on one evangelism where you simply tell someone your story of faith as you share a pot of tea and a cookie or two.These are just a few of the tried and true methods of sharing the gospel so that we can bear good fruit.
GOOSEBERRY RHUBARB JAM
Sometimes to bear good fruit, we need to just stick to the tried and the true. But sometimes we need to go with the flow and be prepared to adjust because things aren’t working out quite the way we had intended. I also grow gooseberries. The ones I have start of green and then then turn a little bit yellowy before ripen up to a lovely reddish purple colour. It’s when they get that red tone to them that they start getting a bit sweet. Otherwise they can be pretty sour.
I don’t make jelly with gooseberries but I do make jams. It’s great because you rarely see gooseberry jam in the store or even at roadside markets. Gooseberry jam is also a lot of work because, to start, you have to trim off all of the tops and tails from each individual berry – hundreds of them – and that takes forever but, trust me, the end result is worth it.
Last year, however, I didn’t quite enough gooseberries to make a good batch of jam. So I needed a filler. I don’t normally like to use fillers but I was stuck. So I went outside to the garden to see what I could find. What I found was the last few stalks of rhubarb that had not yet gone to seed. So I picked those. I had never combined gooseberries and rhubarb before so this was an experiment. I cut up the rhubarb in pretty small piece and added it to the gooseberries. Then I covered it in water and cooked it up until it was nice and mushy before adding the sugar. Then I cooked the mixture some more until it was just the right consistency. To know when it’s right, you use a plate that has been in the freezer. Just take a little spoon of cooked jam and, if it at the right gel stage, it will gel when it hits the frozen plate. Perfect.
I didn’t know what the gooseberry rhubarb combination would taste like but it was fabulous. I didn’t end up with quite the jam I started to make that afternoon. In fact, I ended up with something even better. It might have been the best gooseberry jam I have ever made. It was a wonderful surprise.
Bearing good fruit does not always mean that we get what we expect. We might think that we should go in a certain direction but we discover that God has something else in store for us. You know that when things don’t work out as you are expecting them to – like not having enough gooseberries. Or maybe you think you should go in a certain direction, do a certain thing. But the doors keep on closing and the things you need to do keep changing. When that happens, sometimes the best thing to do is stop fighting. Maybe those doors are closing for a reason. Maybe you can’t go in a certain direction because you’re not supposed to.
Over the last year, we have certainly seen what happens when the tried and the true doesn’t work and we need to change the way we do some things. Everything we’ve done has had to be adjusted. Yes, we are still worshipping. We just don’t know from one month to the next if worship will be in person or online. And we don’t know how people will be able to attend. But we’re still worshipping. That hasn’t changed. And we still have meetings, lots of meeting but most of them are now through Google Meet or Zoom. And we’ve become quite good at it. In fact, some committees I’m on like it so much that they are considering continuing to meet online even when we can go back to meeting in person. Sometimes to bear good fruit we need to go with the flow, to do familiar things in new ways.
Be open to the possibility that God wants you add rhubarb to the gooseberries of your life and you might just discover that you end up with something far better than you ever expected. Sometimes you go with tried and true and sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
And then there are the times when you just risk it all and try something new. I planted a couple of new fruit trees last weekend with the help of our grandchildren. One is a plum tree. I had a plum tree but it caught a disease called scales a few years ago and I didn’t treat it soon enough and I lost it so I wanted another one. Plums grow really well in this area so I am hopeful that this new tree will bear lots of good fruit.
But I also planted a bush that, in Ontario, is called a Canadian serviceberry. When we lived in the Prairies we just called them Saskatoons. They grew wild everywhere out in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. One the edges of farmer’s fields. In the coolies where the farmers piled the rocks that were picked up in the field. On the edge of the bushlands. We picked them at will and we picked as many as we wanted with no fear of ever running out. They are without a doubt the most plentiful berry in the Prairies.
You can do a lot with Saskatoons. You can make Saskatoon jams and jellies. You can make Saskatoon juice. The Cree and Metis mixed them with buffalo or deer meat and dried it out to make pemmican which is sort of like beef jerky. But the best thing to do with Saskatoons is make pies. They make the best pies ever. And when I get enough of them, I am going to make a pie and I will put a little scoop of ice cream on the top of my piece and it will taste like heaven.
The funny thing though is that I didn’t know that Saskatoons grow in Ontario. I thought that they were a Prairie thing but apparently they are actually native to this areas. But I don’t know anyone else who grows them. Having said that, when I make my first Saskatoon pies and share them with you, you may just find yourself planting Saskatoons in your garden too. That’s how good they are.
Sometimes to bear good fruit, we need to risk stepping out and planting something new in our gardens. Or maybe we let God plant something new keeping in mind that a new fruit comes with new challenges and new possibilities. It’s risky because you’ve never done it before and you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. But if God wants you to plant something new in your garden, you should get at it and trust God to provide what is needed to turn it into good fruit.
Sometimes, to bear good fruit, you stay with the tried and true. Sometimes you go with the flow and adjust according to your conditions and sometimes to step out and try something completely different.
Think of your own life. How are you, as a child of God, bearing good fruit? Think of our church. How are we, as a community of faith, bearing good fruit in our community. Are there tried and true methods that we can stick with? Yes, there are. Are the times when we need to adjust to changing conditions and go with the flow? Certainly there are. And are there times when we just risk it all and try something new? Absolutely. The challenge is to discern when it is time to do what.
God the Father is the gardener. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. May we bear good fruit in accordance with what God wants us to do in our lives so that the gospel of Jesus may be made know so that lives may be transformed that will result in more and more good fruit.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come before you, this morning, O God of Creation, out of our need. We need your guidance. We need you support. We need your love and your caring. But first and foremost, we need to give thanks.
Thank you for your many and varied blessings. For warmth and sunshine. For clean air and clear water. For nature as it bursts forth around us. We thank you for our communities where we receive our nurturing and support. We thank you for our families which give us a place to belong, security, comfort and discipline.
We give thanks that you nourish us and treasure us and build us as your Church to do your work in the world. We, your humble people, are helpless without you and so we turn to you in all things so that your grace and your glory and your majesty may be known, so that your message of hope and love may fill the earth to lift up the broken hearted, to bring sight to the blind and comfort to the weary. May we, in our limited way be bold to proclaim your word so that we might be lights in the darkness of this world. For you are light and you are love and you are our all in all.
We pray, God of Mercy, for our communities. Our land and our livelihoods are threatened on many fronts. There is the threat of pollution and climate. We are concerned, also, about the longer term issue of land management and the possible effect of farming practices on the land. We need to continue with our efforts to have sustainable development that our forests would be available for future generations. We pray for solutions that will benefit all people and not just those whose voices are the loudest
Finally, we pray for the sick. We ask your special blessing upon Gary, Richard, Angela, Mark, Pattie and Helen. You, know, O God of Healing, where we all need you the most. Touch us in those deep places and give us peace.
We lift all of these prayers to you in the name of Jesus our Saviour. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
May 2, 2021 / Easter 5
Psalm 22:25-31; John 15:1-8; Acts 8:26-40; 1 John 4:7-12
CALL TO WORSHIP
The Spirit of God is in this place:
to bring hope to the despairing;
peace to the restless;
comfort to the anxious;
healing for the heart.
Let us worship the one who gives us life.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Holy God, we come to you in worship, thankful for your gracious presence. We remember your word and promises for us, for they are life! They bring us through difficult situations without harm. They teach us your ways, your faithfulness, and your love. They keep us from failure and preserve our lives. We praise you for your truth, coming humbly to worship your name. Help us to better understand and appreciate your love and your word, and appropriate the principles of faith into our everyday lives.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy, your ways are not our ways and your thoughts are not our thoughts. We know that conflict produces weariness and stress, but yielding to the leadership of your Spirit produces peace. There are times when we forget the things of your Spirit. When that weariness sets in, help us to identify and properly deal with the conflict that produced it. Enable us to learn how to yield to your leadership and your Spirit in all ways. We want to live daily with the guidance of your Spirit.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
In a world of sinfulness, there is a beacon of hope. The light of forgiveness has come to us in Jesus Christ. When we confess our sins, God truly does forgive and we are born, once again, into the new life of faith.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
All that we have, all that we are, all that we will ever be belongs to you, O God of all Creation. We give our gifts, our time and our lives into your keeping to be used for your purpose. May the poor be fed and the lame be healed. May the downtrodden be lifted up and the lonely loved for the sake of your Holy Kingdom.
We are followers of Jesus, people of faith. Our worship has ended. It is time to go out into the world to attend to the needs of our neighbours. There is someone who needs your care and your love. Go and share yourself. In doing so, you will make a corner of Creation just a little bit brighter for someone special this week.