Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pruning, remaining, obeying

Sorry about the gap in posts.  We've been up to our eyeballs (or maybe even over our heads) around here and--as J just said--bawling out our eyeballs as well! Added to all the hard stuff up here, yesterday we drove S & J down to Seattle to fly back to the east coast, then stopped by our daughters' apartment for SK's birthday dinner. We got home and collapsed into our bed just after 9 PM.

For most of the two last years (other than during the amazing respite during the summer provided by his 'Finnish' brother, and a few visit by Thyrza's daughter), Beve and I have been alone in caring for the Elders. Though we've been blessed by them, it's also been hard and exhausting. Sometimes we've been the object of anger and frustration at their own infirmities.  But this last week, with S & J here--at the very time we most needed them--we felt part of a team. And, even more than that, when Beve met with Hospice, we instantly became branches on their tree. Suddenly we no longer have to navigate complicated issues. There is a whole tree of people with skills to help us. When the hospice nurse told us Friday afternoon that she'd call the doctor about something I am used to dealing with, I actually fell back onto the extra bed in Grampie's new room in the nursing home, so great was my relief.  We're not alone any more.

The seventh of the ontological statements of Jesus in John's gospel is startlingly apt for this current situation, I discovered as I was reading and praying about it last night. "I AM the  true Vine, and my Father the gardener,"  Jesus says in John 15. Jesus has already told us in two different I AM's that He is Life. Now He tells us that He is a living tree of which we're a part, if we're a part of Him. We are the branches. This is an important element of the Christian life.  We're in this together, as Eugene Peterson likes to say; we are the branches. Yes, the branches. Being the branches in the great vine that is Jesus is one of the best things about the Christ life. We are connected to Him at the very source. We--Beve and I, nor any of you--cannot be Lone Rangers as Christians because that's a cut-off branch. Living in community (as we have this week with S & J), gives us a picture of what it really means to be His body--to be the branches of His Vine.  And, I suspect, Beve and I will gain a whole new appreciation for this as we dwell with Hospice during the coming season.

Being a branch of the Vine that is Jesus means bearing fruit. "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." (15: 2)  A vital condition for bearing fruit coming from the truth that HE is the Vine and we are the branches and we live in Him. First, it's important to understand that bearing fruit here is NOT a metaphor for evangelism. Every commentator I've read agrees with this. There are many places in the gospels where Jesus tells His disciples to go and make more disciples (Matthew 28: 18-20, for example), but in this passage, Jesus is talking about character--becoming like the Vine.

So what is this fruit? Galatians 5: 22-23 has the most (but not the only) comprehensive list of character-fruit the branches of Jesus means us to be. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." These are the character qualities for every believer. You are meant to have ALL of them. There is no "I'm just not a patient person," excuse for believers. AND it's clear that one way or another, Jesus intends to see to it that this fruit is produced in us. We can produce it, we can be changed to become His branches. We must.

  There are three conditions for bearing fruit:

1. Pruning (verses 2-3) I find it interesting that one way or another, each of us has to be cut. It's all a matter of whether that cut is being cut off and thrown away or pruned in order to produce fruit. Our human tendency is to avoid cuts. But this is NOT how the Kingdom comes on earth. Being pruned is one of the hardest parts of being in the vine but absolutely critical. No matter how godly a person is, he or she will still be pruned. Do you want to bear fruit? Some things must be cut out of us. There are things in each of us that repeatedly make us dirty. I was thinking about this just the other day when a single orange had begun to mold in the bowl on my counter. As it touched the other oranges around it, some of that mold was infecting those closest to it. That's what happens within us. There are things that must be cut off in order not to infect other parts of our lives--and other people around us. Jesus relates pruning to cleansing in verse 3. (Also read John 13:10 regarding being clean) Even though we are cleansed from our sins once and for all, there's also a sense in which we must be repeatedly cleansed; ie, take our sins to Him in order to remain in fellowship with Him. 1 John 1: 9 says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
2.Remaining (verses 5-8) --"I Am the Vine and 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." This is pretty straight forward. The choices of believers are to bear no fruit, to bear fruit, to bear more fruit or to bear much fruit (This is straight from the text). In order to bear much fruit, each of us must remain in Him. Abide is the word other translations use for 'remain.' I like this word abide. It's the idea of dwelling, staying put, setting up camp perhaps, or even building a home and living there. This is what we are meant to do in Christ. We're meant to build our lives IN Him (as it says in the parable of the house on the rock), and not leave. Not go wandering off from Him. EVER. Abide in Him. This will grow character fruit. AND, if we do this, we can ask whatever we wish and it will be done for us." WOW! Whatever we ask. Why? Because if we're our home is Him, we'll only want what He wants anyway.

3. Obeying (verses 10-14)-- Remain now becomes a command. "Remain in my love," Jesus tells us. "Love one another as I have loved you." It's His grand imperative. "Love one another." I have often thought that this should be the first "I AM" studied because it's so foundational for living with others. However, it's also the best place to end. Once we know who we are to Him, we must know who He expects us to be to each other. Love one another as I have loved you.  We will not bear fruit--not grow these Kingdom-qualities--will have branches cut off, will not remain, if we do not love. It's that simple. It always comes back to that. Do we love those He puts in our lives to love?

"Greater love has no person than this, that he/she lays down his/her life for a friend."  Two things about this verse. First, a snippet from my past that I can't help relating-- I was given a Bible for Christmas 1972, and my across-the-street friend not-then-the-Beve carried it as we walked home through the snow from a Bible study two nights later. Just as we rounded the corner up the steep hill to my house, he lifted it out of his coat to hand it to me but, instead, dropped it in the snow. Ever after, there were many wrinkly pages at the end of the New Testament. Anyway, over John 15:12 I wrote Beve's name--clear back in March of 1973. I don't have the faintest recollection of the conversation (or prayer?) that precipitated my writing his name, but I always connected that verse with him, even in the decade during which we rarely saw each other after high school before we married.  Needless to say, I still do.

Anyway, aside from that, the Person Jesus is really speaking of in this verse is Himself. Of course. He is telling His disciples--again--that HIS love is the 'greater' love. That He is the one who lays down His life. We must end there. "Greater love has no Man than this that HE lay down His life for His friends."

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