Since we are continuing this morning with the gospel of John this week and Jesus’ imagery of the vine, I thought I’d share with you another story about my own garden.
It has been a very busy couple of weeks, and although I have had time to glance at the pumpkins, I pretty much have ignored the rest of the garden.
I gathered all of the tomatoes I could weeks ago and I have jars of marinara and frozen stewed tomatoes packed away in the freezer. The peppers never really grew and the lettuce was chewed away by the rabbits before we got to eat it.
This weekend however, I had the chance to do some yard work and clear out the garden, plant some perennials, and prepare for the changing seasons.
And I discovered tomatoes on the vines again!
There are probably 100 little cherry tomatoes currently ripening on the vines, and a few romas as well.
But here is the thing. Some of those tomatoes have been there a while. I reached out to grab one that looked red and juicy and… well… it was juicy all right. And rotten to the core. As soon as I touched it, the tomato burst open with a foul smelling mess.
Sometimes, fruit stays on the vine too long.
The entire purpose of being a part of the vine… being a branch connected to the source is to bear fruit. And as we learned last week, the closer to the core of the vine you are, the sweeter and more abundant the fruit will be.
But that fruit is meant for a purpose!
The grapes on the vine are meant for eating and juice making, sustenance and community. They are meant to be dried into raisins or pickled and preserved. The fruit is not for the sake of the vine. The fruit is for the sake of the world!
As Jesus says in verse 16 – I chose you… YOU… and I appointed you so that you could GO and produce fruit and so that your fruit would last. Or as the Message translation puts it… “I put you in the world to bear fruit… that won’t spoil.”
If we take a step back from these few verses, we find that the vine and the branches are part of a larger speech Jesus is sharing with the disciples at the last supper. They have broken bread together, and share the cup, and Judas has left the table to betray him.
As Jesus looks around at each of the disciples… those people who have been with him, learning from him, walking in his footsteps, closely connected to God in thought, word, and deed, he wants to prepare them for what comes next.
Yes, Jesus will be handed over to the authorities. Yes, Jesus will die. Jesus will be resurrected, but will no longer be physically present with this rag tag bunch of followers in the same way.
What are they supposed to do then? What are WE supposed to do… those of us today who have never met Jesus, never seen his face or heard his voice?
We are to love.
A new command I give to you, Jesus says, Love one another.
Remain in my love. Abide in my love. Live in my love.
Love each other just as I have loved you.
Last week, we talked about many of the ways we can stay connected to Jesus and remain part of the vine. We can read the scriptures, we can pray, we can study and learn from others on the journey.
But at some point, we have to take what we read and put it into practice.
If we simply learn the words of Jesus… if we spend all of our time reading the bible or in prayer and we don’t go out into the world to share the fruit that has been formed in us… then we are just like those tomatoes on my vines. We are going to rot in place.
Every time we pray…
Every time we read the scriptures…
Every time we gather in a small group to learn from each other…
Every time you sit in this sanctuary and listen to a sermon here is what I want you to do…
And friends, there are two questions that will get you started:
First, how does this apply to my life?
Second, what am I being asked to do?
At some point, we have to take what we read and put it into practice.
At some point, being connected to the vine means we have to bear fruit… and that fruit has to go out into the world.
At some point, God’s love in us needs to spill out into love for others.
“I give you these commandments so that you can love each other.”
And that means that what we read in the bible about how we should treat strangers and refugees we need to put into practice.
It means that when we read in the bible that the church should visit the sick and pray with them, we need to do it.
When we read in the bible the call to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, we need to ask – how does this apply to my life? What should I do?
“I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last.”
You and I are called to bear fruit… fruit of love, grace, and mercy… fruit that will transform this world.
This fruit is not meant for us to hoard… it is meant for the widow and orphan. It is meant for the rich and the powerful. It is meant for the stubborn and addicted. It is meant for people of every color and ability. It is meant for friend and for foe. It is meant for all.
I’ve been thinking a lot about our responsibility as Christians to bear fruit that will last during this election cycle.
Politics might seem like a dirty word, but the truth is that it comes from the Greek words that mean the citizen or the city. Politics at is core are simply the relations between people who live in a society. Politics are the political opinions or sympathies of a person. (Mirriam-Webster)
And as Christians who live in this society, as people who follow in the footsteps of Jesus and bear the fruit of the gospel to the world, we have political opinions and sympathies.
I cannot, and will not every tell you who to vote for or which party, if any, to align yourselves.
But I do firmly believe that as citizens of a nation in which every person has a voice and a vote that one of the ways we bear fruit that lasts… fruit that doesn’t spoil… is by participating in the democratic process. And I believe the votes you cast should be a reflection of the faith that has been formed by these scriptures.
Every vote matters, and every race, from city council to the highest office in the land matters.
The people we elect will influence the economic lives of our neighbors, the institutions of education that form our children, the health care systems that care for the least among us. They will uphold or create laws that govern life and death. They will impact if we have sidewalks next to our streets, whether or not mental health care is provided, and our relationship with other nations.
One of the realities is that our faith does not fit neatly into one political party or platform over and above others. And so the hard work for people of faith this time of year is to spend time in prayer and discernment before casting our votes.
But perhaps as our scripture reminds us today there is really only one word that we need to remember… only one command that Jesus says will shape every facet of our life together.
We are called to love.
Not to hoard love, but to share it.
May this world reflect the love of Christ because we have been fruit bearers.