John 15: 1-8

Love and Gardening are often two words I hear together like bread and butter. Not for me, but I did begin to think that LOVE must be like a set of secateurs in the hands of a gardener who prunes a tree like a parent who helps a child to grow. I don’t suggest threatening a child with the secateurs, but growing up can be a painful process.

We’ve all gone through that pain of growing up and, in fact, it never ends because we are constantly being pruned by the Gardener so that we may be more fruitful. That doesn’t mean an increase in church quantity, but it will produce a better quality in community.

Pruning helps us to get to know Jesus better and the quality of our fruit can make Jesus better known. Our mission statement demands that we are growing to know Jesus better throughout our lives and it is the quality of our fruit that will attract people to take a bite and taste his goodness.

I am not a gardener. In fact, my gardening knowledge is as bad as my ability to sing in tune, but I do appreciate both a wonderful garden and beautiful singing. I can’t make either happen, but I can let my love be like a song or good fruit on a branch.

I am not THE Gardener, but I am one of those branches on which the Father is trying to produce the best quality fruit. The Gardener planted the tree with a vision of good fruit growing on the branches and he prunes it so that quality is not sacrificed for quantity.

If a vine is left to itself the branches will choose their own direction to grow and then produce a lot of second-rate grapes rather than fewer good quality ones that make the best quality wine. I understand it is like a rose bush that can become straggly and tangled and instead of producing a few roses of quality beauty the flowers grow in on themselves so can’t become their true selves. Our Gardener prunes us so that we can grow in the right direction, toward the light and not become a tangled mess of branches with low quality fruit.

The pruning isn’t something we can do to ourselves and so the Gardener does it for us with the Love that can hurt because he wants US to be the best. Whether as a Church or as individuals we are being encouraged to know the Jesus within us better so that we can have a more fruitful ministry in our communities.

Jesus is the source of who we are and who we can become and without him we will be a lifeless tree with a fruitless ministry. We don’t want to be cut off from that source or neglect the potential to be more fruitful so we allow the Father to prune us, and that is a painful process. As we often hear, there is no gain without pain and without pruning there is no gain.

I thought I would check how often it needs to happen, hoping, I think, that it might be an occasional activity. Sadly not, as google told me: Grape vines should be pruned every year. The basics of pruning vineyards are relatively simple. In order to grow the vinesone needs to cut them. Similar to human hair, the end product is healthier when it is trimmed regularly and on a schedule.

I don’t like the thought of the pain, but it is a good analogy of how we should look after our faith and regularly turn to the Gardener with ears attentive to the words we learn from; eyes watchful for the experiences that shape us and hearts open to be filled with the Spirit. If I don’t want my faith to grow like my hair during lockdown I can’t wait for an annual prune, but should turn to the Gardener daily.

I am sure that in some churches people are saying that the pruning days are over and they are too old to produce any more fruit, but with proper care, grapevines can live for 50 to 100 years or more. Some of California’s oldest vineyards contain grapevines dating back to the 1880s so I doubt there is anyone too old to contribute to a fruitful ministry. Hands up if you are!

If you feel like an old fruitless tree you can call for the Gardener in prayer and reflection and you will be surprised at what you can do in the next twenty, thirty or more years. The branches are not too old to produce fruit if they remain connected to the True Vine which is why there is always a place for small churches with congregations of older people. Where the Gardener is allowed to prune regularly there will always be growth in the quality of the fruit and quantity will be attracted by the quality.

First the quality so that people want to taste what you’ve got and be like you. That is how the Kingdom of God grows and the quantity of people producing good fruit in the community increases. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and everything else shall be added for you….

When growing the Kingdom of God is our priority rather than increasing church congregations the branches will become more fruitful. We can invite people to be passengers on a vehicle that transports them too heaven, or we can encourage people to be the engine that inspires people with the energy that delivers the kingdom on a great big transit van! God doesn’t want us to be passengers, but workers and there are too few of them. (Luke 10: 2) There won’t be a fruitful harvest without the workers which is why he sent 72 to do the same work as his team of 12 — and it wasn’t to build a church, but to show that the kingdom of God is near. (Luke 10: 11) The kingdom is the good fruit that is shared from within us (Luke 17: 21) so let God grow it and delight in the beauty of the garden! God lives in us and with that set of secateurs our Father is pruning us so that we can become the people we are meant to be.

With my limited knowledge of gardening I understand that the pruning will help the shoots grow toward the light, rather than away from it. Jesus the Lord says I am the light, the light of the world am I. (John 8: 12) Pruning is necessary for us to keep pointing in the right direction with our eyes on the light rather than into the darkness of tangled branches. However old it is the well pruned branches of a tree will be looking outwards and upwards toward the light and producing good fruit for the glory of the Father. So which way are you looking?

Being pruned with those secateurs is a painful process, but our Father does it because we are the children of the kingdom so are being shaped to do God’s will on earth as in heaven so that we will reveal the perfect love that overcomes all fear. I often refer to the song from the Iona community, “do not be afraid, my love is greater than your fear” and it is with love that we are being pruned. Don’t be frightened of the secateurs — but it will be painful!

Our experiences through life can be so painful, but they can be the cross we need to carry as we deny ourselves to become Jesus shaped people prepared to lose the lives we have grown accustomed to so that a more fruitful life can be revealed. (Luke 9: 23-27)

When we were younger we might have aspired to holding the whole world in our hands and many people have fulfilled their dreams, but they have sacrificed being the best they can be for the wealth and power that is a growth to be pruned. We can still produce fruit, but by looking inwards it’s not the best because we are looking into the darkness rather than facing the Light.

God wants us to be the best we can be and prunes the branches of our faith so that we don’t die.

in the darkness, but by looking toward the Light we will grow a ministry of perfect love as Jesus shapes people into the best we can be.