‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. (John 15:1-8)
What is our purpose as Christian disciples? To bear much fruit! And what is this fruit we should bear? In Paul’s understanding that he shares with the church in Galatia (5:22-23), the fruit of God’s Spirit includes, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” We are to be fertile soil in which God can plant, nurture, cultivate, and harvest the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Then we have the sacred task to share the fruit with everyone we can.
I spent my childhood summers working on my grandmother’s farm in her orchard. For new growth, the sod was turned, plowed, harrowed; roots and stones removed; fertilized and furrowed, much time and effort given to preparation long before the first seedlings or saplings were planted. For weeks, watering, weeding, feeding, and staking nurtured the young plants. Intentional cultivation shaped the plants and optimized a healthy yield. But the fruit did not fulfill its purpose until it was harvested and distributed.
For old growth, one important image comes to mind. My grandmother was a strong, but gentle and quiet woman. However, for a few days each fall and spring, she became a whirling buzzsaw with shears, clippers, pruning hooks, and cutting tools. Every year I would watch her “prune” bushes, trees, and vines within an inch of their vegetative lives. Pruning is a nice, friendly word that makes most of us think of some trimming and thinning. Actual pruning can be brutal, cutting away all but the barest shoots. An awful lot gets cut away and thrown in the fire! And this is critically important for the very best, very most abundant yield of healthy fruit.
Christian discipleship has some wonderful benefits and joys, but it still comes with a cost. We are expected to pray and study, learn and train. We are expected to worship and fast and engage in fellowship and serve. We participate in the work of preaching and teaching and healing. We collaborate together in evangelism and prophecy and teaching and administration; in giving and helping and shepherding and leading. We work the orchard, every day, even when it is hot and humid and hard. We break a sweat and strain a muscle and often get bone-weary tired. This is discipleship.
But oh, what an amazing thing happens for all this hard work. Apples of love; pears of joy; blackberries of peace. Grapes of patience, peaches of kindness, strawberries of faithfulness. Blueberries of generosity, cherries of gentleness, and raspberries of self-control. Yes, metaphors break down, but for me, summers in the orchard and the life of Christian discipleship hold many wonderful parallels, and the fruits of my childhood are exceeded in sweetness and texture only by the fruits of God’s Holy Spirit.
Prayer: God of Abundance, God of luscious fruit, we praise you. Turn your church into a garden, a garden in which love and joy, kindness and generosity, peace and patience are cultivated, harvested, and shared. We ask this humbly in the name of your gentle gardener, Jesus the Christ. Amen.