Lessons for the Proper (Easter 5B): John 15:1-8; 1 John 4:7-21; Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22
We are a people of productivity! Ushered in by the great corporations of the 17th and 18th centuries, productivity is the standard by which the modern world measures success. It’s the very basis of the modern economic system; careers, promotions, and bonuses are based on productivity. Those who produce are rewarded and get more. Those who do not produce are thrown out. Productivity (at some level) is at the core of the debate around poverty, welfare, healthcare, and the elderly. “They” do not produce, and our care of and for them too often reflects what we think of that.
We have been convinced that productivity is the goal, and only the fittest should survive. I wonder, too, if such an insistence on productivity doesn’t meander over into our spiritual lives. Have you ever heard or been told: “If you only pray harder….or better!” And how many of us have heard or come to believe that if we are non-productive we will be cut off and punished, while the pruned branches are “good” and will be pruned into heaven.
Here’s the thing: I think that’s a misunderstanding of what Jesus is teaching here, a reading of the metaphor that maybe goes a little too deep. Frankly, reading the vine and the branches story through such a lens makes productivity God’s demand upon us and the means by which we appease God. And, nowhere in the gospels, is productivity or fruit-bearing seen as an act of appeasement!
In the end, the real issue at stake in the metaphor of the vine and the branches is not the production of fruit; but, rather, the issue at stake is abiding in God. And productivity is transactional, not relational. Productivity does not create deep abiding and intimate relationships. Jesus is not inviting us to productivity, Jesus is inviting us to intimacy, connectivity, and relationship. Fruit (or the lack thereof) is not the end; it is the manifestation! Fruit demonstrates or describes or reveals whether we are living connected or disconnected lives. Fruit production is the natural consequence of staying connected. You can see that in long-term friendships, marriages, and community loyalty. We do not choose whether or not we produce fruit. We do, however, choose where we abide and how we stay connected.
And so it is that we are invited to abide in Jesus – the embodiment, the fulfillment, the incarnation (as it were) of love – as we hear in the first letter of John. The first letter of John was written some seventy years after Jesus’ death by someone who knew the experience of Jesus through the life and stories of a community of followers who were suffering under the persecution of the Roman Empire. This community had also likely just recently been expelled from their synagogues. It was a confusing and violent time in which our storyteller writes,
“Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
But then he the author continues,
“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son…”
The life and teachings of Jesus and the death of Jesus are all about love; the love that Jesus had for his neighbors and the love that Jesus had for his enemies. Jesus lived a life that embodied neighbor love and extended the definition of neighbor to include those on the margins. Jesus critiqued his own culture and the culture of his people’s oppressors based on the love of neighbor. When the religious authorities and the forces of Empire teamed up to persecute Jesus and his neighbors, Jesus refused to take up arms against his enemies choosing instead to insist that only by loving our enemies can we hope to find peace. Jesus proclaimed that peace could only be achieved through justice; justice based on love of neighbors and love of enemies.
And even sixty to eighty years after the brutal Roman execution of Jesus, the Jesus experience continued to speak powerfully to the followers of Jesus who continued to share that experience with others!
Love, the Love that is God, deserves our attention in the here and now. Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God.
LOVE Beyond measure. Beyond words, beyond race, beyond religion, beyond tribe, beyond fear, beyond time, beyond sentimentality, beyond borders, beyond reason, beyond emotion, beyond imagining. Love, beyond the beyond and beyond that also. So, let the metaphor carry us beyond the words and images, let it carry us to the reality that is the LOVE that we call the Divine.
“What fruit am I producing?” “How much?” “Is it an acceptable quality?” Those are good questions if we understand and ask them diagnostically, as questions not about the quantity of our lives but the quality of our lives. That’s what Jesus is after. That is the deeper question he is asking. It is the invitation to join the conversation, jump into the game, participate, and live fully alive. That only happens when the life, the love, and the goodness and holiness of Christ flow in us. We become an extension of and manifest his life, love, and holiness.
It is a relationship of union even as a branch is united to the vine. We live our lives as one. This is not just about our relationship with Jesus; it affects and is the basis for our relationships with one another. Love for Jesus, one another, and ourselves become one love. We soon discover we are living one life and the fruit of that life and love is abundant, overflowing, and Father glorifying.
Jesus said, you are the branches and I am the vine.” Let us be of the vine, for we are intertwined one with another, all wound up in da-vine, for we are one with the divine. Let the fruit of the vine flow through us so that we can be the DIVINE in the world or as we say here and now, “to be love in the world”.
LOVE Beyond measure.
Beyond words, beyond race, beyond religion,
beyond tribe, beyond fear, beyond time,
beyond sentimentality, beyond borders, beyond reason,
beyond emotion, beyond imagining.
Love, beyond the beyond and beyond that also. LOVE.
God the DIVINE who is,
LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE itself.
May that LOVE flow through us. Amen.