Monday May 18, 2020
15 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
9 “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.John 15:1-10 (NLT)
Spring feels like it has finally sprung, and I imagine many of you who are gardeners are taking advantage of the warmer weather. You may be planting new things – flowers, vegetable and fruit plants or even starting things from scratch by putting new seeds in the ground. You do this by preparing the soil, clearing away weeds and other debris and adding the appropriate amounts of water and fertilizer. You do all this to give your plants the best start possible. If you are not planting new things, you may be sprucing up what is already planted – pruning dead branches and trimming off unnecessary shoots. You do these things to make the plants healthier and stronger. You do these things so that in time you can enjoy the fruits of your labor – literally – beautiful flowers and delicious produce.
Have you ever thought that sometimes you have felt like a plant? How about the times when you were presented with the opportunity to try something entirely new? Like the day you graduated from high school or college with a new job or new schooling to look forward to? What if that meant a move – out of the family home or to another city or state? To me this has felt like God planting me very much like a good gardener plants new flowers or vegetables. In such cases, there have been new friends waiting to be made, new co-workers or school mates – people who anticipated our arrival and welcomed us into their community.
There have been other times, however, where we have felt uprooted, without knowing exactly why, to be forced by circumstances to leave the familiar and face new experiences. But those new experiences did not include waiting friends or expectant co-workers or neighbors. Rather the experience felt more like being pruned, cut off from what was familiar, left without all those people, places, and things that we once relied on.
Pastor Doug and I felt much like this when we moved from Baltimore to Bethlehem. We had lived in Baltimore for more than twenty years. We raised our kids there. Our church family was there. We had friends in the neighborhood. Our church was meaningful to us, as were our jobs. But in a short time two things happened that markedly affected our lives. First, Pastor Doug’s company promoted a new person to manage his lab, someone who was brusque, caring only for the bottom line, not at all supportive of new ideas or concepts. Then our church called a new minister, one who was difficult to work with, thin-skinned, demanding his own way, and seemingly jealous of the respect people had for Pastor Doug. What were once comfortable places to live, work, and worship no longer felt that way.
This was the reason Pastor Doug was willing to consider a new job with a different company. That was the reason we found ourselves in Bethlehem where we knew no one, we had no church, our children did not move with us as they were making lives of their own, either still in college or working in other states. We felt alone, without family or friends. Although Pastor Doug’s new job was a better fit than the one he left, I was not able to find a similar position. I did find work, part-time only, at a local high school. During this time we discussed this scripture passage often and felt that we certainly had been pruned but also felt that God had something more in mind for us.
We waited for new fruit to become apparent. And it did. After attending several churches that did not make us feel welcomed, we happened upon a UCC church where we were welcomed in to become an integral part of their contemporary worship team, providing short dramatic lead-ins for the pastor’s sermons. Some were serious, others were less so, but all were thought provoking. At that time drama was an important part of our church ministry. And there were many people who attended this service who loved being a part of such a ministry. There never was any problem finding actors. We were accepted into the group who planned these services, the same group who began adult mission trips, the same group who just plain enjoyed one another’s company. We felt that the pruning we had experienced led to more fruit than before.
God had pruned us so that we were embraced by this new group of Christians, given a mission we loved, and while there we were led to enroll in seminary to prepare for another career – that of co-pastors at a church. And you, as a congregation, were willing to dream along with us and called us to be your pastors. None of this would have happened without God’s pruning of us back in Baltimore.
There were certainly times during this process when we felt alone and without God’s leading. However, this scripture passage convinced us that God was still present in our lives but was preparing us for something new.
This time of being separated from one another does seem like we are again being pruned – in order that new life may grow. During this time it is vital that we continue to reach out to one another by phone, email, card, or other greeting to let others know that they are not alone – that we are all being pruned in order to grow in our faith. With God’s strength and support, with our faith and trust and belief, we can use this time to deepen our reliance on God and to put our faith into action by reaching out, like a vine, to others. Blessings to all.
-Pastor Joyce Donigian