Archive for April, 2018

Untangle Yourself!

Sunday, April 29th, 2018

5th Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15: 1-8
Dc. Larry Brockman

All that talk about vines and branches and grapes in today’s gospel reminded me of something that happened when I was in Tennessee a week or so ago.

My neighbor invited Jane and I over for dinner. They have a fantastic view of the mountains from the deck outside their home. As we looked out over that view, I spied a half dozen grape vines planted on my neighbor’s yard. They looked unkempt and dangled all over the place. So I said to my friend, “How were the grapes this past year”? “Terrible”, he replied, “There were many bunches, but they all shriveled up and there was no fruit of any kind.” Knowing the answer ahead of time, I said: “Didn’t you prune them?” “No”, he said, “I read about how to do it but just got confused”.

So I told him that when I lived in California I had had grapes. And I offered to come by during the week and show him how to prune them. “Oh, yes” he said, and I will watch what you do for next year.” And so it was that I pruned my neighbor’s grape vines. There were years of unpruned growth; long dangling branches and dead branches and all kinds of undesirable meandering growth. When I got done, there was just a tenth or so of the vines remaining.

You see, a grape vine only generates so much life giving sap. Fruit only develops on the first 2 or 3 buds of last year’s growth. If you leave most of the growth on the vines, the sap will be wasted on unproductive growth. There will be little if any fruit, and the grapes that do make it will be small and sour.

But if properly pruned, there will be a couple of long strands of old wood with short spurs of last year’s growth on them. And the sap will pour into the productive buds on last year’s growth, giving large bunches of sweet grapes! That’s the way God designed grape plants to produce fruit.

If the farmer cooperates with God’s plan, and prunes the branches properly, then he will be rewarded with lots of fruit. But if the farmer does it “his way”, whatever that is, he is bound to be disappointed.

And so it is with people as well. As Jesus remarks, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does, he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” This is precisely what I did to my neighbor’s grape vines.

People have a nasty tendency to “do it my way”, as the old Frank Sinatra song foretells. Most of the time, that involves many paths leading in all kinds of directions, paths that keep extending from year to year without bearing fruit like unpruned vines on a grape plant. These many paths are aimed at what we want to do; many of them are paths leading to self-gratification, which ends without bearing fruit. Other paths bear little if any fruit.

But God knows which paths, which urgings in life, lead us to bear fruit, that is, the kind of fruit that helps build the Kingdom of God. These are the fruits of the Holy Spirit- Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control. He chastises us, that is prunes us, in an attempt to block the false paths. When we cooperate, his life giving energy can strengthen our growth along the fruitful paths. When we fight him, our energy is sapped up in the unproductive meandering paths that lead nowhere.

When a person looks down on an unpruned grape vine, he can see a mess of tangled random growth leading nowhere, and likely to continue to nowhere unless something changes. But each of us is blind to this analogy in our own lives. We get involved in too much; we become committed to multiple paths leading nowhere, and we refuse to be directed according to God’s plan. That would involve painful pruning; cutting off the known for the unknown and making a change. And like a grape vine, a lot of stuff needs to be pruned so new things, God’s ways, can be experienced and be fruitful!
John tells us in the second reading that if our hearts do not condemn us, then we can have confidence that God will give us whatever we ask him. Our hearts rest easier when things are simple.

So ask yourselves this. What can I do to get rid of those tangled branches in life that really lead nowhere? Then cut them out, and follow the urgings of the Lord instead. If you do that, God the Father will be glorified, and you will become a disciple of Christ.