Acts 8: 26 – 40
Psalm 22: 24 – 30
1 John 4: 7 – 21|
John 15: 1 – 8
I think that it is safe to say that the further we get from our agrarian past, or even just from the practice of having a small vegetable garden in the back yard, the more foreign some parts of Scripture will be for us. Much in Scripture, and certainly in the Gospels, assumes a familiarity with different aspects of agriculture. But what was once common knowledge, even if it wasn’t firsthand knowledge, now must be learnt, not from experience, but from books or podcasts.
My mother delighted in telling me a story when I was visiting her a number of years ago, about my then, 6 year old niece Callie. Callie was helping Mum, whom she called Oma, make lunch one day, and in the midst of the preparations Mum instructed Callie to go out into the backyard garden and pull a few carrots from the vegetable patch for them to have with their lunch. Wide-eyed Callie put her hands on her hips and shook her head. Oh, Oma, Callie said very seriously, carrots don’t come from gardens, carrots come from grocery stores. Clearly, poor old foolish Oma didn’t know anything about carrots, and certainly not where you could get them if you wanted to have some with your lunch.
If we no longer know where carrots come from, as obviously some people in this world don’t (and here I don’t mean poor old foolish Oma!); if we have forgotten our agrarian past; if there is no longer any dirt under our finger nails; if our only experience of food production is what we find in shops; what are we to make of a text such as we have today from John’s Gospel that assumes a degree of knowledge of viniculture, or even just basic gardening.
I John 4:7-21
We live in a culture that expects us to be fruitful and productive. We are encouraged to produce, to accomplish, to achieve. We are rewarded for our efforts and applauded for our successes. Our ability to produce or to achieve heightens our worth in the eyes of others, and often in our own eyes as well. We feel good about ourselves when we are able to accomplish important tasks or achieve ‘success’; we despair when we feel that we have accomplished little, or when our accomplishments seem less significant than those of others.
God is interested in our fruitfulness and productivity as well, but in ways that are significantly different from those which society values. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus reveals the source and secret of fruitfulness, drawing on the familiar imagery of the vine and the branches. I’d like to explore that image with you this morning, by looking at three things: (1) the source of fruitfulness; (2) the secret of fruitfulness; and (3) the signs of fruitfulness.