Weekly Seeds: Much Fruit

Sunday, April 28, 2024
Fifth Sunday of Easter | Year B

Focus Theme:
Much Fruit

Focus Prayer:
Vine Grower and Vine, keep your branches connected to you and prune us to bear much fruit. Amen.

Focus Reading:
John 15:1-8
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 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. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

All readings for this Sunday:
Acts 8:26-40 • Psalm 22:25-31 • 1 John 4:7-21 • John 15:1-8

Focus Questions:
What is pruning?
What needs pruning in your life, your faith community, or the world?
What does it mean to abide in Jesus?
What threatens to disconnect you from the Vine?
What fruit do you bear and where do you bear it?

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

Fruit is a particular part of a flowering plant. Botanists refer to them as the ovary of the plant as fruit carry seeds. They contain the reproductive potential of the flowering plant. Without fruit, the plant may not die but it cannot replicate itself. Mangoes, oranges, and apples are fruit, and tomatoes, cucumbers, and nuts (like almonds) in their shells are also classified as fruit. Fruit grows on vines or branches, and the reproductive process occurs when the seed falls to the ground, directly or indirectly with the assistance of an animal, and takes root in the soil.

When I was a child and learned about seeds, a friend and I decided to experiment. After a backyard cookout, we took the seeds from the peaches we had consumed and planted them in the ground. We did not cultivate the soil, water or fertilize the seed in any way, or account for the fact that Ohio is not known for peach trees. Our experiment did not bear fruit and left us disappointed. Yet, we learned a lesson about gardening–from assessing possibilities, preparing the habitat, and providing nurture and care. Honestly, we mostly learned that we were not ready to be gardeners.

John 15 is situated within the third section of the gospel narrative, known as The Book of Glory. Jesus has turned his attention from performing signs that point to himself as the Messiah. Having established his identity, he progresses to cultivating his apprentices to continue his ministry beyond his physical presence. In addition, Jesus also must prepare them for his coming Passion. Specifically, the teachings found in this passage are part of his final parting pre-crucifixion instructions.

The material contained in John 13–17 is unique to this Gospel. The underlying perspective of the farewell discourse is different from the first half of John’s Gospel, which narrates Jesus’ ministry to the Jews, with his followers playing only a minor role as disciples of Rabbi Jesus. The farewell discourse, on the other hand, presents Jesus’ mission to the world, based on his cross-death and carried out through his followers in the power of the Spirit. The underlying assumption is that Jesus has been exalted; thus, he will answer prayer offered in his name, send his Spirit and direct the mission of his followers, and take his disciples into the loving and unified Father-Son relationship. The disciples have risen from lowly helpers to partners in ministry. The parallels between the present discourse and “covenant language” in Moses’ parting Deuteronomic instructions suggest that Jesus here is cast as the new Moses, who institutes a new covenant with his disciples. Just as Moses was prevented by death from leading God’s people into the promised land, so Jesus will be separated—albeit only temporarily—from his followers.
Andreas J. Kostenberger

It is interesting that Jesus, in preparing his disciples for separation, emphasizes his abiding connection to them. This is covenantal language reflecting covenantal commitments. John uses metaphorical language to paint the picture of the relationship Jesus maintains with the Divine Parent and the relationship between Jesus and the disciples. From those relational ties, the disciples have a relationship with the Divine Parent as well that Jesus establishes and presents to them as foundational to their existence as beings created for this. Nothing is arbitrary. Abiding mutuality is embedded in the design just as the life cycle of flowering plants has been ordered with the inclusion of its fruit as the means of reproduction and species flourishing.

The disciples will be charged to birth a new ministry. The blueprint has already been established. The Divine Gardener has planted a vine in the world in Jesus Christ. As Kostenberger notes, “Jesus’ coming from God is a theme that pervades the entire Gospel. What is about to follow took place precisely because Jesus knew his true status and position.” In turn, Jesus ensures that his companions also know theirs in the Triune God. A vine does not exist to bear fruit once and die. A vine has the capacity to produce fruit year after year and flourish perennially. At the same time, a vine that gets cut down or destroyed in some way may appear to meet its end, yet if the roots contain life, it may be renewed and grow to new height, breadth, and length.

In the film A Walk in the Clouds (spoiler alert), there is a fire in the vineyard. It sparks quickly and spreads even more rapidly. Attempts to extinguish the fire fail and put family and staff in jeopardy. As the sun dawns, the male lead character goes to the original source vine and pulls it from the ground to the roots. He brings it to the vineyard owner, and asks “is it alive?” The vine grower cuts a piece of the root and declares with incredulity, delight, and renewed hope, “it is alive.” Everything changs in that moment.

The resurrection is like that moment when abject despair and fear of a devastated future gives way to impossible hope. Jesus lives, and everything will change. The father in the film turns to his now affirmed son-in-love and instructs him to “plant [the root] in the grove.” The son counters sheepishly, “I don’t know how.”

Jesus does not want his disciples to declare they don’t know how to continue to follow his path, to walk in his ways, and to minister to the glory of God. Their function is to bear fruit and has been since he called them into his circle. Their fruit will signal to the world that Jesus is alive even when his physical body ascends from the world because his called body–the church–still lives.

The repeated references to “does not fruit . . . does bear fruit . . . bear even more fruit” draw attention to the fact that the bearing of fruit is God’s primary creative (Gen. 1:11–12, 22, 28) and redemptive purpose (cf. John 15:8, 16). The OT prophets envisioned a time when Israel would “bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit” (Isa. 27:6; cf. Hos. 14:4–8). Indeed, the bearing of fruit is the essential purpose of a vineyard (Morris 1995: 594). The term καρπός ( karpos , fruit) occurs eight times in 15:1–16 and only twice in the rest of the Gospel (4:36; 12:24). The Father’s intervention in 15:2 to ensure “more” fruit is continued by the “much” fruit borne by the one who remains in Jesus in 15:5 and is brought together in 15:8, where the bearing of “much” fruit brings glory to the Father and provides evidence of discipleship to Jesus.
Andreas J. Kostenberger

Notice that bearing fruit is the only barometer. The lone objective is to reproduce the ministry of Jesus. When the branches–the disciples–fulfill that promise, the Vinegrower will prune the branch in order that it might bear more fruit.

As I mentioned, I do not consider myself to be a gardener. But, one year, I noticed a rose bush seemed to be dying. There were only one or two blooms, and another bush was encroaching on its space. Looking at the rose bush as a lost cause, I began to cut the branches that I could reach. I could not pull it up by the root without displacing the other bush that appeared to be in decent shape. The following season that rose bush came back to life with more buds than I had ever seen. Turns out, it needed the pruning to move from dying to flourishing.

I wonder if the church needs to embrace this season of pruning in order to return to flourishing. What would happen if we focused not on the signs of death and dying but focused on abiding in Jesus and being faithful to the ministry of redemption, liberation, and restoration in the world? I wonder what new life might flourish if we cut away bare branches that no longer serve the needs of our faith community or of the world.

Perhaps, like that rose bush or that fictional grape vine root, what seems like the end can actually make way for a new, flourishing beginning that will bear much fruit.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.

Bay Leaves
BY Nikki Giovanni
I watched Mommy
Though I cooked
With Grandmothe

With Grandmother I learned
To pluck chickens
Peel carrots
Turn chittlins inside out
Scrub pig feet

With Mommy I watched
leftovers for stew
Or vegetable soup
Great northern beans
Mixed collards turnips and mustard greens
Garlic cloves Bay Leaves
Very beautifully green
Stiff so fresh
With just a pinch of salt
Not everything together
All the time but all the time
Keeping everything

I make my own
Frontier soup in a crock pot
I make my own ice cream with a pinch of salt
And everything else
With garlic
But fresh Bay Leaves
Are only for very special
Ox Tails

For Further Reflection
“Think the tree that bears nutrition:
though the fruits are picked,
the plant maintains fruition.
So give all the love you have.
Do not hold any in reserve.
What is given is not lost; it shall return.”
― Kamand Kojouri
“A tomato may be a fruit, but it is a singular fruit. A savory fruit. A fruit that has ambitions far beyond the ambitions of other fruits.” ― E. Lockhart
“Plants are more courageous than almost all human beings: an orange tree would rather die than produce lemons, whereas instead of dying the average person would rather be someone they are not.” ― Mokokoma Mokhonoana

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at //ucc.org/SermonSeeds.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.