John 15: 1 – 8 No Need to Fear the Shears Sunday, May 9, 2021


No Need to Fear the Shears

John 15: 1 – 8

 Some time ago, a young woman was leaving home to take a job in a faraway city.  She had been hunting for employment for many months:  checking out ads online, sending letters and resumes, and going to interviews.  At last, she found the job of her dreams and, better yet, the company wanted her to work for them.  Now she was heading out, going to live on her own for the first time.

Her family was proud of her.  They knew they would miss her, but they were eager to help her on her way, and they made plenty of suggestions as she started to pack.

“Be sure to take along this maple syrup,” her brother said.  “It’s probably much more expensive out there.”

“Have you backed up everything on your computer?” her father asked.  “Be very careful how you pack it.”

“Do you need another blanket?” her mother wanted to know.  “I’ve heard it’s really cold there in the winter.”

“Oh, and be sure to pack this photo album.  And this scrapbook, with your souvenirs from high school.  Here are a few other things too.”

“Don’t forget this report card from fifth grade, where you got a D in every subject except gym.”

“And here’s a video of the piano recital where you messed up so badly that you couldn’t finish the piece, and just ran off the stage in tears.”

“Oh – And how about this letter of rejection from that Ivy League college?  Remember?  You thought it was the end of the world.”

Wait a minute.  What’s going on here?  What kind of family is this, encouraging their daughter to take along things that remind her of the most painful times of her life?  Why are they raining on her parade this way – trying to spoil her success with reminders of her failures?  Is this what psychologists mean by a dysfunctional family?

That’s possible.  It sure doesn’t sound like this family is in the mutual admiration business.  But …maybe they just want to encourage her to take a balanced view of her life.  Maybe they want her to remember that her life was not only smooth sailing, but rough waters and stormy winds as well.  If that’s the case, this family might be people of faith.  Because when you’re a person of faith, you know that your own success, as you define it, is not the most important thing.

When you’re a person of faith, you know that your life is a gift from God: a God who created you out of infinite love.  You know that your life doesn’t belong to you and you alone.  Your life isn’t lived entirely on your terms.  When you’re a person of faith, you try to live your life according to God’s purposes.  It will not always be smooth sailing.  Your idea of success isn’t always going to prevail.  God may have other plans for you:  plans that look different from your idea of success.  God may need to shape your life at times, according to God’s purposes.

These beautiful days of spring, we see all around us life bursting forth: on hedges, on lawns, and in gardens.  Gardens are growing by leaps and bounds this time of year.  If those growing plants are left alone, they’ll take over the yard.  They need to be cut back sometimes.  Any gardener knows that plants flourish and bear fruit when they are trimmed and pruned.

In our gospel passage for today from John, Jesus compares God to a gardener.  He speaks of God’s constant, nurturing presence.  He says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.  He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.  Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”

Jesus is speaking here to the disciples, on the night they gather in the upper room, before he goes to the cross.  He is saying farewell to them.  He is charging them to keep his commandment to love one another.  He is asking them to continue ministry in his name.  As the disciples listen, I wonder if each one imagines how his life will go in the days ahead.  Do they think that they will be successful?  Do they think that at their hands, miraculous healings will happen?  That they will preach to enormous crowds of people hanging on their every word?  That they will be known all over Judea, and their children and grandchildren tell of their greatness?

That’s possible, but Jesus, as he speaks with them that night, has no such grand visions of success.  That evening, as he sits at the table with them, he knows it’s the last time they will sit together like that.  He’s painfully aware of the hard road that lies ahead. His body is going to be broken.  His reputation is going to be ruined.  His life on this earth won’t look at all like worldly success.  So he speaks of God as the Gardener who longs for his vines to bear fruit.  To encourage the branches to grow and thrive, the Gardener prunes them, trims them, clips them back.  To help humanity flourish, God has to bring out the shears.

Life does not always go according to our hopes for success.  You may have dreams of success, but then you hit a roadblock.  Maybe you make a plan, and you think all systems are go, but you can’t get out of first gear.

Or you work at a relationship.  You try to listen and learn and grow in mutual understanding.  But after all your effort, the other person says, “I’m sorry; I just don’t love you anymore.”

Things happen that are tough to take.  Sometimes your dreams go crashing down in defeat.  So you pray to God to help you succeed, and when that doesn’t happen, you wonder if God cares.  It is hard to understand how a loving God could be so uncaring, unless you think about the vine and the Gardener; about how the Gardener trims the vine to make it bear more fruit.

When life doesn’t fulfill your dreams of success, it might not mean that God doesn’t care.  Instead, it might mean that God has other plans for you.  It might mean that God is doing a little trimming in your life, shaping you to bear fruit: wonderful fruit God created you to bear.

Jesus may have felt the pinch of God’s shears that night in the upper room.  But he never lost sight of the God he called Father: the God who lovingly tends humanity like a gardener tends a vine.  A gardener who longs for the branches to flourish and bear fruit.  Jesus knew his life didn’t belong entirely to him.  Life wasn’t his to live on his terms alone.  His life was his to give to God’s purposes.

When our dreams of success don’t come true, it can make us wonder if God even cares.  But when we believe our lives to be in the hands of the heavenly Gardener, the pinch of disappointment might not hurt as much.  When we hit a setback, we might just understand it as a sign that God is trimming the vine.  God is going to shape us for God’s holy, loving purposes and call forth from us fruit to bless the world.

Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Easter 6



“Prayer for Mothers”    – Donna Butler

Maria Ferrante, Soprano

Joyce Carpenter-Henderson, Pianist