11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Sermon May 3, 2015
”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. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 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. 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. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
“WHAT KIND OF FRUIT?”
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you; then you will produce much fruit … My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.” Words from our preaching text today (John 15:1-8)
But, sisters and brothers, what does it mean to produce fruit? What kind of fruit are we to produce? Jesus uses the image of grapevines. Grapevines are used mainly to produce wine. Should we all set up wine-making apparatus in our church basement and in our homes? Well, no, that would be taking this image too literally.
To help understand this imagery of Jesus, we need to know that the Old Testament often uses the imagery of the grapevine, the vineyard, to speak about the people Israel and their relationship to God, who is said to have planted the vineyard.
The prophet Isaiah in chapter 5 talks about Jerusalem as the Lord’s vineyard that the Lord himself planted. But the vineyard didn’t yield good grapes – only wild grapes that are good for nothing. Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea also use the vineyard imagery. Jeremiah and Ezekiel warn how vine branches that don’t produce fruit will be torn off and thrown into the fire.
So it’s clear from Jesus and the prophets that we’re called to produce fruit. We also know this from the first chapter of Genesis. On the fifth day of creation, God creates sea creatures and birds and he blesses the creatures he has made, commanding them: “Be fruitful and multiply.”
On the sixth day of creation, God commands the earth to “bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And after creating all the land animals on the sixth day, God finally creates humans as the final piece of creation. As Genesis proclaims: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply …” (Genesis 1:27-28) Thus ends the sixth day of creation.
Brothers and sisters, we see again and again throughout Scripture that we’re called to be fruitful, to bear fruit. But the question is: what kind of fruit are we to produce? Are we called by God to produce an overabundance of progeny? No – that doesn’t make sense when our world is filled with unwanted children who need good homes. And, obviously, not everyone is called by God to have children.
I believe an answer about what fruit we are to produce comes to us from our brother Paul in Galatians, chapter 5: “…the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22) Any one of these nine fruits would be well-worthy of anyone’s life.
Let me read them again (there will be a test later!): “…the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Brothers and sisters, which one of these nine echoes in your heart? Which one of these nine resonates with something deep within you?
I believe it’s too hard trying to accomplish all nine fruits at one time – so we need divine-guided discernment. The fruit you’re called to produce is the one resonating within you right here, right now! Choose one – and hold fast to it.
Become a disciple committed to bringing more love to our world! Become a disciple committed to bringing more joy to our world – more peace – more patience – more kindness – more generosity – more faithfulness – more gentleness – more self-control - to our world.
There are, naturally, many ways of understanding each of these nine fruits of the Spirit. I will not try here to unfold all nine. But I will say something about three of them. I see the fruit of peace as the process of helping heal our violence-battered world. Our world is in dire need of this fruit. I believe peace and healing are related.
Jesus teaches us something critically important in the 9th chapter of Luke. Let me read it: “Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” (Luke 9:1-2)
Peace may be the only antidote when the dark demons of violence and rage threaten our sisters and brothers and our very existence. But the way of the disciple of peace is a difficult and dangerous one. Bless you if you choose this fruit of the Spirit! But let me add: this church will support you in whatever way we can.
I’d like to add a word about the fruit of patience. This fruit runs counter to most everything our culture proclaims. Our culture continually admonishes us that bigger is better; the new is better than old; doing two things at the same time is better than doing one thing at a time; going faster is better than taking one’s time; getting more is better than settling for less.
But patience, sisters and brothers, stands squarely against these cultural proclamations, these cultural idols, these workplace gods, before whom too many of our sisters and brothers are forced to bow down in homage. Becoming a disciple of patience would be a good way to be a disciple. Patience is a much needed fruit in the midst of a world rushing headlong to its demise.
I also believe that being a disciple of patience involves a fateful practice of Sabbath. This week I began reading a book by the Old Testament scholar and author, Walter Brueggemann, titled “Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to a Culture of Now.” Please listen to Brueggemann’s words: “I dare to think that the ‘good fruits’ (listed in the fifth chapter of Galatians) arise from the ‘peacefulness’ of Sabbath. The ‘destructive fruits’ of the flesh (that Paul also talks about in the fifth chapter of Galatians) are generated by rat-race living …
“The God who gave the blessing and invited fruitfulness (in the first chapter of Genesis) is the Lord of the Sabbath. It requires the Sabbath to bear the fruits of God’s kingdom. Those who refuse Sabbath produce only sour grapes, the grapes of wrath and violence (the grapes of jealousy) and envy and, finally, (the grapes of) death.”
Brothers and sisters, to be a disciple of patience, necessitates a deep appreciation for Sabbath. I believe every disciple – every one of us here this morning - would do well to spend at least one full day a month engaged in true Sabbath – with no shopping, no hurrying, no work, no television-watching, no frantic busywork.
As your pastor, I hereby commit myself to such a monthly Sabbath. I hope you might consider joining me in this godly discipline. It might help to also know that a recent large study of children revealed that most children wish for their parents to be less stressed and tired. In other words, even our children want us to practice Sabbath!
The third and final fruit I wish to say a few words about is the fruit of gentleness. Just this past week, my beloved Beth revealed a dream in which she had a conversation with a recently departed friend of hers. In that dream, she told this deceased friend that she wanted to live a gentle life. Pursuing and producing the fruit of gentleness would certainly be a wonderful way to be a disciple of Jesus.
We are seldom gentle with one another. Parents at times push their children to do more and more – to accomplish more and more. Bosses often push their employees to do more and more in less and less time – leading to widespread unhappiness at work. Pastors sometimes push the members of their congregations to be perfect disciples when such perfection is impossible.
To be a disciple of gentleness – to produce the fruit of gentleness – requires one to stop pushing and shoving. Gentleness also reveals itself in a hesitation to engage in endless arguing – to shun the endless promotion of one’s personal opinions.
Gentleness is the opposite of what happens in our true Sunday worship: the NFL. Football generates not one iota of gentleness – yet it has emerged as our national pastime and our largest Sunday activity. 68% of all people in our country watch the NFL. Yet only 17% of the country can be found in church on any given Sunday. All churches suffer attendance problems when they compete against home NFL games! We are no exception!
All 20 of the top viewed television programs last fall were NFL games. Many sit enthralled, watching modern-day gladiators pummel each other, as we cheer on this brutality with copious amounts of alcohol and fan frenzy.
Now, sisters and brothers, I admit to liking the NFL. But I’m not yet a person seriously committed to being a disciple of gentleness. But here is another commitment I make this morning. Like the executive minister of our American Baptist Churches – Metro Chicago, Dr. Larry Greenfield, who last year decided against watching the NFL, I also will forgo watching the NFL this year. It is my hope and my prayer that in doing so – God may help me generate more gentleness within my heart and soul. It probably helps that the Bears are not very good. This self-discipline will not be easy for me. I could use your prayers!
What fruit are we to produce? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control – the super-duper nine! May God’s Spirit help each of us to choose one to focus on in the months to come! Amen!
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth, Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister