Faith Matters: All Vine No Grapes

Contributing Writer Rev. Dr. Scott D. Hannon St. John Lutheran Church, Amherst, NY
Contributing Writer Rev. Dr. Scott D. Hannon St. John Lutheran Church, Amherst, NY

The Lutheran camp on Lake Chautauqua is a stunning piece of property that features picturesque views, towering trees, serene trails, and dynamic landscapes. Like the camp counselors who witness to Jesus throughout the year, the very ground of camp seems to proclaim God’s glory. There’s just one problem… grape vines. In some pockets of the wilderness grape vines have gone out of control. Every year they creep further and further into the trails and higher and higher up the trees. In college when I worked at LCLC, I recall spring cleanups where we had to reclaim nature from the vines that were choking life. Even now when I visit I can’t help but notice the grape vines that seem to permeate the forest. There are grape vines everywhere, however, there are no grapes.

In the 20+ years I have been active at camp, I have never seen a grape – not one. Now I won’t pretend to know too much about agriculture, but I suspect the reason there are no grapes is because the vines are never pruned. Left to their own devices the vines sprawl out and exhaust themselves with expansion leaving to time or energy to produce.

In scripture Jesus says, “I am the vine.” He says, “God is the vinegrower.” And he says, “You are the branches.” The indirect question he then poses to his disciples is: are you bearing fruit? To bear fruit, Jesus says, requires abiding and pruning. And the vines that do produce fruit, Jesus says, God prunes even more so they bear more fruit.

My experience with “people these days” is that we’re a lot like those un-pruned vines at camp. We exhaust ourselves with busyness. We overbook our lives. We brag about how tired we are. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say they’re too busy or don’t have enough time, I’d be retired and on a beach in Hawaii. We often try to amend our lives by adding to it, not taking things away. We cram activities in to our schedules rather than really carve out time to just be.

In the illustration of the vine and branches Jesus invites us to rethink how we pattern our lives. In particular, Jesus invites us to consider how we can spend more time abiding and less time achieving. He challenges us to really evaluate what needs to be pruned so that we can truly bear fruit.

And so, let me ask you: what needs to be pruned from your life? How can you discover your best life through subtraction and not addition?

In October I took a group from my church to LCLC for the weekend and we hiked through the woods. On a trail near route 430 I noticed a tree that seemed to be teeming with life. While the other trees were losing their leaves this tree was covered with green life. As I approached the tree I was shocked to discover it was dead. The leaves were not its own, rather it was completely covered with an out of control vine bearing no fruit. The image of that tree, friends, is a false picture of life. It is as false an image of life as the one we often chase through this world.

God calls you today to abide – to be, to remain, to stay, to dwell, to stop. And God calls you to prune – to trim, to crop, to shorten, to cut and reduce. Maybe your kid can miss a practice so your family can eat together at the table. Maybe you should take a day off work so you can be a more effective employee tomorrow. Maybe all those exhausting activities can be canceled so you have time for the things that matter most in life. You will have less leaves and won’t look as grand to the world, but you will bear fruit.

Hear these words from Jesus to you: My father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. Abiding and pruning, not growing and going, is the key to real life.

In the Way,