April 28, 2024

John 15:1-8

“A Congregation that Abides”

You may have noticed that there’s a tree planted in the alcove between the two sections of our church building. There’s a little plaque beside it showing that it was given and planted there by a former member, Joyce Rivers, in memory of her husband after he died.

Unfortunately, we don’t make much use of that space between the buildings, even though it does have a nice tree in the middle of it, it also has an abundance of pigeons that like to hang out there, making it less pleasant for people to use it.

I recently learned that it’s a crab apple tree – a kind of tree that doesn’t grow too tall and likely could do well in a small space like that. But it’s also a kind of tree that requires some pruning once in a while. It was growing taller than was helpful and dropping leaves into the eavestroughs and causing them to get backed up. So earlier this week it was pruned.

Of course, the classic reason for pruning is not to avoid overflowing the eavestroughs, but to help a tree to produce more and better fruit. Gardening experts online say things like this about the reasons for pruning:

“A tree has to be pruned and trained so that enough sunlight can reach the leaves and shoots. Without sunlight, the branches stop growing, die back and don’t produce flower buds and, as a result, no fruit.”

“Cutting these ‘suckers’ off allows that energy to go into fruit production, fruit size. Pruning out the fruits that are forming allows the same thing to happen and more room for the growing fruit.”

“Lack of pruning in a tree can lead to structural defects. These structural defects can result in significant portions of a tree failing. If a tree that sustains a limb failure then needs to be removed, it technically has died from not being pruned.”

This morning our Gospel text is a classic and beautiful one in which Jesus refers to himself as the vine, with his followers being the branches that draw our nourishment, strength, and our very life from our connection to the vine.

Very often the church’s reflection on this text includes a strong encouragement for individuals to spend time in prayer, Scripture reading, church attendance, and other spiritual practices that keep us connected to Christ and being nourished by his love and wisdom. We are warned that when we disconnect, we quickly become starved of that spiritual nourishment, cease to bear the fruit of the Spirit like love, joy, peace, and patience, and may as well be cut off completely in order that the other branches may thrive and bear more good fruit themselves.

But as I was thinking about this text in the context of our congregation’s ministry today, I began to think that Jesus’ metaphor also carries an important message for us to consider as a community of believers. And the day of our Annual Congregational Meeting seems like a good time to think about that.

How do our activities, programs, and priorities as a congregation keep us connected to Christ and nourished by God’s Word and Spirit? Although we might look back at the past year and remark that we did lots of stuff together, we should consider how our life together in community kept us connected to Christ and to one another. It’s not just a matter of being busy doing stuff, but our goal should actually be to abide – to stay connected, to be together, to be nourished, to grow, and yes, to produce fruit.

The fruitfulness of our congregation’s ministry is not measured by the size of our building or our budget, but by the love that grows among us and then reaches out to bless our community and our world. It makes me think about our church members out serving lunches to hungry people, sharing messages of acceptance and inclusion in the Regina Pride Parade, supporting refugees and other newcomers in our community, praying and caring for those who are sick, grieving, or homebound, and making a space of warm welcome and hospitality for everyone who shows up here on a Sunday morning.

However, we can’t make the fruit unless we abide in the vine. It’s not just a matter of telling ourselves to be more generous or patient or joyful. We need to abide together in Christ, getting our wisdom and strength both from Jesus’ teaching and his amazing love for us. And with that constant source of spiritual nourishment flowing through us, the fruit will naturally grow.

Now, you may have noticed that Jesus also talked about pruning in the Gospel text. We understand how pruning assists a vine, branch, or tree to produce more and better fruit. But what about our congregation? What would it mean for us to be pruned?

As individuals, we may think of pruning away activities or priorities in our lives that distract us from our God-given purpose – things like spending too much time on social media or video games, things like spending too much money on things we don’t really need, even things like always put our work and occupations first to the detriment of our families and loved ones or our own health and well-being, including our lives faith.

As a congregation, I wonder what we are called to prune away so that our mission and ministry will be more fruitful. Maybe we need to spend less money on some priorities that are not effective in order to put more resources into something else that will produce fruit. Maybe we need to focus our volunteer time and energy so that all our efforts build up love, joy, and goodness in our community.

Sometimes Jesus’ metaphor with himself as the vine and his disciples as the branches causes us to think that the pruning is to cut off people who are not productive. But I don’t think that’s what it’s about at all. I think it’s more about how we can become good stewards of all the gifts we have received so that they will make a bigger difference in the world.

As you already know, we’re going to spend some time talking about our building during the meeting after worship today. It has become more and more obvious over the years that this big old building, as beautiful and helpful as it has been for our ministry over the last 100 years, has become a heavy burden.

It is expensive to heat, challenging to maintain, larger than we really need, and it will require significant investment of funds in the future for us to keep it going in the long term. All of this is making us wonder what kind of pruning we may be called to do. Not pruning for the sake of pruning, but pruning in order that our church may continue to produce good fruit. Pruning so that we don’t use up our time, energy, and money on a big old building unless we can do that in a way that produces abundant fruit of the Spirit.

You’ll notice that the first questions in our discussion about the building today won’t actually be about the building. They’ll be questions about our ministry and our mission as a congregation. They’ll be questions about what God is calling us to do together and how our building could support that.

Today is not the day when we will make decisions about these things. Rather, today is the beginning of a time of thinking, sharing, listening, praying, and discerning together how God may be calling us to do some pruning for the sake of the fruitful mission of our congregation.

Jesus reminds us in the Gospel today that our God is glorified when the disciples of Christ bear much fruit. And so we are called to abide as a congregation – abide in God’s Word, abide in Jesus’ love, abide in the vine that is our source of life and joy. Let’s abide together, ask for the Spirit’s direction, and trust in the fruitful future that God is preparing for us. Amen.