1 John 5:1-6
These past few weeks we’ve been reading parts of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples. It seems he takes his time saying goodbye. Partly, that is because he needs them to know that just because he will be out of their sight, doesn’t mean they won’t be connected and they won’t be friends. Quite the contrary, since they will be continuing the work that he started, they will remain his friends and continue to receive power from him in a loving relationship. How do we stay connected with one whom we cannot see? It is not only a question for the Disciples of Jesus’ day, but it is a great question for us to explore who have never seen him in the flesh, yet we feel we are part of something greater.
Today we are commanded to bear fruit. Last week we heard that we are the branches and Jesus is the vine and that we are to bear fruit, which we cannot do apart from the vine. So I thought we’d build ourselves a tree. This is a love tree, since love is the fruit we are to bear.
We’ll start with the roots. These roots are rooted in the Earth, this planet of which we are a part. This earth holds us steady, connects us to nutrients we need to grow, and is made up of the decomposed leaves and fruits of bygone seasons and other trees. It reminds us that we do not stand alone, but we are part of something. This earth also has flowing within it the waters of life that nourish us and make life and love possible. Already this tree is rooted lovingly, is related in a loving, life-giving relationship with the earth and the creatures around us that make life possible.
Then we have the trunk, or the vine. This is Jesus. This is love. Jesus holds us upright, and joins us all together into one. Jesus is the path of transport for all the water and nutrients from the roots as well as all the sugars made in the leaves in the process of photosynthesis. Jesus connects all the parts of the tree and remains strong and steady, even as the rest of the tree changes through the seasosn.
Now we have the branches. I thought at first one branch might be Lutherans and another Roman Catholics and another Presbyterian, but that is a very weird way to divide people, and a false way. I think a better way to think of the branches is by spiritual paths. We all come to be connected with the Divine in different ways. For some it might be more intellectual, for others through prayer and devotion, for others through service or justice work, and for others through giving or receiving generosity, some might be connected through following rules or laws, and others might be connected through raising their awareness of the Divine in all of life. Of course some branches fall off and others spring up, which is like our spiritual lives. The branch that once connected us, because of our experiences and perspectives, doesn’t seem to bring us life anymore. Maybe a another spiritual practice is a better fit, so a new branch grows and we are connected in a different way. As branches we are always reaching out for warmth and life and energy.
One of the neighboring pastors told a story about her grandchild when he was about 3 years old, winter came around and he said, “Grandma! The trees broke!” He didn’t remember the previous year when the leaves fell. But he knew something was wrong that the trees didn’t have leaves. Leaves are critical for gathering energy from the sun to feed the plant. Some plants have leaves all year—evergreens, including fir and pine trees as well as my awful laurel hedge. Some plants drop their leaves in the fall and winter. Some plants have leaves that feed us. What are some of your favorite leafy vegetables? Some have leaves that spice up our lives like sage, bay leaf, oregano, mint, and rosemary. Sometimes we think of leaves as being only green, but when we look around we see a true diversity of colors from purple, to yellow, to even blue or red.
There would be no tree without first a seed, and so now we come to the flower and the fruit. The tree flowers, sometimes it is barely noticeable, and sometimes it seems the whole tree has turned pink. If conditions are right and the flower is pollinated, the correct nutrients assembled, enough energy exists in the tree, the tree produces a fruit, a seed surrounded by all kinds of nutrients, so when it hits the ground, it will rot and make a lovely fertilizer to grow the seed in.
We’re supposed to bear fruit. We’ve been appointed for it. Sometimes we think the fruit refers to how many people to invite to church. That’s a fine interpretation. Go ahead and do that. But it is also about the why we would invite them. If we invite them because we love God and we experience the love of God through our church, they will know that is why, as opposed to if we invite them because we feel guilty that we haven’t produced any fruit lately. And if we invite them and we haven’t been otherwise loving to them, they will see through that, too. Bearing fruit is loving action, it is passing on the love we’ve found in God and in community. What the next person does with it is up to them, but as branches we keep passing on the loving energy, we continue to be in loving relationship with this whole tree all around us. And that’s the only way that fruit lasts, right? It isn’t made to hold up. Its made to fall and rot in a matter of weeks or days. But a fruit that lasts, adapts. It falls, it rots, the seeds take root, a new tree grows up, with leaves and branches, and eventually fruit that again falls. Fruit that lasts goes through many stages and never stops developing. That’s the challenge for us. How can we remain connected with God and each other, being used to a certain way of doing things, be ready for the challenges of life, adapt and grow, and continue to reach for the light and love and energy for the good of the whole? How do we as individuals do that? How do we as a congregation do that? Or maybe knowing our place as part of the tree of love, we would simply reach and trust, and find ourselves conveying that love of God, just by being open to it.
We’d of course have no tree without the sun. This sun is the source of all life, so the sun symbolizes God’s energy and warmth and love going out to the cosmos. And lets not forget the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the springs of water under the earth, washing us clean in baptism, refreshing us, and enlivening us, and the Holy Spirit is the wind, breathing into this tree, this system, shaking up this tree so it is never standing still.
As branches of the tree of love, we would never use God as a wishing well to just fulfill our own needs, but instead would be interested in the same thing God is, that we would always be asking for the power to love, the power to stay connected, the interest in the common good and vitality of the whole tree, the whole family of God. Then may our joy be complete, not when one leaf or branch is alive, or one root flourishing, but when the whole system works together, exchanging life, passing on water and sugars and nutrients, and oxygen and nitrogen and sap and water, and when it does then joy may be called complete because all participate in it and all give glory and credit to God. The trees participate in this system and exchange without ever seeing any of it or knowing what else is going on, yet, each plays its part and finds life in the relationship. And so may we.
Relational Question: Turn to someone near you and share: What ways have you found to stay connected to the source of life and love and/or what would you like to try to stay connected to connected to God and community?