May 8, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – John 15:16-17 (NRSV)
“You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
(Read these verses in context here.)
The reason we go through pruning and watering, the reason we need to keep drawing on Jesus’s life and power, is because he has a job for us to do. We are not his servants, but his friends. As his friends, he commissions us to go bear fruit that will last.
John 15 was one of my mother’s favorite Scripture passages. She had much of it memorized in the King James Version, and loved to say that Jesus was calling us to bear “fruit—more fruit—much fruit” (John 15:2, 15:5). As she said this, she would extend her arms wide to show how much fruit she believed Jesus wanted us to make.
When I became a seminary student, I got a job as an assistant to the dean of the chapel at the seminary. At that time, the student assistants would get to plan a senior chapel the year they graduated, and preach at it. I chose to preach at that chapel on this passage, assigned in my tradition for the Sixth Sunday of Easter. It has always been one of my very favorite passages.
Jesus’s mission statement for us here in John 15:16-17 builds on his earlier metaphors in John 15 about the pruning of plants in order that they can bear “fruit—more fruit—much fruit.” Now, whatever the opposite of a green thumb is, I have it, and I am the only person I know who has ever killed the same plant twice. But I know that in order for a plant to produce fruit most efficiently, the branches must be pruned and cut back. I don’t know how plants feel about this, but I know—from personal experience—that the pruning people experience in order to bear fruit for the Kingdom can sometimes be painful.
But pruning is not enough. The plant still needs to be watered, and so Jesus moves on to our need to abide in the vine (John 15:4-6). Again, I am no gardener, but I know that a branch or a flower cut from a tree or bush—though you may help it along for a while by putting it in a vase of water—will eventually wither and die. So it is with people. We may be able to sit around in a vase of (metaphorical) water for a while, subsisting on memories and old habits, but eventually, we need to return to the Source.
The reason we go through the pruning and the watering, the reason we need to keep drawing on Jesus’s life and power, is because he has a job for us to do. We are not his servants, but his friends (John 15:12-15). And as his friends, he commissions us to go bear fruit that will last: “fruit—more fruit—much fruit.”
And as his friends, he welcomes us with arms open wide. I concluded that sermon on John 15 all those years ago with a passage from Henri De Tournville’s classic book Letters of Direction. It’s worth repeating here as we contemplate the relationship between the branches and the Vine:
The essence of the matter is that our Lord loves you dearly……Come then, show a little deference to our Lord and allow him to go first. Let him love you a great deal, a very great deal, long before you have succeeded in loving him, even a little, as you would wish to love him. That is all I ask of you, and all our Lord asks of you.
My mom, having been pruned and watered and borne much fruit that will last, is with her Savior now. For the rest of us, let us go forward willing to be pruned, rooted and refreshed in the Source, and ready to bear fruit that the world needs so badly.
Where has Jesus pruned you? Where does he need to prune you further?
How can you abide more fully in the vine?
Listen to the song “Anoint My Heart for Burial” by Dennis Jernigan. Ponder especially these lyrics: “The tree of myrrh is full of tears/ that only come forth when bruised./ But the fragrant life that wounding brings/ is born on the wings of Good News.” Ask Jesus to prune and water you, to root you in the Source and make you a bearer of the Good News.
Lord Jesus, thank you for loving me as your friend. Thank you for pruning me so that I can bear fruit for you and carry the Gospel to all those whom you love, everywhere. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: I Am the Vine and You Are the Branches (John 15)
Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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