Monday, May 4, 2015

Pruning: A Spiritual Practice

God of the vineyard,
you always stand ready to prune the branches in each of us
that have withered and are useless.
You clip, trim, snip and cut back
till we have more healthy growth.
May we bloom and blossom,
precious to our true vine,
Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen

Merry May to you all!

May is always a month of changes. The end of the school year, the end of the church program year. The beginning of summer break. Up north it was usually the month we planted vegetables. As a child helping my mom in the garden, I would get very excited about the new spouts and shoots as the plants started growing. One thing I didn't understand was the reason we would cut certain plants back after they just started growing. It seemed mean almost, to cut them off when they had just started growing.  However, my mom taught me about pruning. 

Pruning is the specific removal of a part of a plant in order for new or better growth. Reasons to prune plants include dead part removal, shaping, improving or maintaining health, reducing risks, preparing plants for being moved, and both harvesting and increasing the yield or quality of flowers and fruits. The practice entails targeted removal of diseased, damaged, dead, non-productive, structurally unsound, or otherwise unwanted tissue from crop and landscape plants. (Paraphrased from Wikipedia.)

Most of you probably have already had this lesson in life and know the benefits of pruning in your gardens or lawns. Yet, it's one thing to think about pruning in a garden and another to think about pruning yourself or as a spiritual practice. All of those reasons listed, dead part removal, shaping, improving health, reducing risks, preparation for moving, increasing the quantity or quality of fruit are all reasons we need to practice pruning in ourselves. All reasons that God practices pruning among his people, and has done so for centuries.

The gospel reading today opens with Jesus exclaiming, I am the true vine, and my father is the vine grower. Jesus uses an old metaphor from the prophets and gives it a new spin, a new idea, uses it in a new way. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea all use the vine metaphor to talk about Israel or the Israelites. 

Jeremiah 2:21;
Yet I planted you as a choice vine,
   from the purest stock.
How then did you turn degenerate
   and become a wild vine?

Ezekiel 15:6;
 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so I will give up the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Hosea 10:1
Israel is a luxuriant vine
   that yields its fruit.
The more his fruit increased
   the more altars he built;
as his country improved,
   he improved his pillars.

Jesus takes this metaphor and reinterprets the scriptures and refocuses the metaphor. He sets up a relationship, in which Jesus, God, and us are all at work. We are the branches which grow off of Jesus and bear fruit. Jesus is the vine that God has planted and which God tends. We do not know the whole purpose or the plan, we don't always know what fruit we are bearing, yet we have a place in relationship and when we grounded in those relationships we are able to bear good fruit. (For a fully Trinitarian view, you can think of the Holy Spirit as the water which God gives as nourishment and follows though Jesus the vine into us as the branches.)

In this relationship, God's pruning can be very difficulty of bear, yet, it is necessary. Jesus talks about being cleansed or pruned by his Word, by his teaching. Sometimes we have parts of us that need to be pruned. Jesus' teaching through the parables and stories speak to us of things that need changing, especially the acceptance of God's love for us. The attitudes that are of and from God. We know those attitudes, those habits, joy, peace, love, faith, trust, hope. We also know the attitudes that keep us away from the love of God, those things which need to be pruned. Entitlement, jealousy, impatience, apathy, indifference. We know the people in our lives that encourage us to do bad things, the people who destroy our self esteem, the people who tell us we are unloveable. These are the kinds of things which are so difficult to let go, but we are so much better off after they are gone. Communities need pruning too, triangulation, gossip, scapegoating, shunning, not welcoming others in. Many communities suffer from these things and the lack the growth that would come from good pruning. Jesus asks his disciples to focus on abiding in him, living out what comes from Jesus. Letting Jesus be the source and power. Jesus wants us to bear good fruit. 

The theme of the Easter season is resurrection. Taking something dead, something old, something not worth anything, and making it new. The resurrection theme comes to light in this passage. Through the new growth and life that comes from abiding and living fully into our understanding of being the branches of Jesus. 

Pruning. The point is resurrection. We cut things off to allow more growth. Sometimes such cutting is very painful. The cuts have not always seem helpful, or necessary, but perhaps God has something new in mind, perhaps God is using the new space to call us into new growth. You have fruit to bear. As a community, we have fruit to bear. We are part of God's garden and we need some pruning. God is at work among us, let us be open to God work.

Trust the pruning process. God is in charge of the vine and we are the branches. We are embraced by God's loving care. We are going through things here as a community, along with things personally that need pruning or need the trust that God will grow in the right time. 

Trust the gardener. Trust God. We will be a beautiful garden.