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And Now . . . an Uplifting Word from Our Sponsor
a sermon based on John 15:1-8
by Rev. Tom Hall

Jesus talks about being fruitful, producing fruit. Somehow, this concept of producing fruit seems to rub me the wrong way. Truthfully, I am tired of producing; that’s all society appears to be looking for anymore. If you can produce you’re in, if you can’t, get out of the way. Society has become like an overheated steam engine cranking out production and services at full steam. Production, production, production! Can you perform? How soon can you deliver? How many can you produce?

Sometimes I wonder where we’re headed. If you look at our world and the way it has changed in the past decades--it’s actually scary, I think. Today, we live in a world that seems to feature instant everything: instant rewards, instant food, overnight delivery, the list goes on.

Yakov Smirnoff made the point. He is a Russian comedian, who emigrated to the United States. He said he wasn't prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, "On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk--you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice--you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, What a country!"

But American or Western Society is not so amazing to those who have to deal with everyday life. As a result of the "instant delivery" mindset, we see the world changing around us at a faster and faster pace.

Examples include . . .

We wait for the movie to come out instead of reading the book.

Commercials on TV used to be 30+ seconds. Now they’re more like 5-10.

Super-fast action children’s video and computer games.

Teenagers now prefer "direct messaging" on the internet to phone conversations. Why? On the phone you can only talk to one or two persons at a time, but on the internet, you can actually be in conversation with 15 + people at the same time. Who knows how they keep all those conversations apart.

(I wonder sometimes what our teens think about Sunday’s sermons. They are used to such stimulation and fast-pace communication, how can they endure 20 minutes of preaching? They probably think right now: "talk faster, do cartwheels, show me a movie clip, do something!)

At the workplace: if you broke a record in sales, or production last month, your boss is likely to tell you: "that was great for last month, now this month you need to top it to get that bonus."

Or worse: your company isn’t keeping up with the competition and needs to merge or sell out and things are about to change for you-not for the better mind you!

Even some churches seem to get caught up in the production frenzy of the world: you must grow, you must have more than one service, you must expand and offer more and better services and ministries than others.

It’s no wonder that people live in such a state of anxiety and stress. The demands on us to perform, to adapt, to "get more results" are wearing us down.

One of the reasons I come to church is because I experience church as a sanctuary from a world gone mad with production and instant everything! I come to worship and find rest and inner peace from the stress and craziness. I view church as a rock of peace and as an anchor in the midst of a changing world.

But this morning I come to church and hear Jesus talk about bearing much fruit. Can you blame me for being a little irritated by that?

Then it occurs to me that, perhaps, I need to be a little more trusting in God’s word. Maybe there is more in this bible text than meets the eye initially. What does Jesus actually mean by bearing much fruit? How does he say I can get to a point of bearing much fruit?

According to Murray’s commentary one thing we may notice about Jesus’ words is "the difference between work and fruit. A machine can do work; only life can bear fruit . . . Work implies effort and labor; the essential idea of fruit is that it is the silent, natural, restful produce of our inner life." [1]

So when Jesus talks about fruit he doesn’t mean performance? He doesn’t mean producing, producing, producing? When Jesus talks about fruit, he is not talking about the gardener who performs duties, but rather the plant that is cared for. As Murray continues:

The gardener may labor to give his apple tree the digging and manuring, the watering and the pruning it needs; he can do nothing to produce the apple: The tree bears its own fruit. [2]

Fruit grows naturally, the branch does not do anything to produce the fruit; it is genetically predetermined to bear fruit when . . . it remains connected to the tree or vine and gets the necessary nutrients.

When Jesus said: "I am the vine, you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit" he did not say to us: you must be successful, he said: be fruitful!

According to Henry Nouwen (in a sermon on this scripture passage) Jesus makes a distinction between doing and being. Nowen says: "Success comes from doing, and fruitfulness comes from being." [3] Being in and with God, with others and with ourselves.

So Jesus does not say: do more! He is saying: be more! Be all that you can be as you remain in me! Spend time with God, get to know God deeper. Let God love you. Experience God’s inner peace once again, and his joy. Take a break from the world and be with God, be with yourself too, get in touch with your true inner self and your calling and become centered in your inner spiritual life.

Don’t worry about fruit or success. Fruit is spiritually predetermined when you remain in Jesus. Fruit is a given. It will grow naturally out of your life of centeredness and peace and love, just as the grape grows naturally out of the vine.

It is said about German Reformer Martin Luther that when he had a particularly busy day of work ahead of him, he would schedule extra time for reflection and prayer in the morning and then was able to be more effective in his work. Sounds like a good deal to me. Take a longer break to reflect and recharge spiritually and get done faster with your work as a result.

Steven Covey uses the example of the lumberjack who takes frequent times out to rest and sharpen his ax and as a result gets more trees cut than any of his colleagues who work away in a frenzy. [4]

Abiding in Jesus means . . . taking a break from the crazy world
Abiding in Jesus means . . . restoring inner peace, finding spiritual refreshment
Abiding in Jesus means . . . being assured of his love for us, so we can love others
Abiding in Jesus means . . .that you don’t have to be the engine . . . He is!
Abiding in Jesus means . . . that fruit is a given! You cannot help but be fruitful!

Perhaps what it takes for us is to go to the Christian bookstore and get some worship music, an inspirational book; perhaps we need to start a spiritual journal, maybe we need to just drop a few things in our busy lives and make more time for sharpening our ax.

Contrary to my first impression of this text, Jesus doesn’t want us to do more. He calls us to do . . . less! Jesus invites us to take a break. Take a break from the business of life. Take a break from performing. He wants us to be. Simply be. Truly be. Bearing fruit is about being in God; being loved, being centered. Being in God. Amen.

[1] From “Much Fruit”Murray’s Commentary on the gospel of John, Chapter Twelve
[2] idbid.
[3] Henry Nouwen in a tape recorded sermon on John 15:1-8
[4] Steven Covey in “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People”