Whether to Wither


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 99; 147:1-11, Exodus 15:22-16:10, 1 Peter 2:1-10, John 15:1-11

A friend who is a lifelong gardener once said she was amused when people found peace in parables about sowing, tending and harvesting. Gardening, she said, is brutal. One is continually ripping living things from the ground to make room for other, more desirable living things. Foundering plants are removed to prevent the spread of rot and disease. As in today’s parable about the vine and branches, a gardener prunes away unproductive branches so they don’t drain resources from or contribute to the demise of healthy ones.

Sometimes parables like the vine are used to paint a picture of a God who’s waiting to damn us. It’s not difficult to take a story with actual burning in it as proof God is eagerly stoking the fires of hell for us right now. Preaching and teaching which use this fear of punishment to motivate us produce obedience that more resembles a hostage situation than worship. When Jesus says unfruitful branches will be trimmed and thrown into the fire, is he being a ruthless gardener and threatening us with eternal suffering?

Not quite. The difference between us and a withered branch on a grapevine is that we have a choice in whether we wither. Jesus knows the world is a hard place, a wild place overgrown with corruption and danger. He is not resigning us to the inferno, but extending an offer to shelter in his love, where our spirits can grow fruitful. Without the love of God, we are subject to everything that tries to choke out and nibble away at our spirits. Christ’s message about unhealthy branches is more lifeline than threat. He concludes by saying: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

God’s hope for us – and therefore Christ’s hope for us – is that we will know and flourish in his love. He wants us to know the natural consequences of ignoring or rejecting that love is a withering of the soul. Christ does not threaten us with death. He invites us to life.

Comfort: Christ provides nurturing shelter in a world overgrown with disorder.

Challenge: If you are a gardener, allow a small section of your garden to grow untended. If you are not a gardener, cultivate a small bed of flowers or herbs. What do you think you will learn?

Prayer: God of Life, thank you for tending my soul. I will seek shelter in your love. Amen.

Discussion: Do you relate to the images of a vine and branches? Why or why not?

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