The Very Rev. Tom Callard – May 2, 2021
Jesus says today that he is the vine and God is the vinegrower and we are the branches. And he says that we exist to bear fruit. And so this talk about bearing fruit puts me in mind of a family I knew when I was a missionary in Honduras, twenty years ago. This family belonged to our church, Saint Peter’s by the river, and by all accounts they were the poorest people I had ever met. Our church there was filled with people who were living just above the survival level, barely making it.
But this family struggled in really profound ways, in part because they had nineteen children. And before you think this is a Honduran thing or a Latino thing, back in Boston I had a friend who grew up in a nice Irish Catholic family where he was one of 21 children. So these things happen. In the Honduran family, there were a couple of kids in their twenties but most of them were under 18.
And the mom and dad would joke about all of these kids, and one of the things they would say is that we are really good at bearing fruit, picking up on what Jesus says today in the Gospel that he is the vine and God is the vinegrower and we are the branches who exist to bear fruit, which apparently for this family meant having lots of kids.
So I wonder, when you hear these words from Jesus today about bearing fruit, how do you apply them to your life? How do you measure yourselves by Jesus’s words that we must bear fruit? I look around and I don’t think anyone from this church, that I know, has nineteen children. I mean, maybe someone does, but you’ve kept them somehow hidden from us. So maybe that’s not how you measure yourselves as a successful branch of the vine. But how do you look at yourself and know if you’re a good branch or not?
I know there are churches that see themselves as being good branches of the vine when they are able to make certain claims about their community. For example, there was one church in Honduras, speaking of Honduras, whose flyer showed one up one day on the windshield of my car. And it said on the flyer – come to our Pentecostal church because we have more miracles than any other Pentecostal church. And it was specific, it said something like: we have had fifteen miracles in the last month. And they were very proud of that, for it was how they knew they had borne good fruit.
And other churches, and I’ve been part of this my whole church career, other churches are so proud of the number of kids that show up in their Sunday school or their first communion classes, because having a lot of kids in your church is for them a sign that they have borne good fruit.
And of course all churches point to our attendance on Sunday and we say, well we’ve got a lot of people in the service, that’s a sign that we’re bearing good fruit. Or if we’ve got a lot of people watching at home, good fruit. The more people, the more hits, the more views, the more kids, the thinking is – the better we’re doing for the Lord. I think we all think that way a little bit.
And in our own personal lives I think we often do something similar. We measure how well we’re doing as Christians by looking at the things in our lives. We think we are producers for the Lord. Maybe we’re not like the family in Honduras, judging our success by the number of children we have, but maybe we look at other things we have, the amount of money in the bank, the model of our car, the size of our house, and we say, well look at how good a Christian I’ve been, that I’ve been fruitful and God has blessed me.
But is that what Jesus means today? Is that how Jesus measures success? When he looks at the branches of his vine, is he judging our faithfulness based on our material goods? Does he measure our success by how many children we have, or how many people we have at Sunday service, and get upset if we don’t have a full church? Does Jesus in heaven, seated at the right hand of the faither, count how many views we have on our livestream?
Because Jesus isn’t saying today that the purpose of Christianity is to produce, is to get more people in church, is to produce more hits and views. He’s not saying that the purpose of Christianity is to produce fruit, but he’s saying that fruit is what comes when we are living the purpose of Christianity. Fruit is the byproduct of living a Christian, God-centered, Jesus focused, Justice seeking life. The fruit, as Jesus refers to it, is what comes when one is living connected as branches to the vine which is Christ.
Living connected as branches to the vine which is Christ produces certain things. It produces peace. It fosters happiness and gives us meaning. When you are part of this vine, it creates well being. And it amplifies goodness and justice in the world. These are some of the fruits that come from being a Christian. The fruit is in the good things we do. It is in the way we are, it is in the light that shines from within us when we are living this life.
And so I just wanted to remind us today that it’s not about producing. I don’t think Jesus judges us based on an outpouring of production. And it’s not all about us. Why do we think that Christianity is all about us? Christianity’s not about us. It’s about us plus God. It’s about us plus Jesus. It’s about us plus that other person who stands before you. Christianity is about this whole vineyard in which we live, where every part is connected to every other part which is connected to Jesus which is connected to God. And not one part of that is strictly about any one of us, but every part of it is about all of us.
What you see in the world, what you see in events like George Floyd’s death is a lack of awareness of this connection. The branch which kills or hurts or demeans another branch has failed because it does not understand the basic message of Jesus, which is that we are all connected. That branch is me. That branch whose neck is under your knee is you.
So you may say, well what connection do I have with that woman in Honduras who has 19 children, living in a little house with dirt floor halfway across the world. How are she and I alike? Well you’re not at all alike. No one’s alike. It’s not about being alike. It’s about being connected. We are all connected. Or you say, what do I have that connects me with someone here in Springfield sleeping under the bridge, someone I will probably never interact with aside from driving over the bridge while they are sleeping? Or you may say – how am I connected with that other person, however we define the other?
And the answer is – It’s through Christ. It’s through Jesus. If Christianity has made us nothing else, it has made us part of something bigger than we are. I always think when I hear people say that they are spiritual but not religious, I always think, well that’s fine, but you know what being religious really means, what coming here week after week really means, and attending church on line really means, and professing to be part of this faith really means?
It means you’re part of something bigger. And that bigger thing carries you, and it surrounds you, and it sees to you in a way that you cannot do alone. It’s still frustrating at times being part of the vineyard of the church and the people we share it with. Other Christians are still so frustrating and maddening, and we act poorly and we don’t get it. But at the end of the day, being connected to the vine of Jesus means so much.
It introduces us to new math. We were taught as children that one plus one equals two. And in this new math we have a different equation, for in here one plus one equals one. It’s where you plus me equal Christ. You plus that woman in Honduras, you plus that person sleeping under the bridge, you plus that rich titan living in their mansion, you plus them equals love.
What we find the second we open our hearts to the vine, the second we enter this door or turn on this livestream. We find it in being branches, we find it within us. It’s all about love.
Elie Wiesel, who survived the holocaust and wrote the book Night, famously said that the opposite of love is not hate, but the opposite of love is indifference. Indifference is what you get when a branch fails to see the other branch. Indifference to that other branch is how we fail to bear fruit.
It is that look on the police officer’s face as he kneels indifferently on George Floyd’s neck. It is the way we sometimes feel about that person standing on the street asking for change. It is the way we sometimes feel about the climate crisis which will disrupt the lives of our children’s children. It is the way we sometimes feel about things like the war in Yemen, which has been identified as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, where hundreds of thousands of people have died but we don’t really notice. We are all casually indifferent about people and things all the time.
And in this we do not bear fruit. I think Jesus’s words and his message today are a call for us to remind ourselves, first and foremost, that we are part of him, that we are directly connected to the vine of his love, to the vine of his power, to the vine of his forgiveness, and to the vine of his purpose in life, and to all that he has and to all that he is.
And so we start from there. And the challenge then is for us to go from there in love to the next person, to the next person we see, and from there to the person after that, and from there to those whom we don’t particularly like, and to those we really don’t like at all, and then across the world to people like that family in Honduras who we will never meet. And to see in all of those branches love. Not just a bunch of people, or a bunch of faces, or a bunch of situations. But to see a bunch of love. In this we are bearing good fruit.