You Have a Master Gardener

A sermon preached on John 15:1-8 by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on May 17, 2020.

Do you have a green thumb, or are you the kind of person that plants seem to just wither when you come near? A person that knows how to care for plants and provide the right amount of nutrition and water to encourage them to grow, we say that person has a green thumb. One of my closest friends has achieved the certification of master gardener. He doesn’t just have a green thumb, he is able to teach others how to garden and grow things. God provides all we need for life and makes sure we get all we need for life at exactly the right time, Jesus calls his Father the gardener. He is definitely a master gardener. He provides all we need and he enables us to bear much fruit.

When did Jesus speak these words? Some might find it surprising to know Jesus spoke these words as he and 11 disciples walked to the Garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday – hours before he was arrested and crucified – hours before the disciples abandon him. They needed to hear these words. Jesus had been packing a lot of teaching into his last few days with them. John shares some of the teaching he packed in to his last minutes with them.

Earlier that evening before they celebrated the Passover, Jesus had gotten down and washed the disciples’ feet. Peter had said “you shall never wash my feet.” And Jesus responded, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” So Peter wanted Jesus to wash him head to toe because Peter wanted everything to do with Jesus. He didn’t understand yet that through faith in Jesus, he was already spiritually clean. Rather, Jesus was teaching them that a follower of Jesus shows his love to others.

He even went on to say: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Jesus didn’t just want his disciples to talk the talk, he wanted them to walk the walk. That can be easier said than done and that’s what makes this picture of the vine so good. Remain in me and bear much fruit. This only happens with the help of our master gardener.

I have seen many families starting a little garden the past couple weeks at home. And when planting a garden, you might plant several seeds into a single mound so at least one of them sprouts. What if they all sprout at the same time? That can be bad for me because I know what I am supposed to do. I need to go in and thin them out. But every year, I often find excuses not to do that. But here’s the thing. If I don’t thin them out, I don’t end up with more flowers or cucumbers, I often end up with less. That’s because if those little cucumber plants we currently have are going to actually grow as big as possible and spread out, they need room, watering, fertilizer, and sometimes even pruning and thinning.

Jesus is the vine. You are the branches. You are connected to Jesus. Are you as connected to Jesus as he wants you to be? After all, it is all too easy to sever myself during this time of social distancing isn’t it? Yet, the more I disconnect myself from Jesus and his Word, the less I bear fruit. And Jesus said his Father, the gardener, cuts off every branch that does not bear fruit. He doesn’t look forward to doing that, but because he is just, he will.

Yet, here’s also something we need to remember, especially our young confirmands, because he is loving, God will also prune every branch that is bearing fruit so that it will bear even more. And he will use every circumstance to accomplish just that. The idea of God pruning, cutting things out of my life, does not sound pleasant. And it sometimes it’s downright awful. Yet, the writer of Hebrews once said: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace” (Hebrews 12:11).

That pruning might come in the form of physical pain or suffering. He’ll use it to put the focus back on him. Or maybe it’s a pain for the heart that hurts even worse because it’s been broken. That’s going to make you look to God for your strength. Maybe God’s pruning will be mental pain as you anguish over what you could have done differently in the past and it forces you to find your peace in God alone. Maybe you can’t eat the things you used to eat or you can’t do the things you used to do – or maybe just maybe it’s all of these lockdowns we have had to deal with which at the same time have quieted things in your life so that less things get in the way of hearing God’s voice. The Lord will not hesitate to cut away anything that is preventing us from bearing the fruit that he wants us to be bearing.

I might hesitate at such an idea, but if I do, I fail to see God’s amazing love for me in his pruning. If he did not, my life would so easily turn into an overgrown mess of weeds. No one wants to be that in their life. I doubt you’ve ever heard someone say, “I sure hope I can grow up to be as bitter as she is some day. I hope I can talk as hurtfully as her.” No one says “I hope I can be as impatient as that man some day.” No one sees an imperfect branch and wants to copy that.

It’s the beautiful gardens and flowers that catches a person’s eyes and they wonder – how can I be like that? We know how! Jesus says: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” But apart from him, apart from a real relationship with Jesus with us coming to his Word and he feeding us, we can do nothing. Who would want to live a life on as little nourishment as possible? So confirmands, don’t let that happen in your spiritual life, getting as little church and God’s Word as possible.

Every month in our grade school chapels we have watched a video called “Kids’ Connection” on different schools in our church body. It’s catchphrase was always “stay connected to Jesus.” Stay connected to Jesus because he is the true vine that washed you completely clean – head to toe – through your baptism. Stay connected to Jesus because he now gives you his very body and blood that washed away your sins and assures you he loves you and forgives you, he assures you that you could never run out of his love.

Remain in Jesus and you will bear much fruit. Remain in him because he will remain in you. Remain in him and you will bear much fruit – fruit that will not bring attention to you but give glory to God, the gardener. Bear fruit and bring a ray of hope to someone who is hurting during this pandemic. Bear fruit and show someone the peace and joy of following Jesus.

Stay connected to Jesus and he will feed you. He will strengthen you. And yes, he will prune you. And the result? In Jesus, you will bear much fruit. Amen