saturday i had the pleasure of delivering my very first wedding homily right here in uganda. it was such a Joy and privileged to be a part of A&A’s union–may your joined life be deeply, deeply blessed!
the text is below.
our scripture for today is found in the gospel according to john 15:1-8
i am the true vine, and my father is the vine-grower. he removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. you have already been cleansed by the word that i have spoken to you. abide in me as i abide in you. just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. i am the vine, you are the branches. those who abide in me and i in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch that withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish. and it will be done for you. my father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
would you please pray with me: gracious and holy god we thank you for being here with us today. we thank you for the gift of scripture and the gift of marriage. may the words my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o lord our rock and redeemer. amen.
recently my housemate and i hired a new gardner to tend our compound. on his first day asked if he could prune our guava tree. we said that “yes, of course” he could prune the fruit tree, knowing that this would help it to bear more and higher quality fruit. what we did not expect was the extremely drastic pruning he was going to undertake. basically he cut the tree down to the trunk not leaving one remnant of green. i was convinced that he had killed our guava tree.
every single day, for weeks following this drastic trimming, i checked for signs of life. finally, one afternoon i spotted one tiny green shoot. and then another. and yet another. several months later my guava tree is looking beautiful and lush–much more full and vivid than before The Great Pruning. the pruning allowed the tree to create more fruit. what appeared to be complete destruction turned out to be an act of loving gardening and an act of creativity.
in our scripture today jesus tells us that we are the branches, he the vine, and god the gardner; the source of the power and life that flows through jesus the vine into us the branches. we, the branches, cannot bear life unless we are connected to the source of life, of creation and creativity. it is the connection of the vine to the source that provides the life necessary for the branches to produce fruit.
god is the source of love, like the ground is the source of life to this tree. and when we are connected to the the source, when our roots go deep into the life giving soil and we allow that love to flow up through us it makes it possible to make such seemingly-crazy commitments like the vows that A&A are making to each other today.
when connected to jesus, with the holy spirit and god; we grow, bear fruit, are given and give life. a branch not connected to the vine withers and dies. does not bear fruit. left to its own devices a vine will not bear fruit–or not yield as much fruit as it is possible or capable of bearing. when we are connected to the vine, jesus; and tended by the gardner, god; we submit to and accept the gifts and talents that god has given us.
when jesus speaks the word “you” in this text he does not use the singular form of “you” but the plural. jesus is speaking to all people–directly to you. A&A, this day symbolizes your public commitment to one another, to partnership and faithful pruning. a commitment to love more deeply than you thought possible, to work together to build the kingdom of god. a commitment to grow in faith and to accept the radical transformation that comes with faithfully lived lives in faithful community.
jesus speaks of removing branches, pruning; and cleansing. for a vine to flourish and produce good fruit it must be not only connected to the source of power, but also pruned or cut back. in many senses this seems to be rather counter productive and foolish. remember my guava tree? when i came home that evening after the pruning i may have panicked a bit. the pruning of the tree looked completely destructive. it looked painful.
but it is when we allow god to cleanse or prune us we are allowing ourselves to be molded into a more cruciform way of life…meaning that our lives are shaped into the the form of christ and the example of his life–the one who gifted us with our gifts and talents. the choices we make and our desires begin to resemble the choices and desires of christ.
back to the text, verse 7 says “if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” when you continue to submit to the pruning of god and bear more and more fruit through the use of your god-given creativity and love, your desires will become even more faithful and what you want will be a faithful request tinted the hues of christ.
to you, the family and friends who make up this international community of faith–i challenge you to stay connected to the source–to god–and help A&A stay connected so that they can love each other with such extreme self-giving and devotion. so that their relationship may take on the shape and form of the life of christ.
A&A–i have the great pleasure of knowing something of your creativity–of your gifts of deep love for those you work with, for, alongside and each other. i have heard and observed your deep faith and desire to be faithful to the god we serve and to love one another, and it is my prayer that you will continue to submit to to the pruning and cleansing that god provides, and that your love and life together will become like this tree–tall and strong and able to weather any storm.
i urge you to continue to seek after jesus, who was grounded in the spirit, to be connected to the vine who leads you to the source and to abide in his love. to abide in the gifts of creativity, true love, compassion and laughter that you have been given. when you are weary and weak comfort one another in the way that god comforts and tends the fruits of the vine. for it is in being connected to jesus and therefore to god, that makes it possible to take on this huge undertaking of making these marriage vows and the dreams for a shared life together that you share. this connection gives the strength and ability to honor these vows. for a plant to flourish it must be loved and pruned. do not fear to prune one another in the name of christ–but do so lovingly and with earnest. for it is in this pruning and radical love that you will find a deeper well of creativity, of love, compassion and the wherewithal to continue on stronger than you once were.
may you flourish like this tree. may your gifts and talents shine, and your depth of love for one another and your work multiply over and over again. may the pruning not be too painful and may your joined life bear much fruit in all of your years to come.