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. It didn’t take very long for me, after I read this passage, to be struck by a very simple question. In the context in which Jesus is speaking, What’s fruit? On its face it seems pretty simplistic and you might now be asking yourselves, “How did this guy manage to graduate in Christian Ed and make it through seminary?” But I gathered enough courage to ask the question of my friends in our pastors’ study group. There was silence. All I could think was, “They think I’m an idiot.” But what happened was that we all began to think and consider the interpretations over the years and their impact on the church. I think the passage has traditionally made folks think of growing churches and putting people in seats. This became the thrust of the passage and the implication is that if you are not having to add more services and build bigger buildings, you are somehow not connected to the vine and that you are not bearing fruit. I don’t think this is true and it is not scripturally supported. So what’s fruit? And what do we know about vines? I’m no vinedresser. Believe me. But when we bought a house years ago, there was a scuppernong vine there. It had posts and lines for the vines and branches to run on, the necessities of a grape producing setup. I was told about all the great wine and jellies that had come from that vine over the years. I was excited at the prospect of free fruit. There was a gentleman that went to our church named Ray. After Christmas Eve service every year, Ray would catch you in the parking lot and hand you a bottle of homemade wine. He was always desperate for bottles of all kinds because that one man had a very plentiful set of vines. I always wondered what his vineyard and vines looked like. His vineyard was, of course, not in his yard in town, and I didn’t want to be too nosy early on. It turns out that his vineyard was in walking distance from where I grew up across town from where I then lived. I had passed his vines countless times through my life. I had never noticed them. They were not spectacular. Not being a vigneron (I had to look that word up because I thought “grape grower” sounded mighty unsophisticated) I wouldn’t know a good grape vine from a hole in the ground. But I did know that he had good vines by the massive amount of great fruit that they produced. You could taste and smell their goodness. The surprising thing is that the vines seemed so small for what they were doing. They were tight and trimmed off. I was always perplexed whenever I would drive by after I knew what I was looking at. How on earth are those vines doing that? And how on earth does Ray keep it all up? Well one answer is that Ray loved growing grapes, making wine, making people happy, showing you his very simple operation in his half basement, and supplying I don’t know how many churches with free communion wine. Wine sales in Lincoln county North Carolina probably tripled when Ray passed away. So yes lots of fruit. Back to my vine. It was one long line and it was huge. It was completely nuts. Because no one had lived there for several years and no one to care for it, to vigneron, it had grown. So it was big, so big that it had run up a really big silver maple tree and was killing it. It has already demolished a once very fruitful apple tree. It was huge, leaves everywhere, clip and clip and clip and it made no difference. Seemingly unconquerable, indestructible, massive and unyielding. And there was not one single grape on it. Prune it? You’ve got to be kidding me. Maybe me and an army. It just kept spreading and seeking to overtake more and more. The best day and the solution day was when my cousin drove his tractor over and rolled that monstrosity into a giant ball, disconnected from the earth. As it dried, it would have made a pretty Christmas tree ornament if it was thousands of times smaller. Jesus’ metaphor makes good sense to me after that experience. So big, even massive, seemingly healthy vines do not translate to good fruit, or abundant fruit or a fantastic combination of the two. Sometimes they yield no fruit at all. The branches that are connected to the vine and the earth and abide the vignerons shaping, direction and nourishment. They bear fruit. Not necessarily big, but wonderfully made for the job. So. what’s the fruit if it’s not massive buildings filled with people, overflowing new member classes and that sort of thing. We are told in the fifth chapter of Galatians, using the same metaphor what fruit is. It turns out it goes to the heart of the believer, to the actions to the behavior, to putting into action what Jesus told everyone over and over, to be loving and merciful. In Galatians it lists nine fruits of the Holy Spirit that give us a pretty good idea of what our output should be. Let’s use the original Greek words, because some of the words have a deeper meaning than their translations. The first fruit is Ἀγάπη or love. But wait there are four Greek words for love Ἀγάπη love is unconcerned with the self and concerned with the greatest good of another. Fruit number two is Χαρά or Joy. Joy is different than happiness in that happiness is a feeling centered on the self, but joy goes deeper and is linked with sacrifice and thinking of others and abounds from the connection to God in Christ. The third fruit is Εἰρήνη or Peace, that is the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God. So you feel and exhibit not having to prove anything and that you don’t have to earn God’s love. The fourth is Μακροθυμία or patience. The word denotes lenience, forbearance, fortitude, patient endurance, longsuffering. Also included in makrothumia is the ability to endure persecution and ill-treatment. It describes a person who has the power to exercise revenge but instead exercises restraint. The fifth is Χρηστότης or kindness. Sounds simple, but one scholar has noted that when the word chrestotes is applied to interpersonal relationships, it conveys the idea of being adaptable to others. Rather than harshly require everyone else to adapt to his own needs and desires, when chrestotes is working in a believer, they seek to become adaptable to the needs of those who are around them. The sixth fruit is Ἀγαθωσύνη or goodness. This word doesn’t appear in secular Greek, it’s a biblical term. It’s an uprightness of the heart and life that transmits the goodness of God or the light of Christ to others. The next fruit is Πιστός or faithfulness that is one who believes and is worthy of trust; that can, be relied on. The next fruit is Πρᾳΰτης or gentleness. Πρᾳΰτης indicates a disposition that is even-tempered, tranquil, balanced in spirit, unpretentious, and that has the passions under control. The word is best translated ‘meekness,’ not as an indication of weakness, but of power and strength under control. The person who possesses this quality pardons injuries, corrects faults, and rules their own spirit well. The last named fruit, which I’m sure this list is not completely exhaustive, is Ἐγκράτεια (eng-krat’-i-ah) or self control meaning strong, having mastery, able to control one’s thoughts and actions. So when we exhibit these actions, these motives we are bearing fruit, not just growing branches. The neat thing about the fruit metaphor is that the fruit is where a seed is developed and carried. Oftentimes the fruit is the attractor of the animals that carry the fruit away and aid in the dispersal of seeds. When we bear fruit seeds get planted, not seeds of our own desires or that are focused on ourselves, but seeds that do perpetuate the vine, that grow the kingdom of God. Notice bearing the fruit is the focus, when and where the fulfillment of growth comes is not under our control. It’s beyond us. That’s on the wings and in the winds of the Spirit. We can see, I think we can know deep within us how this type of love and others’ focused ministry works to grow the kingdom, however, so often we get detoured by church growth strategies, waylaid by overly intricate theologies and philosophies, and so concerned with survival that we just want bigger branches and we are so distracted, we never bear fruit. So many in this world are forgotten, are lost, are hungry, in need of love, understanding, justice, food, basic necessities, of a friend that loves them as they are, of someone who cares. I think, by our connection to the vine, the vine that showed us the way on the cross, we have been given, we have been blessed with, we have been entrusted with the ability to bear the fruit that can feed the world and cure all of these hungers. I may not be a vigneron, but at least now I now know what fruit is. Til next week, Amen.