Text: John 15: 1- 10
”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.4Abide 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.5I 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.6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
A mountainous sanctuary upon the Mogollon Rim, in Northern Arizona, is engraved upon my memories, my heart, my soul, my being; the place where the presence of God surrounds me completely with a sense of comfort and peace deep within my soul. Unfortunately, the natural scenery is permanently scarred with the damage of smoke and haunted by the memories of destruction. Approximately eight years have passed; the destruction occurred in the summer of two thousand and two. On the eighteenth of June, near the Rodeo Fairground; a fire fanatic sparked a flame that by the evening had engulfed twelve hundred acres, thus becoming known as the Rodeo Fire. On the twentieth of June, near Chediski Peak, there was a stranded motorist, who had run out of fuel and had roamed the wilderness in search of cellular reception for two day. That morning the woman, in the hope of rescue, created a ‘signal’ fire to attract the attention of a news helicopter, who ironically was providing coverage of the Rodeo Fire; by the following morning, the ‘signal’ fire had engulfed fourteen thousand acres, thus becoming known as the Chediski Fire. On the twenty-third of June the anticipate fear became a reality, the Rodeo Fire and Chediski Fire had merged; the Rodeo-Chediski was labeled a National Emergency constituting a visit from the President at the time, George W. Bush. The Rodeo-Chediski became the most devastating wildlife fire in recorded history, not simply within the state of Arizona, but rather the entire South-Western United States of America. As of the twenty-sixth of June the Rodeo-Chediski Fire was a measly five percent contained, it was not until the seventh of July that these flames were manageable. The devastating flames upon the Mogollon Rim consumed approximately four hundred sixty-seven thousand and sixty-six acres of prime mountainous territory in the heart of Northern Arizona, threatening to devour the homes and cabins, the comfort, the tranquility, the splendor, the magnificence, in essence the entire existence as previously known.
These flames engulfed the Mogollon Rim, but what is fire? Fire is an element of tremendous power, a source to be reckoned with; fire is uncontrollable; fire is unpredictable; fire is all-consuming; fire is passionate. Huh, fire is a symbolic representation of the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is tremendous power; the Spirit of God is not only a, but rather the force to be reckoned with; the Spirit of God is uncontrollable; the Spirit of God is unpredictable; the Spirit of God is all-consuming; the Spirit of God is passionate.
The Gospel according to John declares Christ is the true vine of life and God the Father is the gardener of the soul. It is announced that the branches rooted in Christ will bear fruit, these branches will be pruned by the gardener in order that the branches produce more; however, those branches not rooted in Christ will not bear fruit but rather be cut down, removed, thrown into the flames, and devoured by the fire. Paul speaks of fruit blossomed by the Spirit of God, these spiritual fruits consist of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When branches are rooted within Christ: those branches of scripture, those branches of repentance, those branches of trust, those branches of faith, those branches of love, those branches of hope, those branches of grace, those branches of mercy, those branches of forgiveness with fashion the sweet fruits of the Spirit of God; then God, the Father, will nourish and prune the branches in order that we increase the yield of these longed for, desired, awaited fruits. However, those branches rooted in fear, those branches rooted in frustration, those branches rooted in anger, those branches rooted in hatred, those branches rooted in distrust, those branches rooted in dishonesty, those branches rooted in suffering will not bear the fruits of the Spirit. What would happen if we released the firm grip on these unfruitful branches, and then prayed onto God to cut down, remove, and destroy them? What would happen if these unfruitful branches, hindering the growth of spiritual fruit were thrown into the flames of the Spirit of God? Simple, the garden within our soul will experience a re-growth and re-newel of the spiritual fruits yielding greater amounts than previously imagined.
Revisiting the mountainous sanctuary engraved upon my soul, among the Mogollon Rim; and while traveling upon a familiar trail the devastating evidence of the darkening smoke and the tremendous flames of the fire remains impressed upon miles and miles of the mountainous landscape. Among these ashes of destruction, the time-consuming progression of re-growth and re-newel have commenced; the creation of miniature pine trees with tiny little stumps and tiny little branches have arose from the ashes of the haunted ground.
During the season of Lent, embrace the flames of the Spirit of God. Embrace the rapid, unpredictable, all-consuming, passionate flames of the Spirit of God devouring those unfruitful branches not sustained in Christ. In the same fashion that the devastating flames of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire hastily stretched upon the mountainous landscape of Northern Arizona. As the Rodeo-Chediski impacted the transformation of the Mogollon Rim, the flames of the Spirit of God will transform the garden buried within your soul. What will emerge is re-growth and re-newel of the amazingly sweet fruits of love, of joy, of peace, of patience, of kindness, of goodness, of faithfulness, of gentleness, of self-control.
Upon entry into the sanctuary tonight, each received a small piece of paper. I encourage you to write upon the paper a sin, transgression, regret, guilt, in essence name an unfruitful branch within the garden of your soul; these will be between God, Christ, the Spirit, and yourself. I invite you, in your own time, to fold the paper, come to the Alter, and lay these at the foot of the Cross. After the mediation, or prayerful moments are finished, as a community we will gather around and watch these unfruitful branches burn.
*If you intend to repeat the practice, Flash Paper is ideal.
*Originally preached as a Lenton Mid-Week Service message/sermonette at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Pleasant Hill, California.