St. Paul's Lutheran Church

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“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” – John 15:2

Our heavenly Father is the gardener, and He tends to and looks after His vine. As is typical of any gardener, God separates the wild branches from the others, so they do not hurt or choke out the true branches. He determines which branches to cut away and toss into the fire and which to keep and nurture and help grow.

But His work seems very odd to us. When we look at this, we see the wild branches growing and spreading and they appear much stronger and heartier than the rest. In fact, we might look at them and conclude that they are the only branches truly bearing fruit. Then we look at the rest of the branches and assume that, because they are small and delicate, that they are what should be destroyed. And yes, people may want to cut off such puny branches because they are so insignificant while letting the false vines grow because they appear so healthy, and they seem so strong in the world.

But we’re not talking about vines and branches, are we? In fact, we are talking about Christians and the Christian church. And here’s the temptation: When WE look at churches, we tend to judge “success” or “failure” by what we see. How big is the church, how much money does it have, how fast does it grow, how “spiritual” is its worship and people (judging “spiritual” by external things). We look at worship and if the people are “into it” and moving around and exhibiting emotional responses, then the Spirit must “be moving,” but if the people are silent, sitting, and seemingly uninterested, then the Spirit must be dead there. Thus, we always marvel and become jealous of “megachurches” and churches with lots of things, programs, and events going on all the time — lots of options and features, sort of like going to a mall and having a store for every liking, a restaurant for every taste, and convenient escalators and elevators and even places for the kids.

And because of our envy for big and busy, for Mall of America sized vineyards full of grapes of all sorts of colors and sizes, what do we end up doing to attract people? We compromise. We throw out sound doctrine and faithful practice for the sake of filling pews and appearing to others as successful and godly. We want to be the church that stands out above the rest, that has the most members, that everyone knows and wants to go to…so we take the sheers from God’s hand, and we start to clip and cut away what we think is inhibiting growth. Only we are not the gardeners, and we have no business tending to God’s vineyard. And because we are only people, we will always protect and encourage the wild branches at the expense of the good branches, because we are limited to our five senses and because we are sinners.

But does the Gardener, the heavenly Father who grows His vineyard, judge good branches and wild branches in the same way we do? No. God tends to His vineyard as the perfect, holy, righteous, and careful gardener He is. He cuts off the wild branches — bad theology, heresies, false teachings and those who teach them. We see that His pruning means many wild branches are cut off and burned and that only a remnant of good branches remain, but we complain that His gardening isn’t “pro-growth.” Over the centuries, many heresies have challenged the teachings of Christ, of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, justification by faith, and so on. These heresies are so destructive and divisive, that if the Lord let them remain they would totally choke off the true teachings and the few faithful who hold to them. And if they were to remain, the church would grow by leaps and bounds because the church would simply be another institution of the world. But God continues to prune and cut away these wild branches while preserving His true branches so that we continue to hold to right teaching on things like baptism, the Lord’s Supper, justification by faith, and all the other articles of the faith, just as the Apostles taught them and handed them down to us. For as long as there are believers, faith will prevail, and believers will never be cut off from the vine. Thus, we must not look at how large or strong are the wild branches — we must not concern ourselves with them at all. Instead, we must look for the true branches in Christ.

Heavenly Father, as you tend to Your garden, keep my eyes focused on Your only Son that by faith in Him and His salvation, I might remain in the vine forever. In His name, Amen.