Graduation is upon us and we've just today sent off the graduating class of 2012 from Southwestern College. I had an opportunity to give a short "charge" to the seniors and their families at the Baccalaureate service this morning. Here is a portion of the words that I shared.
While the journey of education and preparation for a career has been different for each person with whom we celebrate today, I think that we could find some similarities in the stories of everyone. Each graduate, and even their loved ones, have learned many lessons. You have certainly learned more about psychology, or education, or business, or religion. But I would speculate that you have also learned some practical lesson, such as how long you can wait before laundry becomes a critical need. Or, how to buckle down and do work that you don’t really want to do. And I hope that you’ve learned to get along with people who have a different background than you. And you may have, without even knowing it, learned a basic lesson about horticulture. If not, I hope to teach it now.
Our scripture tells us this basic word about horticulture, and it is this: simply put, a branch that doesn’t bear fruit should be cut off, and that which does bear fruit should be pruned, so as to be even more fruitful. While this may not initially seem terribly profound, it is a lesson that while you maybe didn’t learn it in class, you will need to learn in life.
In order to be fruitful in life, we must learn to prune, to let go of some things. We are usually pretty willing to let go of things that are hard (like reading a challenging book, or staying up late to work on a paper), but the kind of pruning that Jesus is referring to in this passage goes beyond simply letting go of things that we didn’t want anyway. He is referring to branches that don’t bear fruit. Things like: small ideas, preconceived plans, grievances toward one another. We must let go of things that tie us down to the ways of the world in order to be freed up for higher things like commitment to our mission, service to our world, and following after God’s purposes.
The pruning doesn’t always involve simply lopping off the unfruitful things in our lives. It also involves pruning that which is good, in order to grow that which is great. Just after college, I read an article that brought the truth of this idea to life. The author was talking about priorities. He told the story of a wine company that advertized their product by saying “We cut off some of the good fruit, so that you can have only the very best.” Their point was that they were less interested in producing a higher quantity yield than they were in producing a higher quality yield. As I translated this into my own ordering of priorities, if I wanted to produce the very best in my life, I would need to cut off some things that were simply “good.” Committing to too many good things prevented me from saying yes to that which would enable me to do the hard work that would lead to greatness later on.
Pruning is painful—it requires discernment to know what to let go of, but pruning is purposeful. It reminds us that what may seem like a sacrifice in the short-term, will yield long term benefits.
Learning how to prioritize by pruning is not the only word that John 15 has for us this morning. The trajectory of this text is not about the letting go process, but actually about the remaining connected process. Jesus’ words identify that in order to bear any fruit, a branch must remain connected to the vine. The flower bouquet that you may give to your loved one as you celebrate today is beautiful, but the flower will not continue to grow. In order for that beauty to continue to grow, the flowers must stay planted.
Graduate, you are beautiful today with your diploma and your cap and gown and the glow of accomplishment. But, unless you remain connected to the life-giving vine, the beauty will fade, the vibrancy will diminish, the growth will cease. So, stay planted. A fruitful life is one that continues to bloom, season after season, year after year. Remain connected to God, the Life-Giver. Surround yourself with others whose lives show the fruitfulness that is a result of rootedness. Allow yourself to be nurtured, even as you nurture others. While pruning is about letting go, remaining in God is about staying connected.
So graduate, it is time to prune. Cut off those things that prevent you from living out the higher purposes to which you’ve been called. And be willing to give up some of the good things so that you might be able to harvest the truly great things. You’ll do this by remaining connected to the true Life-Giver. You think that you’re beautiful now? Just wait. May your life show the evidence of a plentiful harvest that is beautiful beyond all comparison. And in that harvest, may you find the fullness of life. Amen.