On Wednesday April 26, 2006, of last year I delivered my first meditation, homily, sermon titled, the Bittersweet. Enjoy!
In the Old Testament reading we continue the Exodus of the Israelites led by Aaron and Moses out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai. 3 days on this journey the Israelites began to complain about the lack of food and water. As a result, the Lord provided for them with an abundance of both. As I read over this passage I asked myself well why the Lord had the Israelites journey through a wilderness. Surely there was a better and more promising passage with food and water from Egypt. However like everything, God in his magnificent plan, has a purpose. His purpose for the Israelites was to show them that he is the ultimate provider and no one else. It is what I call a bittersweet relationship. We too are sometimes lead into the wilderness by the Lord metaphorically, with the many obstacles of life to overcome. Sometimes friends, even God himself seems distant from us. Our spiritual thirst is palpating, we’re thirsty for something, anything, which will quench our thirst. And when we find that something or someone its like bitter waters in which it fails to live up to the hopes we invested in it. And we wonder: "What in the world is God up to? Is he just toying with me? Is he just leading me on? It all seems so cruel." Maybe like the Israelites, our anger finds an outlet in its direction toward another who let us down. But in the same continuum what happens when God's word is followed? The waters become sweet. Obedience to the word of God is sweet. The application of God's word to the bitter waters of life turns them into sweet waters. That doesn't mean that life becomes easy or even that the circumstances change; but if we believe God's word that God he will be with us through those difficult circumstances, there will be sweetness to life that no circumstances can turn to bitterness. The instructions of the Lord "are sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb" (Psalm 19:10). There is sweetness to following the Lord, trusting his word.
That sweetness is also given in the New Testament reading from the Gospel of John in which Jesus symbolizes himself and God as the vine and the vine grower respectively. In this symbolism, we are called to abide in God, trusting that the Vine will supply the needs to the branches that one comes from the other, that we are connected. It is only in abiding, the peaceful, calm acceptance of the direction the Vine will grow and the wisdom of the Vine dresser in discerning what is necessary in creating a beautiful, fruitful branch.
A woman bent down to pick up a bag of apples in the grocery store. Her back went into a terrible spasm and she froze in position and let out a loud shriek in pain. Another shopper leaned down and with compassion in her voice said, “If you think the apples are high, wait until you see the price of the peaches!”
Good fruit does come at a high price. That’s generally as true of spiritual fruit as it is with natural fruit. Both require some tending, some feeding, and some pruning in order to produce as intended.
We spend a great deal of our time, energy, and money seeking the authentic article, the real thing. Saying that something is the real thing sells more. Often people find out that what they think is valuable is really a well-made fake. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, we have to settle for a reproduction. Certain genuine articles are so rare or so expensive that most of us cannot get them. Very often our language trips us up and gives away what we are about. Things are advertised as “genuine antique reproductions.” “The next best thing to the real thing,” or “indistinguishable from the real item, except by an expert,” are phrases used to entice us. We become so accustomed to settling for the next best thing in so many areas of our lives, we are tempted to do the same thing in the spiritual realm as well. The Gospel from John talks about the real thing, the genuine article, authentic fruit that comes from abiding in the true vine. So, why abide in the true vine? Why worry about what kind of fruit we produce? Why would Jesus teach his followers such a thing? The reason he said what he said is because he is who he is. He said, “I am the true vine my Father is the vine grower. Therefore, all others are copies, counterfeit, or reproductions. We are to be branches of that true vine. It is not our race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, our nationality, or our religious denomination that makes us branches of the true vine. The only thing that can do that, that can make us living, fruit-bearing branches of the true vine is to have, in faith, an intimate, living, soul-feeding relationship is and with the only one who is the true vine, the one we know as Jesus Christ. Not being a fruitful person means that the fruits sown by the great adversary; hate, revenge, narrow-mindedness, envy, malice, judgmental attitudes, resentment, ignorance, and a whole host of others will continue to grow. Those bad fruits are always much more expensive than the good ones. And that is just too high a price to pay. Amen.