In Italy, every meal at the hotel so far has included luscious local fruits, notably grapes, tomatoes, citrus fruits, and the biggest, juiciest plums I’ve ever seen!
It’s fitting, then, that Barb Larson, our speaker for the week, is spending her time in John 13-17, talking about fruitfulness.
Barb opened with a story comparing her daughter, an avid gardener, to Barb’s own efforts at cultivating soil and plants. There was a vast difference in their crop. Some of that, Barb said, was because of the efforts of the gardener.
Deeply invested gardeners get the better harvest.
We know Jesus is a deeply invested gardener intent on cultivating the best possible harvest in us. He treats each vine, each branch, individually according to the fruit he wants to cultivate.
Doesn’t John 15 inspire a little fear in us at the possibility of being cut off? We naturally slide into performance mode, as in If I don’t see fruit, I’m in danger of being cut off. Barb says the words commonly translated “cut off” in our Bibles are also commonly translated “lifted up.” When Jesus prunes and “cuts off,” he’s lifting vines to a trellis, shaping the direction they’re growing, preventing them from being trampled, and to allowing us to heal.
Foliage might be beautiful, she said, but even beautiful foliage prevents some branches from getting enough sunlight, allows mold to flourish, and reroutes a lot of the energy away from the parts of the vine that need it most.
Does the branch have a role in fruit production? Simply “remain in me.” John 15:4 says, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
Jesus is saying, essentially, Remain in my love. Obey my commands. Walk in the way I have walked. Allow my words to filter down and sink into your souls. I am here. Allow me to produce my character in you.
In her small group, one retreat attendee shared about how she lived in a place with two connected houses. Both yards contained weeping willow trees. One year, the neighbor hacked his tree down to nubs, and our guest and her husband felt smug, knowing how much better their own tree looked. But do you know what happened the next year? The neighbor’s tree was there in so much glory, far better than this woman’s own willow tree.
Pruning actually nourishes.
Today our guests:
- Heard this message from Barb, then discussed it around their small groups
- Had several hours of self care time, where they chose from prayer, counseling, haircuts, massage therapy, napping, reading, walking on the beach, or whatever they needed most
- Played a fun game that gave them a “taste of home”
- Connected with others who serve in their countries and regions. One woman said, “I work in Italy, and I didn’t know any of these other ladies in Italy until tonight!”