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Rev. Harry Currie

Apr 28, 2024

Hebrews 12:1-12, John 15:1-8,

At our new house in Sherwood Park there is a tree outside. I am not sure what kind of tree it is but I suspect if is some kind of cherry tree, partly because it became infected with a fungal disease called black knot, which is quite common in Alberta.


So, Milton sent me some instructions on how to deal with it.


Just over a week ago I went to Costco and purchased an extendable tree pruner that extends to 16 feet.

       I got a bucket of water and added about ten percent bleach and I went and pruned my tree.


       Fortunately using a good-sized step ladder and the extendable pruner, I was able to reach all the branches that needed pruning. I pruned behind the black knot about a foot, or depending on the branch, back to where it met the last branch.

       Each time I cut, I immersed the blade in the water bleach solution.

       I bagged all the branches cut and took them to the waste removal centre in Strathcona.

       I will continue to monitor the tree, and try to stay ahead of further infections, which are likely to happen because all the trees in the area like mine have black knot.


       That is one reason to prune. To get rid of disease or infection.

       Another reason to prune is to get rid of dead branches.


       Another reason to prune trees and bushes is to keep them from growing too much. When I lived in Yorkton Saskatchewan we had a huge hedge and every year I would rent a hedge trimmer and spend a whole day trimming the hedge to keep it from growing out of control.


       And yet there is another reason to prune. It can promote flower or fruit growth.


       And so today we have this image of a vinedresser coming into the vineyard with a big hooked knife and starting to cut away at the vines.

       The vinedresser cuts away dead branches. The vinedresser cuts back diseased branches. The vine dresser, prunes appropriate vines so that they will produce fruit.

       The vinedresser cuts back things that are out of control.


       And then Jesus says that he is the vine and we are the branches.

       And it raises the question. When the vinedresser starts hacking away, are we being pruned by God?

       Are we being cut by God?


Is our pain a result of God’s pruning? Is our trouble or crisis a result of God trying to keep us from growing wildly.

       Is God cutting away diseased parts of us?

Is our cancer, our diabetes, part of the pruning process?


How does God prune us? Or even: Does God prune us?


What would that look like? Feel like?


       Some of the ancients thought that the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah being defeated and taken into exile were God’s prunings.


Listen to some scripture from Isaiah chapter 5.


I will sing for the one I love    a song about his vineyard:My loved one had a vineyard    on a fertile hillside.He dug it up and cleared it of stones    and planted it with the choicest vines.He built a watchtower in it    and cut out a winepress as well.Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,    but it yielded only bad fruit.

“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,    judge between me and my vineyard.What more could have been done for my vineyard    than I have done for it?When I looked for good grapes,    why did it yield only bad?Now I will tell you    what I am going to do to my vineyard:I will take away its hedge,    and it will be destroyed;I will break down its wall,    and it will be trampled.I will make it a wasteland,    neither pruned nor cultivated,    and briers and thorns will grow there.I will command the clouds    not to rain on it.”

The vineyard of the Lord Almighty    is the nation of Israel,and the people of Judah    are the vines he delighted in.


Whew! That is some pretty heavy-duty stuff, right there.


However, I will remind you that later on in Isaiah there are texts of hope that tell us that God does not abandon his people and will stay with them and restore them.


For instance from Isaiah chapter 49

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;    break forth, O mountains, into singing!For the Lord has comforted his people,    and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

14 But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me,    my Lord has forgotten me.’15 Can a woman forget her nursing-child,    or show no compassion for the child of her womb?Even these may forget,    yet I will not forget you.16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;    your walls are continually before me.


So, what does it mean to be pruned?


Well first of all, what I would like to say is that each week in church we do a pruning.

       In the prayers of approach, there is a pruning. We also call it confession.

In our prayer of confession today, we confessed that we would like to be the pruners, and sometimes we like to take the big hooked knife and get rid of the ne’er do wells, the unrighteous, the unacceptable, the wrong, the losers and those we don’t think measure up.

       Some people actually take joy in cutting others. The problem of course is that they are not actually pruning people so that they become healthy, they are just hurting them or excluding them and being self-righteous jerks.

Been there, done that myself.


But one way to be pruned is to enter into real and honest prayer and talk about what needs to stop, or to end, or to be pruned away, so that we can bear the fruit of Christ.



Let me talk about another way to be pruned. It is dedication to the truth.

Let me explain. Scott Peck wrote a book: “The road less travelled.”

Peck a psychiatrist noticed that most people want to take the road of avoiding pain, so when they have problems instead of the pain of dealing with the problem head on, they try to avoid dealing with it, which usually leads to bigger problems.

One of the techniques for dealing with problems is dedicating yourself to the truth.

Peck wrote that each of us builds a map of truth in our minds. That map of truth encompasses all our reality. It is our beliefs, our facts, our science, our faith, our relationships, our behaviours, our morals, our ethics, our philosophy.

This is how we should act, how we should think, how we should believe.

       This is what I think of this person, that person, this religion, this belief. Etc.

       It is huge, complex, and very much limited by our own human limitations and perceptions.

       Since we are not God, we do not have a complete map of truth. Ours is always conditional, subjective and incomplete.

However, maturity is the job of continually rewriting the map of truth.

The problem is that sometimes what we believe becomes so sacred that even with evidence to the contrary, we will not rewrite the map.

When I went to Knox College to study theology, I was faced with all kinds of challenges to things that I was taught in churches. I found out that there is a huge diversity of great theologians who disagree with one another. There are more theologies and understandings of God, Jesus and faith, than you can shake a stick at.

I was forced to take a hard look at my faith and deconstruct my map of truth, especially around my understanding of God, Jesus, theology, and faith.

And I began to see that pruning my faith and my understanding of God, my understanding of scripture, and my relationship with Jesus, was not something that happened once, but is a lifelong process.

Something happens, a life event, a bible study, a sermon, a book, and it makes one question one’s belief, and sometimes you have to prune that belief, that thought, that understanding.

Sometimes you have to deconstruct your map of faith, so it can be built anew with a better understanding of Jesus which is closer to the truth.

       That is another way pruning happens. It is the process of maturity and constantly rewriting the map of truth.


Just one of the understandings of God that has changed in me over the years is that God is a God of love and doesn’t hurt us.


       I know that doesn’t seem to square with the image of God or Jesus coming into the vineyard with a big hooked knife and cutting off the branches, or pruning back the branches.

But I have rejected the understanding of God that has God controlling everything like a big puppet master in the sky.

       For me, anyway, I don’t think God causes cancer, or appoints the day of our death, or makes accidents to happen, or sends fireballs on the battlefield to help the good guys win over the bad guys.


So, this is one of the ways I envision pruning and God in the roll of pruner.

God is the loving presence in the midst of whatever is cutting you and hurting you, to help you make sense of what is going on, and to help you take appropriate action.


I don’t believe that God causes our pain, but pain is a great teacher and God together with us can use the pain that we experience to help us learn, help us grow, help us heal, help us have compassion, and help us change.


Pain is a great teacher. When you have pain in your body, it means something is wrong.

When you put your fingers on a hot stove, the pain receptors send a signal to your brain and without thinking you will pull your hand away.

The pain is telling you it is hot and you will be burned.

Without pain receptors you can do damage.


When I taught Yoga, I would tell my students that we will move at times into poses that are uncomfortable, but if a pose is causing actual pain, then back off. Pain means it isn’t helping it is harming.

That old adage about no pain, no gain, isn’t literally true.


But emotionally the same thing applies. If you are in a relationship and there is pain, then something is not working. It means that the relationship needs work. The pain needs to be talked about. Actions may need to change. Sometimes attitudes need to change. People need to listen. Some people may need professional help. Some people may need to end a relationship.


If you think about it, when two people come together and enter into a serious relationship like getting married they each bring their own map of the truth.

And since everyone’s map of the truth is different those two individuals will clash. There will be differences. There will be conflicts. There will be some pain.

       It is inevitable. Hopefully those two individuals will talk about it and each rewrite their map of truth.

Hopefully they will come to an understanding that they are different and have different maps of truth and that is okay, because it is all a learning and growing process.

       Hopefully they will forgive each other, learn from each other, grow, mature and change. And hopefully they can commit to each other and to the other’s growth, and to loving and caring for each other through the challenges. And hopefully that will make them better people and a better couple.


But listening to that pain, feeling that pain, understanding that pain, talking about that pain, trying to find solutions, trying to heal that pain, correcting one’s actions, changing one’s course, clarifying roles, expectations, boundaries are all part of the pruning and purifying process of growing and maturing and becoming a better human.

       And God is in your pain. God understands your pain.

       God is not the cause of your pain. Jesus is on the cross with you promising never to leave you or forsake you.

       Jesus wants to help you redeem your pain, so that is becomes useful, and you become more than you are now.

       That maybe even someday your pain will help you with compassion, with understanding, with forgiving, with caring, with helping another person.

       It is the wounded among us, who are often the best healers.

       They take their pain and let God redeem it.


Pain is a great pruner, a great teacher, for Isaiah wrote about the suffering servant, that is by his stripes we are healed. It is by the suffering servant’s pain that we are healed.

       That too is a powerful metaphor. Our pain matures us, teaches us, motivates us, so that we can be safe and healing places for others…so they can abide in us, and we in them.



       And maybe that is just the real secret about growth, maturity, learning, pain and pruning. It is to abide in Jesus.

       It really isn’t a secret at all is it.



It is to talk to Jesus, learn about Jesus, live like Jesus, think about Jesus, read about Jesus, open yourself to Jesus, confess to Jesus, share Jesus with others, see Jesus in others and be Jesus to others.


Abiding in Jesus. Abiding in the vine.

But what that means also is this…. We are connected to everyone else in the vine.


I sometimes wonder if the main reason we need to be pruned is that we are learning how to live with one another, and it is a lifelong process.


We are part of the vine and there are millions or billions of branches and this vine analogy says that Jesus loves everyone. That every single branch is important and need attention and care and pruning and growth and love.

And if I am part of the vine, it is not just about me and Jesus, and my rights, and my thoughts, and my feelings, and my actions and my beliefs, and my pain, and my pruning, and my maturity.


       It is about abiding in Jesus so that I too can be a safe place, a healing place for others.

It is abiding in Jesus and Jesus abiding in me, so that others can abide in me and I can abide in them.


To abide: To tarry, to stay, to cling, to remain, to depend, to rely, to last, to persevere, to commit, to continue, to tolerate, to endure, to acquiesce, to accept.  To hang in there for the long haul.  To make ourselves at home. 




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