I’ve been a minister for more than 25 years. Several years ago I was part of a youth group talking about this week’s Bible reading from John 15:1-8 – the one with the vine and the branches. I was pointing out how branches do what they do – they bear fruit. They do it because it is . . . just what they do.

We talked further about the part that says “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” I asked, “What’s a branch when it’s not part of the vine?”

“It’s a stick.”

Of course, it’s easy to go from there to focus on the words:

“He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit . . . such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” And then say, “I know that I’m not one of those “gathered and burned” things – but I sure know who is! How dare they be so much like a stick. God’s clear on what’s gonna happen to them!"

When we do stuff like that we miss what I think is one of the most important pieces of this week's reading.

“I am the vine – you are the branches.”

Not, “I am the vine, and will be branches if you do it right” or “I am the vine and you are in real danger of not being branches,” but YOU ARE THE BRANCHES.

I know that there continues to be a tension between the presence of God’s unconditional and unending love and this stick burning or branch cutting stuff.

I’ll just let that tension stay.  We don’t have to figure it all out. l haven’t. I’ll just leave it at this:

“Don’t be a stick.  Because you’re not.”

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