This is similar to my sermon for May 6, 2018.
What does good fruit taste like? I can remember enjoying fruit when I was a kid. But somehow, along the way, I lost my desire to eat fresh fruit. I didn’t avoid it, it just wasn’t something that tasted especially good. It was easy to choose something else.
What tasted better than nice, fresh fruit? Other sweet things. Candy…well, chocolate candy to be exact. Cakes. Cookies. Muffins. Ice Cream. And an ice-cold Diet Coke to wash it down. I was eating a lot of sugar (and fat). I was even eating sugar that I didn’t recognize…in my cereal, pasta sauce (when I was too busy or lazy to make my own), canned soups, breads, just about anything that was processed.
Is it any surprise that I was obese? Like many I’d tried diet after diet. I’d lost weight and gained weight and continued the lose gain lose gain cycle for years…most of my adult life actually. At the same time, I knew that adult onset diabetes ran in my family (both sides) and that I was at high risk for contracting this lifestyle disease. But knowing something and doing something about it are two completely different things.
In 2012 I decided to try once again to do something. This time I added running to the mix! I did lose weight…about 30 pounds…then 40 pounds…then it started to creep back up…then I lost a bit more and with great struggles maintained a 30-pound loss for a few years. Meanwhile I had gotten the running/racing bug and knew that I would improve if I lost more weight. Heck, I was still over 200 pounds. I needed to lose more weight!
I also recognized that the way I was doing things wasn’t working. It was a major struggle to live on a restricted calorie diet and run at the same time. I decided to embark on an experiment. I knew that sugar was a potential problem for my health. So, I decided that I would quit eating sugar…refined sugar…sugar that was added into almost every processed for you could buy. Sugar. Sugar. Sugar. It is everywhere.
Shopping is interesting when you’ve given up sugar. You see a container, think “that looks interesting,” read the label, and put it back. I had to start buying (and eating) unprocessed…real food. It didn’t take long for the pounds to start coming off…up to a loss of 80 pounds. It didn’t happen overnight but over a couple years. Eventually (April, 2015) I had my last Diet Coke and thus my last taste of artificial sweetener.
My unexpected discovery was that once again fruit tasted wonderful. Without the masking effects of processed or fake sugar, the real sweetness of real fruit emerged. It’s like God’s wonderful gift of the best candy.
Fruit. Last week I spoke about fruitfulness and fruitlessness and being pruned and the uncomfortableness of it all. We took solace in the promise that we are not discarded…cut off branches. We know this because we have the promise from Jesus that he lives in us. He invites us to live in him and in our living in him we become fruitful. Discarded Vines? A sermon on John 15:1-8
As last week’s lesson continues, Jesus clearly identifies the fruit as love.
“As the Father has loved me, so I have love you; abide in my love” (15:7). Live in my love and I promise that you will experience great joy. This love is so important to our well-being that Jesus commands us is to love one another.
Live in my love.
Love one another.
You will experience great joy in this.
But why then is it so incredibly hard to love? Why is it so much easier to find fault with others? To find fault with ourselves? To focus on all that is wrong? Why is it so difficult to know that God loves us, not so that we can someday experience joy in the future, but so that we can experience God’s loving presence today?
Distractions are like the added sugar. They seem important, they seem helpful, they lead us to what seems to be satisfying. They mask the essence of the real fruit which is God’s love for us. They make the love we are invited to share in the world taste bland…incomplete…boring even.
So what distractions keep us from fully experiencing God’s love and thus not fully loving our neighbor in return?
- A specific way to follow Jesus?
- Worry…last week talked about the decline of our congregation. How is this a distraction?
- Fear…maybe the same as worry…but a bit more pronounced. It can stop us in our tracks…it can cause us to make poor choices
- Anger…we have an over abundance of this today…often because of the exploitation of fear and worry…making others the recipients of our collective wrath.
- Frustration…little things and big things. Being impatient with ourselves and with others.
- Hunger…a need to fill an emptiness is way more than food. Many hunger for real community. The church is supposed to be the place to find and experience this community. Sadly we (the church) are not connecting with those who yearn for this. So that the church is dying while others are dying because they don’t have what we are supposed to offer. I wish I knew how to fix this. But I do know the answer is found in loving one another.
We are easily distracted. Sadly these distractions cause us to lose two things:
First, our understanding that God loves us and has chosen us.
Second, our ability to truly love one another…
And without these things our joy can never be complete. That fruit almost never tastes as rich and sweet and awesome as it really is. Almost never…because we always get glimpses. Just think of that last time you experienced great joy. What was happening? Who was there? Sometimes it’s an experience of someone else’s joy that moves us…like joy is contagious.
These distractions don’t have to have the final say. That’s what Jesus is telling his disciples, what he is telling us. To live in him is to live intentionally. To cultivate practices that help us to get past those things that distract us.
Practices like prayer…maybe disconnecting from the noise will help us to see one another as worthy of love.
Practices like caring for others. It’s amazing how we can see our own situations differently when we quit thinking solely about ourselves.
And above all loving one another…loving one another in our community and outside of it, is where we get to taste that wonderfully sweet fruit…and experience the joy of Jesus in and among us. It’s not always easy, heck it’s almost never easy, but it is oh so worth the effort. That fruit of love is the greatest.