In his little book “All I Ever Really Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten” Robert Fulghum asks a searching question.
Why is it that if you walk into a room full of kindergartners and ask them if they can do something, their little hands will spring up immediately and without hesitation want to launch wholeheartedly into whatever you ask them to try?
“Can anyone here draw a picture?” Boom! Every hand goes up and they busy themselves with crayon and paper.
Ask that same question in a classroom of Jr. High, High School, or college age students, or adults – and you will get a very different response. There will be hesitation or rebellion, excuses or apathy.
“I never could draw very well.”
“What kind of picture do you want?”
“Are we going to get credit for this?”
What happens, Fulghum muses, between Kindergarten when “Yes” was the only word on our lips and those later years when self-doubt, deprecation, and apathy come to play?
What happened to make it go away was likely disappointment.
Life disappoints us, that is the truth.
Life affirms that there are limitations.
Life teaches us that for every “Yes” we voice, there is often a force out there that seems to want to scream “No” back into our faces.
For every enthusiastic picture by a kindergartner, there is a critic.
The child knows that the sky can be green before the storm, and the lake can be red, afire with the glow of the reflected morning sunrise, and that oranges can be yellow or green or orange depending upon how ripe they are.
But the critic will look at their picture and will tell the child that the sky isn’t really green and that water should be blue and that the reason it’s called an orange is because it is orange, not some other color.
That critic, (well-meaning though he or she may be) has just taught the child the lesson of life of disappointment.
No matter how enthusiastic you may be about the endeavor, others will not always share your vision, or your view, or your perspective.
We are taught in such moments not to look at the world with wide-eyed wonder, but to conform.
Life disappoints us, and when life disappoints, we feel cut off.
For some people, the disappointments of life, (the cutting off,) becomes the shaping event in and of itself.
“I could have been,” they will say, “but…..”
“I should have gone, but….”
“I never had the chance, so….”
For the rest of their lives they seem to rehearse the cutting event, — the loss, the grief, or the disappointment. Everything else fades from view.
But this Gospel lesson shows us a different response to disappointments and cut offs.
Jesus encourages us to think of such things as pruning.
What pruning does is promote new growth.
What pruning does is force a plant to bear fruit.
Life disappoints, that is true.
It disappoints even Jesus, God’s own Son.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”
Take a look at that verse again, verse 2, every branch in me Jesus says.
So then, who feels the cut? Who feels the pinch of the snips of disappointment in this life, this world?
It’s not just you and me, it’s also Jesus!
If God’s own Son is not spared the pinch of disappointment, who are we to think we should be immune from it?
Did life ever disappoint Jesus? You might ask.
Think of that story when Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth after traveling throughout Judea healing and teaching and proclaiming the Kingdom.
What happens when the hometown boy who has done good shows up? Is he received with accolades?
No, the Gospels tell us.
Instead, he is met with skepticism. “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
He could do nothing in his hometown except heal a few people, we are told, and by the end of the story his own townsfolk are ready to throw him over a cliff.
Do you think that might have been disappointing?
How about being betrayed by a kiss by one of your inner circle of followers? Do you think that might have been disappointing?
What about being denied by Peter, three times, in your hour of greatest need, and knowing he was going to do it all along. Do you think that would have been disappointing?
Life delivers these “cut off” experiences, sometimes when we least expect them.
But Jesus encourages us not to focus on the cut, but on what happens afterwards.
He uses this image of vine and branches, taken from the vineyard. When grape vines are cut, it forces a new branch to develop. It sprouts off in a new direction, with new possibilities.
A good vine dresser knows just what to lop off the vine to push that grape vine into production, to make it grow along the guide support wire, to make it bear fruit.
Jesus says that’s what God is, a good vine dresser.
What if instead of focusing on our wounds and our disappointments, we began to search for where this wound is pushing you to grow?
What if you began to search for what fruit this pruning might be meant to produce?
How do you do that? It is a matter of perspective.
Look again at what Jesus says in verse 3. “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.”
That word “cleansed” shares the same root as “pruned” used above in verse 2 — καθαιρω.
You have already been “pruned” Jesus says.
Now, here comes the matter of perspective,
“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”
I think we always hear that first as a command. “Abide in me” as if a cut off branch had the power to come up and reconnect itself to the vine.
That’s not what Jesus is saying.
Jesus is saying that the pruning has already taken place and guess what, — you are still connected to him!
The cuts you have felt have been perhaps important things lopped off from you, but you have not been removed from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Nothing, Paul says, can make that happen.
You are still connected to that vine! Still connected to Jesus and through Jesus to God. You have the opportunity, the potential, the power to draw strength and nutrient and nurture from the source of all things, from God in Christ Jesus.
This is a matter of perspective you see.
When life disappoints, when the cuts come, where do you see yourself?
Do you imagine yourself as a branch lying on the ground? Well, the destiny for the branch is the fire.
Or do you understand that where you are residing, where God has promised that you are, is still connected to him, despite the cut?
It does not give God glory you see, to go around cutting people off.
What gives God glory?
“My Father is glorified by this,” Jesus says, “that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
It is a matter of perspective, as Robert Fulgham tries to help us see.
In Kindergarten we all had the power to say “yes” because we had not yet felt the cuts.
Through story, Fulgham in his little book tries to show us that disappointments, cuts, can be overcome, we can get back to saying “yes” to life!
More powerful even than Fulgham’s stories however, is “The Story,” the Gospel.
Jesus a man accustomed to grief, a man who has known disappointment, but who also knows God, says to us “abide in me.”
He says to us, “I Am the vine, you are the branches. You have already been pruned. My father is glorified in this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
That’s where you are, you are connected to the savior. And it is your destiny to bear much fruit!
That is what gives glory to God!
The question now becomes can you re-imagine yourself as there?
Will you dare to believe like a kindergartner that nothing is impossible for you because nothing is impossible for God, and that is where YOU are connected?
Will you imagine yourself so connected to Christ and his Church that no matter how often and how much life cuts, all you keep doing it sprouting new shoots? Coming back again stronger and better and more fruitful? When life disappoints, (and it will,) can you dare to imagine that what is more powerful than disappointment is God’s promise that you are destined to bear much fruit!