A Time of Pruning
by Nolan Astley
Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit… I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1-2,5).
Over the last months President Glenn Schaeffer and I have travelled to the circuits in the ABC District to meet with people and dialogue with them about the serious issues which confront the District and Synod in these days. Many of these meetings have ended with a devotion focused on Jesus’ words about vines and branches.
By just about any measure you might use, we are enduring a time of pruning. Pruning is painful; and we have felt pain. People’s savings have been put into jeopardy. The way our church-body does its work has been called into question. Congregations are at risk of losing their church buildings. And this is just the start of the list. Deep down some of us know this pruning is deserved; words, actions and attitudes have fallen short of God’s will for His church. Most of this was not intentional. No one set out to hurt anyone, yet hurt has come. For others this time of pruning has come upon them even though they did nothing but entrust their funds to the church expecting those funds to be used to further the Lord’s work in this world. Trust has been destroyed and the way forward is uncertain, at best.
In a time of pruning, there is a strong temptation to focus all our attention on the pain this has caused and on what has been lost. While we certainly cannot ignore these things, we need also remember, the Lord never prunes simply to cause pain. He prunes so we might bear more fruit. Only the fruitful branches get pruned; the unfruitful branches are simply cut off and burned. He prunes us so we might bear more fruit and be more faithful in the work He has given us to do.
Over the past year I have become much better at reading the financial statements and legal documents associated with this crisis. This can be pretty depressing reading. But I have also challenged myself to be much more faithful in my reading of God’s Word. Jesus tells us plainly that the key to coming through a time of pruning is to abide in Him. “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39). His Law exposes our sin and death, puts to death the Old Adam in us so that the Gospel can bring us new life again and again. He prunes us so we might bear the fruit of righteousness.
Real change must happen among us. There is a strong temptation to lash out at one another in this difficult time, but through the Word we encounter the One who already died for this mess, the One who already shed His blood to cover all our sins.
It all begins with repentance. The entire life of the believer, Luther said, is to be a life of repentance. We live constantly turning from our sin and turning to the forgiveness won for us by Christ. But repentance is not just a mental or emotional action. It also involves real change. Real change must happen among us. There is a strong temptation to lash out at one another in this difficult time, but through the Word we encounter the One who already died for this mess, the One who already shed His blood to cover all our sins. By Word and Sacrament, He abides in us so that in His good time we might bear fruit again.
Rev. Nolan Astley is Lutheran Church–Canada’s Interim Pastoral Leader for Alberta and British Columbia. He also serves as LCC’s First Vice President.