“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing … But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.” (John 15:5-8)
Those of you who know me well know that one of my hobbies is growing muscadines in my home vineyard. For those of you not from the Southeast, muscadines are a type of grape native to our region.
Now you may be asking, “When did Habitat for Humanity get into the business of fruit production?” Answer: Habitat has always been all about fruit production. You see, from the very beginning, Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County was founded as an interdenominational Christian ministry. As a Christian ministry, part of Habitat’s mission is and has always been to facilitate fruit production in God’s people.
Of course I’m using the terminology of “fruit” metaphorically in much the same way Jesus used it in the John 15:1-8. Now what is this fruit that Jesus is talking about in this famous passage? Many different Christians and churches emphasize different sorts of “Christian fruit.” As an evangelical missionary, I tended in past years to think of it in terms of evangelism through making new disciples for Christ. However, the idea uppermost in Jesus’ mind when he spoke of himself as the vine and his disciples as his branches for bearing “good fruit” is the idea of fruit being acts of Christian love.
In the passage, Jesus describes himself as the “vine” as in “grape vine,” and he describes his followers as the branches, known as “cordons” in viticulture. His central point is that his followers ultimately depend on him for the life-giving energy to produce fruit just as a muscadine cordon depends on the vine and its root system for the water and mineral nutrients required to produce muscadines. However, Jesus’ secondary point is that he expects his followers to produce the fruit that naturally springs from Christian love.
Now, if Jesus is the vine and his people are branches, then where does Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County fit into this picture? That’s easy! Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County is the trellis. Our role is to support the branches in such a way that provides the context for better and more efficient fruit production.
I know quite a bit about growing muscadines commercially. When a muscadine vineyard is planted, the very first thing that goes into the new vineyard before a single vine is planted is the trellis system. Without the trellises, the vineyard would be a tangled mess within days after the vines start growing. It would be impossible to prune or maintain the branches, there would be very little fruit, and one would have to fight the thicket of vegetation to get to the few grapes that were produced. What the trellises do is help provide support, order and direction to the branches so that they get maximum light and produce more and better fruit efficiently.
God’s people can produce fruit without Habitat for Humanity just as a wild muscadine can produce fruit by growing in a tree. However, Habitat is a tool that makes fruit production all the more efficient. The Apostle John said in 1 John 3:17: “If someone has enough to live well and sees a brother in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?” Many of us have all kinds of resources, and we see all kinds of needy people all around us. But how can we help those people in a strategic way that really helps? Often, those of us with time and resources see the human need as an intimidating tangled of confusion and don’t help as much as we otherwise would because we don’t know how to help effectively. This is the role that Habitat and organizations like Habitat have.
Habitat provides a directed means by which your time, used possessions and financial resources can be efficiently channeled for the purpose of providing decent, affordable housing for those who need it. Other organizations, such as food banks, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and foster services, provide contexts for you to provide for other needs.
Think of it this way. Habitat for Humanity and similar organizations provide two services for two different groups of people. Yes, we produce muscadines. The muscadines are the services we provide to the needy. But maybe our most important service is not to the needy, but to those with resources. Those with resources have as big a need to give as the needy have to receive. The trellis is important to the person wanting to munch on some muscadines. But it’s even more important to the muscadine vine and its branches, which would otherwise be lopped off for not bearing enough fruit.
So the next time you see a muscadine vine, think about Jesus’ parable of the vine. Jesus is the vine. You are a branch. Habitat for Humanity is the support that helps the branches produce even more and better fruit. Now, consider ways that Habitat for Humanity can help you produce more and better fruit.
Marcus Toole is the resource development coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County.