“Why Everybody Wants a Wedding on the Farm”

“Why Everybody Wants a Wedding on the Farm”
John 15:1-8
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
May 2, 2021

Three summers ago, we went out to Utah for my sister-in-law’s wedding. A great event.

And for the rehearsal dinner, they invited everyone out to a farm located about an hour outside of Salt Lake City.

This farm had a large barn that has been converted into a venue for hosting weddings. They used the center portion of it for the main table, they used the stalls that once had horses and cows for still more tables and chairs. On either side of the barn, the large doors had been opened and gave a view to the expansive farm and crops.

It was beautiful. And of course, this sort of choice has become more and more popular for weddings in recent years. Whether its’ the wedding itself or rehearsal dinners or receptions – more and more people have had an interest in those taking place in barns. On farms.

Sure, some couples choose this because one or both of them grew up on a farm or has family with a farm… but as a pastor who officiates a good number of weddings, mostly what I see is that folks with almost no connection to barns and did not grow up around farmland…they are the ones who look for the farmland wedding. What is that all about? Why – when people think about where and how they will make these most sacred vows – why are so many are drawn to think of farmland?

I imagine there may be any number of good reasons, but part of me wonders if maybe – at a largely unconscious level – we recognize that the way and pace of the land tells an essential truth…

Namely – that there is something about the way all of the crops grow into abundance that speaks truthfully about the way love grows.

And so the farmland speaks truthfully about the way we hope for our own marriages and relationships and friendship grow and flourish.

I wonder if amid our increasingly disconnected and often fast-moving society — I wonder if all of these farm weddings do not signify a desire to be re-anchored. Re-rooted. Or, to use Jesus’s word – to ‘abide’ again in something, Someone real.

In John 15, Jesus employs agricultural imagery to get at the heart of how we grow and flourish as followers of Jesus. How these hearts and this people grow into the fullness of who God made us to be.

And while there is more in this passage than we can cover today, the basic equation Jesus puts forth for church growth is deceptively simple:

“I am the vine.”

“I am here. I am present. I am not the ever-abiding source of life and love, justice and mercy. I am the vine who remains in you.”

“And you…you are the branches. You are that which grows from me as you remain connected to me. And in time, and with some pruning, there is a harvest of fruit.”

And when Scripture talks about “fruit,” perhaps the most comprehensive list comes from Galatians 5:22-23: “the fruit of the Spirit (the fruit birthed of remaining in the vine) is

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

That is the equation for genuine growth.

In one sense, it is so simple. The singular thing that the branch needs to do is “abide” in the right location. “remain” in the right location. Be “rooted in,” “connected to” the vine.

And yet… I wonder if many of us struggle as branches to “abide” because we know intuitively how much the branch must give up:

  • The branch that abides in the vine is not in control of the pace of the growth.
  • That branch that abides is not in control of the direction of the growth – and what people and what issues and what spaces the Lord might lead us to love.
  • That branch that abides does not control how long its reach of influence will be, how thick its shade might be, how abundant its eventual fruit or even precisely which kind of fruit it will bear.
  • The branch that abides does not control when the best time for necessary pruning is, nor how much pruning is ideal.

And then on top of the branch losing control over so much, the vast majority of the time the branch itself cannot even tell it is growing. Nor can anyone else for a while. Much of the time, “growth” in the vine feels like waiting – with painful pruning from time to time.

It is no wonder we branches are sometimes tempted to not remain on the vine with a deep and abiding trust and connection. We are much more comfortable when we are in charge of our lives and in charge of the church – and we can measure the growth.

  • Given the right opportunities, the right classes, the right social media campaign and website, a little more capital – we can grow ourselves. And we will have diplomas and certifications and click rates to prove it.
  • Given the right schools and the right extracurricular exposure we can grow our children.
  • Given a little more money, some relevant updates, some helpful books, some good service opportunities that are attractive to a wide swath of people, some good food…we can grow our church. And of course, we can readily measure all of our growth based clearly on how many people are added to our branch (or subtracted) and how much money is added (or subtracted)

And yet have you ever watched a couple who believes they can grow their child just right if they get that child to all the sports and arts and music things?

Have you ever watched a church that is sure more and more people will flow in once they get the programs just right, the books just right, the best speakers, the best music, a wide array of offerings for every age group, the best website?

Have you ever been that person who is so good at multitasking and making things go for the family and the company and yourself?

And then have you ever observed how in precisely those same people or settings (or ourselves if any of those are us) the word “over-extended” gets used rather frequently?

Over-extended branches are thin and weak, and flimsy – also increasingly brittle and dangerously susceptible to getting sick or breaking altogether… because even as they look they are going so far, they are moving further and further from the nutrient source.

And even if sometimes branches seem to grow apart from the Vine because “look how the product is growing, look how the membership is growing, look how the budget or the income is growing…” Isn’t sometimes true we can wonder, “They have so much, do so much… but where is enduring, quality fruit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Are any of us over-extended branches?

Or another phrase we use when we are hustling here and there and doing this and that trying to make things go and grow, make others go and grow…. we talk about “burnout.” Where’d we get that phrase?

Maybe Jesus.

“6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

Sometimes we read that verse and envision God proactively taking disobedient followers and flinging them into fire. But as a number of commentators underscore, the sense of this verse is more about just telling the truth of what happens to us here and now when we over-extend ourselves apart from the one true source of life.

  • We dry up.
  • We grow thin and weak as kindling for a fire.
  • When we try and grow apart from the source for which we were made and in whom we find life… we inevitably “burn out.”

It is little wonder Jesus says “apart from me you can do nothing” in these same verses. For truly we are “nothing” if we extend ourselves in dozens of ways and efforts only to ….burn-out?

Have we ever known “burnout?”

Truth be told, times of transition like the one we are in the midst of right now as a church and even as a nation and a world…times of acute transition are ripe for over-extension and burnout because

  • there is so much to do,
  • so much more we are prone to worry about,
  • so many questions we want to have answers for because so much is unsettled.

And then there is that unique layer that the church in North America carries in this time where we recognize that the church of yesterday is not the church of today or likely the church of tomorrow.

We see the declining trends in numbers and interest with the institutional church in North America…and so we can really feel a pressure to do more, be more fervent, try harder even as we are doing that with fewer people and fewer resources.

Times of acute transition tempt us to over-extend and burnout.

“4 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 those words come to us today like an invitation to a farmland wedding.

Implicit in any wedding invitation is that we drop the other stuff to be present. “Abide in me” is an invitation to let go of the expectations, the control over the direction, the pace, the way, or the pruning…it is an invitation to be nourished upon the One who already abides in us, and trust in his pace, his way.

During that meal in the barn located on the Utah farm, they served us salads. And one of the staff there stood up at that moment let us know what was in the salad.

She points out this and that which were grown right there on the farm. And then she says, “and the lettuce was picked just this morning. It was prepared this afternoon, and is now what makes up the base of your salad.”

And you hear this collective“Oh wow! How amazing!” making it readily clear just how many urban and suburban folks were gathered for this.

We ate it, and everyone at the table agreed – “That is so simple. So unassuming. So unadorned. But, wow is that good.”

Whether people set foot on the soil of a church or not, they know when they taste genuine, fresh-from-the-vine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

“Abide in me as I abide in you.”

May we stand again upon the land, renew our sacred vows to God and neighbor, and through us may the world taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Amen.

About Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert