The oldest vines in Mariposa Vineyard are three years old. They’ve been pruned twice now and yielded their first crop last August. This year’s crop from the three year old vines should be at least twice what they yielded last year. The two year old vines are loaded with blossoms from which fruit will almost miraculously appear. And then there are the ten new vines I set out in January. No larger than twigs, they are just now budding the new, tender bright green leaves that will reach for the trellis where they will cling and bear fruit for years to come. My wife will testify that I have walked by those newest plantings of the vineyard no less than twice a day looking for signs of life, even speaking words of encouragement as if in prophecy. Being my third year to plant you’d think I would have enough confidence and patience to trust that those twig like stems will come to life in time. Their time. That’s never fast enough. Like time lapse photography I want to see the new growth emerge before my eyes. What often happens is that I’ll stroll through the vineyard in the cool of the morning and discover a glimmer of green that wasn’t evident in the gray dusk the evening before. Darn it! What a trick of nature. While I’m resting, that plant is growing. Such is the way of the Creator.
No fruit is expected in a vine’s first year. If any appears I will cut it off along with any new branches. Only two branches are allowed to run the twenty foot length of the trellis until, at the end of the first year they will be the main vine from which the fruit bearing branches will emerge each succeeding year. In the first year of the vineyard one of the first vines sprouted a small cluster of grapes. Even though I should have snipped them off, I let the branch with fruit remain. I just couldn’t stand it. I wanted to see; to have the satisfaction of growing my own fruit from scratch. And so I watched and watched and waited. For fourteen weeks I anticipated the day they would be ripe and I would taste the first fruit of the vineyard. That’s all there would be. A taste and nothing more. It wasn’t really the taste of this fruit that meant so much to me. It was the knowledge that I could do it and the anticipation of what was to come that excited me. It was the assurance of the thing I’d hoped for when I planted the vines and the conviction of fruit to come but not seen…. yet. I guess that’s why first fruit is so important in our relationship with God. Is not that God needs anything from us. Its not that anything I could offer God would really impress God. I mean think about it… Once upon a time there was a cluster of grapes so big it took two guys to carry it hanging from a pole on their shoulders. So why should God care so much about first fruit?
The day finally came to pick the small cluster of grapes, the first fruit of my labor and patience. As I approached the vine my heart sank. There was nothing there. Gone without a trace. No skins. No seeds. No pulp. No stems left on the vine that had once supported fruit. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. I was beyond disappointed. Whatever that stuff is the brain produces when you get ticked . . . well mine was working overtime! Dadgummit! That was two and a half years ago but I still remember. Recently while watering I paused at the now mature fruitful vine and flashed back to that day, pondering. Why did it mean so much to me? There couldn’t have been more than six grapes in that cluster. Ah, but first fruit isn’t only about the present fruit now – which is small relatively speaking. Its about fruit that is expected later. When we give God our first fruit we’re not just being thankful for the fruit of our now. We’re expressing faith in the fruit of our future. Doesn’t the word ‘first’ imply that there is something to follow? I hope so because, as we just celebrated on Easter, Jesus is a sort of first fruit of those who have died.
Here’s another lesson from first fruit. . . no more sour grapes! Because there’s more to come. We will see them again!