I have just returned from a week in Iona, Scotland, that holy island where St. Columba landed with his twelve monks in the year 563 to found a center of literacy and education as well as a school for missionaries.
There are a lot of beautiful rocks on Iona. Ask any of us who visited how many of them we brought home from the trip. Some of the rocks are 2.6 billion years old, and on the northwest end of the island great outcroppings of these beauties, hunks of gorgeous green and red striped Lewisian gneiss, jut up out of the sand and out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Also on the island are ruins of buildings that were built much later, about 800 years ago. The ruins haven’t held up as well as the Lewisian gneiss. They stand as a testament to another time, but they (neither the buildings nor the communities that lived in them) did not last.
And so when Jesus commands us to bear fruit that will last, I think about how the rocks of the earth last, but the work of our hands often does not.
The things we make get broken. The lives we live come to an end. How can I bear fruit that lasts when I am a mortal and limited being? The contrast between the beautiful and ancient rocky outcropping at the beach and the crumbling bricks in the village couldn’t be more obvious.
There’s another thing I noticed on Iona, too, though. Out of the ruins of the Nunnery dandelions grow, right out of the crevices where the mortar has dissolved and fallen away. And honey-making bees buzz all over their cheerful yellow dandelion heads, and cooks and gardeners pick the leaves for salad. And one morning I watched pairs of sparrows and starlings bringing stuff in their beaks with which to make nests in the larger clefts in the now-open arches and the broken down walls. Life grows in the ruins, still, even if it is not the life that was there before.
There’s something really beautiful and creative about cooperating with God to bear good fruit. Jesus tells us that we are not only commanded to bear good fruit but that because we have been chosen by God (all of us - we are all chosen), we already have what it takes to bear good fruit. But we do not do it by ourselves. How exhausting life would be if we had to do everything ourselves.
When I watched the birds with their nest building and admired the yellow flowers tilting their heads toward the sun, I understood that I don’t have to come upwith the perfect superhuman fruit to offer to God on my own. Instead, I can rely on God to empower me to bear good fruit with who I am, just as I am. And that I am here to build on the fruit of those who have come before and to lay groundwork for those who will come after. I cannot create Lewisian gneiss. I don’t need to create Lewisian gneiss anyway - God’s already done that.
St. Columba died in 597, and a couple of hundred years later, after or perhaps during the time Vikings began to raid and plunder his abbey and finally burned it down, the beautiful illuminated manuscript known as the Book of Kells was finished by Iona monks.
What fruit I bear will be faulty, mortal, and limited. But God will bring more life out of it than I ever could. God will shelter new life in the faults and chinks and bring flowers out of my ruins.