I’ve had the good fortune of teaching 4 years of Institute at the University of California Riverside and another 2 years of Early Morning Seminary for the LDS Church. Out of 6 years of teaching in the Church Educational System, I don’t really remember any of the lessons that I taught…except for one.
Teaching seminary is no easy task. It has been the hardest calling/assignment I’ve ever had in the Church. My desire to deliver an inspiring lesson to 25 to 30 high school kids each and every day in the wee hours of the morning would relentlessly weigh on my mind and take me physically to a place I’ve never been. Those that have taught early morning seminary know that between full time work and raising a young family, there are some days that you are running on fumes. There are some days that you’re unable to squeeze any preparation into your day and you show up to seminary relying wholly upon the Lord for inspiration.
One early morning…I showed up at the church exhausted and completely unprepared. The lesson that day was on John 15. I had told the youth on the day before that I wanted that lesson to be special…but between the end of that class and the beginning of this class… life happened. I was afraid I wasn’t going to do justice to John 15.
I knew the passages well from previous studies but I needed an object lesson in order to help the youth understand the importance of what was found in John 15. I had nothing that morning. As I sat there…exhausted…physically and mentally, having done everything in my power to fulfill my calling, my mind was led outside the seminary door to a wall that was covered in a huge vine and thousands of branches. After the kids came in the doors and we had an opening prayer, I began the lesson by asking the kids to go outside, find the wall, and break off a small branch from the vine that was covering the walls. Each of them brought their branch into the classroom and set it on the desk next to them. All of their branches were green, and soft, and flexible. Those branches looked very much alive!
So we opened John 15 and read it from the beginning:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
As we read…we started to see the symbolism of what we had just done. As we had broken branches off of the vine…it wasn’t immediately apparent that the branch was already dying. The branch was still strong and healthy looking…but I knew…as did they, that this little branch had an imminent downfall.
It is a natural fact of life that if you break a branch away from its trunk…and its roots, that the branch will quickly die.
Jesus is the “true vine” and we are “branches”. The second that we break the bond that seals us to that true vine is the second we begin to die spiritually. We may not feel it immediately, and it may not be visible to those around us…but eventually our spirits will begin to dwindle away.
What you see below is a picture of a branch that was broken off “from the vine”. You can see physically what kind of toll had been taken on this little branch because of it’s separation from the vine.
Every day that went by…we’d observe these branches, and every day that went by… the Savior’s sermon in John 15 became more and more effective. As we attended seminary during the rest of the week, we saw the slow degradation of all of the branches that had been broken off. Some withered faster than others…but each and every one of them dried up, got stiff, and withered away…devoid of any nourishment.
By the end of the week…none of us wanted to be those branches. We agreed that the key to life was to stay attached to the true vine at all costs.
Many times…it is the teacher of a lesson that learns the most from the lesson. I learned that as I did all that I could to fulfill my calling…and my back was against the wall, that the Lord poured out the enabling power of the atonement upon me to pick up the slack. It was as if the yoke that was around my neck was immediately lightened at the very minute I could go no further on my own.
I learned that as I kept myself attached to the “true vine”…that my burdens would be made light and that I would be strengthened. In teaching, or in serving…the most important lesson I have learned while serving in the church is that I must always keep myself connected to the “true vine”.