John 15:1-8 New International Version (NIV)
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
O God, whose Son Jesus is the vine that binds your people to himself,
Grant that we might bear much good fruit by remaining in him; who, with
you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.
This is our 3rd week of seeing Jesus in the common. The first week we learned about seeing Jesus in the broken bread, and how it is that we can understand Christ best in fellowship. Then we talked about seeing Jesus in the Good Shepherd and how he is with us in our deepest need and darkest moments. And today, we will think about seeing Jesus in the vine – and what that looks like for us.
I spent a lot of time thinking about vines this week. It is a little odd for me to think about vines and branches and pruning and fruit when I am definitely one of those people who has the amazing skill of killing any living plant in my care quickly and most efficiently. This is why I’m not in charge of our community garden and why I will do my best to never touch any of the plants put in there – I wouldn’t want to be responsible for what could happen!
As I learned about vines, specifically grape vines, as that is probably what Jesus’s hearers would have understood him to be referring to – the analogy of a gardener and Jesus as a vine and us as branches began to make a whole lot of sense to me. Jesus is so smart!
Jesus talks about remaining in him and he will remain in the branches – very important to the production of fruit from a vine is that the fruit only grows if the branch remains attached to the vine, if the branch is pruned of any excess leaves, and once it has grown for two years – the first year the branch can’t produce any fruit. Only the second year will the branch of any vine produce fruit.
The vine itself is dependent on the gardener – this is why Jesus points out that God, the Father, is the gardener. Everywhere in his ministry, Jesus consistently points out his reliance on the Father for his sustenance and work, and here is no different. Jesus reminds us that even he must trust the Father and be obedient to God in order to fulfill his mission.
We, too, must remain true to God and obedient to Jesus in order to fulfill our mission of making disciples. But our obedience doesn’t strictly turn into disciples FIRST, instead it creates fruit. What fruit are we to be known for? The fruit of the spirit – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he says that the fruit is from the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’s ministry, he says we bear fruit by staying true to him, and that if we don’t bear fruit – if we don’t ultimately demonstrate our commitment by love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control – then we aren’t really in the vine at all.
Once the fruit is produced, there is an offering to those who aren’t in the vine. There is a custom in the Mediterranean, that as you walk by a vine you are welcome to its fruit. So as others walk past us – they should be receiving fruit from us. They should see how it is we live according to the faith that we have.
Jesus tells us very plainly in this passage that he is not talking to people that are not already his – instead, he is talking to those who have already decided they will be part of his Kingdom. He makes an interesting promise here as well – that if you are in the vine, and you remain in the vine and his words remain in you, then you can ask what you will and it will be done. The key here is that the more deeply you are rooted in the vine – the more what you want is what God wants. This is not about asking for a brand new Cadillac in the driveway, but it is about asking for the things that are after God’s own heart. You can only know that heart by seeking God, by spending time in his word, by spending time in prayer and intimate conversation with him – but you also need to be in community.
We had a pretty amazing thing happen here this morning – a church from a completely different background and theological underpinning has come and been a part of our service today. It almost couldn’t have been a better picture of what the branches of the vine do – since we are all joined to the same vine, we are part of the same Jesus, we are able to share our fruit not only with those not yet part of our community, but those who are also remaining in the vine. Pastor Justin and New Life’s worship team are just serving us because they serve Jesus, but it is that kind of community and fruitfulness that is necessary for all of us to grow. We cannot do it alone – Jesus says you can’t do it apart from the vine, and since the vine is a central connecting point for each of us, we can’t do it apart from each other either. None of the fruit is something you can do without being connected to others: how can you love if there is no one to love? I can be patient all day if I’m by myself, but what good is that? How can I be gentle alone? Everything we do as we remain in the vine that is fruitful has to be done in community – not just with non-believers, with those who yet need to be grafted in, but with those who are already grafted in. What would a vine look like if only one branch stuck out from it with fruit – pretty pathetic, I think!
One of the things I read this week was about how the wildfires in Northern California stripped the land clean and destroyed acres and acres of vineyards. Where once beautiful and incredibly fruitful vines had been visible for miles, now scorched earth and fruitless land scarred the geography.
But in places now you can see the beginnings of new plants growing. You can see the spots where life blossoms in the spaces where only death had been. And that is the picture of the gospel as well – where there is nothing, where only death had once been, it is there that the vine gets rooted and covers the space with new life. I believe in transformed people, because I know that we have been called to live differently because of our faith – but before there is any change in us, we are first brought from death to life – we are first set free from the chains of darkness and sin and hurt and heartache that bound us and we peek up from the ground as new creation where before there was only desolation and scorched earth.
The vine brings us the power to love and have joy and be at peace because the vine has infused us with life – that is the power of the resurrection power of our King – the vine of life that empowers us to be fruitful for the kingdom. We do this by remaining in him, by being pruned and worked by the Gardener, by living in community with others in the vine, and by being renewed and reborn in the life of the spirit that embues with a lasting abundant life.
As we receive communion this morning, let us remember that the bread and the cup are reminders, over and over, of the new life we have by virtue of the death and resurrection of our Jesus – the true vine that ties us to himself and each other.