Sunday, May 10, 2009

John.15.1-8; Fifth Sunday of Easter; May 10, 2009


 “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, and I will 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 a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is 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 given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

There’s a vine in here. Maybe you can’t see it but I assure you it’s here. It’s wound around the rafters, it’s clinging to the organ, it’s hanging of the balcony rail. It’s got leaves springing out of it all over. And it snakes right down the center isle, if you would try to walk down there you’d probably trip over it. You might have guessed that it’s not necessarily your average vine. Actually you know the vine very well, ‘cause you’re attached to it. So you see this vine that’s all around us is no ordinary vine, because you are its branches.

That’s right you’re connected to the vine that’s all around here, even if you can’t see it. You might wonder how you got to be a part of this vine that we are all sticking to. Well, you were grafted onto the vine. For many of you it happened on a day that you can’t even remember, only a few days after you were born. There’s one more very important thing I forgot to tell you about the vine, it wanders all over this room, it’s attached to each of you, and even spreads out into the hallway, but I didn’t tell you where it begins. Maybe you can tell me? Yes, of course, the vine begins right here in this font. It starts here where the branches get the necessary water to grow and thrive. Here is where you became attached to this vine. Here is where you were made “clean” (καθαρός katharos ) and “pruned clean” (καθαίρω kathairō ) that is made ready to bear fruit.

And guess what. You are bearing fruit. What is the fruit of this vine? Well, you can’t help it really. You see you’re a branch connected to the vine. “It is no longer I who live but ‘the vine’ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20) You can say. Branches that are connected to the vine bear fruit because of their connection. If you look around here at the other branches around you, you know you’ve seen the fruit in them. The Fruit of this vine is things like “…joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23 ESV) You’ve seen these branches in action. They’ve cared for you when you were sick, they’ve given of themselves and sacrificed for others. They’ve been a support for other ‘branches’ even ones not connected to the vine. Some of the branches here are even scrawny looking, and seem to be weak. But you’ve seen fruit there, too. In fact, amazing things come from the thinnest most sickly looking ones, words of comfort, and actions that don’t seem possible. It’s funny how good things are expected from branches that look healthy and act healthy, but around here, connected to this vine, fruit doesn’t have anything to do with the branches. The fruit on these branches all comes from the vine.

But what about all those times when you look at yourself and the fruit you see doesn’t look like very good fruit at all. Like: angry words spoken to people you love; or missed opportunities to be supportive. You look at your own fruit and instead of looking good, it’s full of rotten spots that just need to be cut out, because even though you did a good thing you did it for selfish reasons. After all you have reputation to keep up. Well that is the struggle for branches of this vine. We look at the things we’ve done, and don’t seem very good. We look at the things we should have done and realize how we’ve missed a perfect opportunity to bear fruit. We can’t see the good fruit that is there, and the fruit that is, is always tainted by selfish thoughts and motives. Well, your struggle isn’t unusual for branches of this vine. One branch once said, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." (Romans 7:15, ESV)

The only thing worse than the fruit we seem to bear, would be not being attached to the vine at all. “Apart from me you can do nothing!” He says. If we were not attached at all nothing we could do is of any lasting value. There’s a little poem that goes something like this. “One life it will soon be past, only what’s done for ‘the vine’ will last.” The better way to put it would be, “only what’s done in ‘the vine’ will last.” It’s only in Him that our fruit amounts to anything at all.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” That what the vine says, not a little fruit, but much fruit. That’s what happens to branches attached to the vine. "…at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)," (Ephesians 5:8-9, ESV) All that is good and right and true is fruit. Have you done anything that is good and right and true this week? Of course you have. You’ve done good things for your family, in spite of fighting with them, you’ve done good things at work, even if you didn’t want to be there, you’ve done good things here at church, by the work you’ve done to keep the building up, or even things you’ll put in the collection plate, even if your motives are sometimes selfish. You see, that’s good fruit, and you do bear it every day of your life. All these things you do every day are good fruit because you are attached to the vine. The vine enables you to do them because he through you, just like the sap that flows through the trees enables the tree branches grow leaves.

And we know what happens to branches of trees that break off the tree. We gather up the broken branches from our yard after a storm. We throw them in a pile and burn them up. Branches that are not attached to the vine have the same fate. They are thrown in the fire and burned. But that’s not what’s ahead for us, because we’ve been attached to the vine already. But what is it that makes it so that we stay attached to the vine. We certainly don’t look like healthy branches. The fruit we do grow is far from perfect. We know that when we look closely at our lives we should be cut off, like branches that don’t bear any fruit at all. When the Vinedresser looks over the vine why in the world would he choose to let us grow. We do bear fruit and lots of it, we already said. But it’s hardly perfect fruit.

We are not cut off, because of the vine. It’s not that we do enough good stuff; it’s not that we deserve to be left attached. But we are left attached for the sake of the vine. The vine is Jesus Christ.

He was planted in the world, and grew up bearing perfect fruit. It wasn’t just good fruit, it was perfect, the best fruit that could ever be grown. He loved everyone perfectly; he healed the sick, and gave food to the hungry, all with a perfect selfless motive. In fact, all of those things we wish we would do, Jesus actually did. All those things we wish we didn’t do, Jesus never did. He was the perfect vine with perfect branches, bearing the perfect fruit. But the God the Father, the Vinedresser, cut him off and threw him away into the grave of death anyway. Jesus Christ was cut off and cast in to the grave. But because he was perfect, because he didn’t deserve to die, God raised him to life again. Firmly replanted, the perfect, and true, one and only vine. And you dear branches were grafted onto him, in baptism. And it’s not because the fruit made you worthy of him, not even because he knew you’d bear fruit, but simply because he loves you so much that he was willing to be cut off in your place. His life, his death and his resurrection are the perfect replacement for our rotten fruit. And now Vinedresser looks at us and sees fruit, he sees it as the fruit of the vine. "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:3-4, ESV) We said it before, the vine starts right here. It grows out of the water of baptism. You are attached to the one true vine in baptism. First, buried with Jesus Christ, cut off, as an unfruitful branch, with him. And raised from death, grafted onto the perfect vine to live in newness of life. That is, to bear good fruit… because of the vine, through the vine, attached to the vine, Jesus Christ.

And there’s another very important part of what Jesus, the vine is saying to you right here and now. He’s giving you a wonderful invitation. That invitation comes in a single word. “Remain.” Remain in me. Jesus says. “Know who I am. Know who you are.” “I am the vine, you are the branches.” You are already attached to me. I have provided everything necessary for you to remain. “Remain!” Remember your baptism. Remember that you have been grafted to the one true vine and there is nothing that can separate you from him. “Remain!” Listen to my words, Jesus says. They are words of life. If you remain in them you will continue to bear “much” fruit. “Remain!” and take nourishment from the vine himself, “Take and eat this is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all yours sins.” Remain and grow. Remain and bear much fruit, as a branch of the one true vine. Jesus Christ.

So, we’re part of the vine. Maybe you couldn’t see it clearly before. Look again. If you can’t see the vine itself, I know you can see the branches. Strong ones, weak ones, thin ones and curly ones, they are all around us. And I know you can see the fruit. You can see it on each and every branch if you just look. The problem is that sometimes we get used to looking for only a certain kind of fruit, but remember that any branch connected to this vine, bears fruit. Look again and you’ll see it everywhere. Remain and grow, together branches of the true vine, bear much fruit. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ, Jesus. Amen.

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