He Is The Vine We Are To Be The Branches - John 15:1-17
Today we conclude our journey through the “I Am” statements of Jesus. We have tried to recapture significance of the impact that these statements would have had on the listeners, as well as understand what they mean for us today. We recognized that in saying “I Am,” Jesus, blasphemously in the ears of his contemporaries, was claiming equality with God…for He was claiming the name God used to refer to himself when Moses questioned God’s name at the burning bush, with God responding, “I Am that I Am” and “this will be my name through all generations.” The controversy of Jesus claiming identity/oneness with God is not controversial for us, because we, on this side of the resurrection, understand (well “understand” may be a strong word), know that Jesus, as God the Son, God the Father, and God the Spirit, are all aspects of our One True God. For us, the controversy for some, is that the statements that Jesus made about Himself apply to us, as the church. We cannot say, “we cannot do that because we are not Jesus,” because as Paul states, we (as the church) are the Body of Christ, and individual members of it.” We are to be the living presence of Christ in the world today, so that what was true of Him, may be, or at least may be becoming, true of us.
So that as Jesus is the Bread of Life…we, like Christ, are to offer to people, not only food to satisfy their physical hunger, but also to introduce them to a relationship with Christ that will satisfy their emotional and spiritual hungers.
Just as Jesus is the Light of the World, we too are supposed to bring order to the darkness of chaos, reveal sin and intent in order to offer forgiveness and life, and draw others into the family of God.
We, like Jesus, are the Gate…we are the means by which the world comes into a relationship with God and finds true abundant, eternal life.
As shepherds reflecting the ultimate Shepherd, we lead folks to walk in the ways of God, calling them into and through the gate.
Understanding Jesus and the role of the Living Body of Christ as the Resurrection and the Life, reminds us that we are to look to Jesus for life, true life, and not in the places of death found in this world…that Jesus and the Church are supposed to be places that give life, that offer hope and promise.
When considering “The Way, The Truth, and The Life,” we were reminded that Jesus came to seek the lost, us and those around us, and as the Church, we are called to seek the lost and to live our lives in faithful obedience to God, revealing to the world The Way to True Life. We heard in this Scripture the negation of the “we’re not Jesus, we can’t be like Jesus” excuse, reading the very words of Jesus, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and in fact, will do greater works than these….”[i]
All this time, all through the series, we may have been asking ourselves, “How can this be true? How can we, as fallen creatures, be expected to be the same as Christ, to be able to do the same work that God gave to Jesus, to “do the works that [He did] and in fact…greater works than [those]….” The answer to those questions is found today, in the last of Jesus’ “I Am” statements.
Spending time on my grandparent’s farm when I growing up there were several vines that were predominant and would capture my attention, two of which first came to mind as I began working on this sermon.
The first was the vine for which my grandparent’s farm was named—I’m not sure when they gave it this unofficial name, but when they did, it stuck. I have known it as “Morning Glory Hill” for as long as I can remember. Why did they come up with this name? It was because the most seen plant, other than tobacco, on their farm was the morning glory vine. It grew everywhere. It grew all along the edges of the fields…it grew around the house…it grew around the barns. Everywhere you looked there were morning glory vines growing and spreading out. The blue, purple, and pink flowers were truly beautiful—though like all flowers and myself, were not necessarily good for the allergies. I remember watching the bees fly in and out, collecting their pollen as they traveled from one flower to the next. I remember picking the flowers, though, as any of you who have ever picked one will recall, the life of the morning glory was very short once detached from the vine.
The morning glories even grew amongst the other vine that stood out by the shed behind my grandparent’s home. This vine more traditionally ties to our Scripture this morning, and God’s Word in general. It was the grape vine that grew on the trellises beside the shed, next to the cherry trees. I remember waiting and watching every summer for those Concord grapes to ripen so that we could pick them and eat them…those were the days before the ready convenience of store-bought seedless grapes.
The image of the grape vine is one that is found throughout the Scriptures, always part of the imagery connecting God and God’s people. Throughout the Old Testament, particularly among the prophets, the image of a vine, either producing or not producing fruit, was used to represent Israel. God had planted and prepared the vine (Israel), He had faithfully tended it, and now the question is whether the vine would respond to the nurture that God had provided. As a vine, Israel would be that which would offer sweet fruit that would glorify the work of the gardener. It would be the source of a rich, bountiful existence, not for itself, but in order to offer itself to the world, that it might draw the world to God. When the vine failed to produce fruit, the scripture often used either the barrenness of the vines, or actually vines being trampled, or bound up and tossed aside, as the consequences of not responding to the care of the Gardener.
Jesus picks up this powerful Old Testament image, much in the same way He did with the bread, the light, and the shepherd, and transforms it. God the Father, remains the Gardner, but Jesus Himself becomes the vine. Jesus is not suggesting that He is replacing Israel, but He is fulfilling the role that Israel was to play. He is that through which the nourishing presence of God will flow into the world. The people of God, whether it be Israelite or Gentile Christians, would be understood as the branches connected to the vine. The branches, connected to the vine, were expected to bear the fruit of God.
There is such power in this final image of Christ.
First we have the importance of connection. People long for connection…that desire for connection explains the extensive front porches and block parties of days gone by and, despite the continued push of individualism and isolation in our society, the popularity of networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare. There is in each of us a longing to be connected to someone, something.
In our passage today, Jesus, understanding our natural desire to be connected, reminds us that we are connected to Him. Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” Notice Jesus didn’t invite us to be the branches, He didn’t invite us to be connected to Himself. Jesus simply states that we are connected to Him. God Himself, through the moving of the Holy Spirit, even before we were aware of His presence, connected us to Christ. In that sense, all of creation is, through the power of God, connected to Christ. Christ’s invitation is not to become connected, but to remain connected.
While there is nothing we can do to earn the grace to connect ourselves to Jesus, our free will gives us the option of remaining connected or being pruned from the branch. The invitation to remain connected is in Jesus’ words, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” Remain connected to me. Why is it important to stay connected to Jesus as a branch is to the vine? The vine is the means by which the branches receive the nutrients from the soil and the water drawn in by the roots. What happens if a branch disconnects itself from the vine, or is broken away from the vine, and is laid on the ground by itself? It withers and dies.
For those branches that remain connected to the vine, all those rich nutrients, the life-giving water, passes through the vine and into the branches…what is in the vine, is in the branches. In many ways as the branches remain connected to the vine, they grow and thicken, and many cases it becomes difficult to see where the vine stops and the branch starts. The same Spirit which empowered and strengthened Christ in His ministry flows from Christ into His followers and as we continue to abide in Christ, we become indistinguishable from Him.
How do we abide in Christ? By spending time with Him. By reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word. By spending time in prayerful conversation with God. By worshipping with other believers every opportunity we can. By receiving the waters of Baptism, and then taking eagerly receiving communion and taking into ourselves the body and blood of Christ. By spending time in Christian conversation, fellowship, and service with other believers. By participating in what John Wesley would call the Means of Grace. The more we abide in Christ, the more Christlike we become.
How do we know if we are abiding in Christ? How do we know if we are truly connected? What do our lives look like? Do they reflect Christ? We look to see if we, as branches connected to the vine, are bearing fruit. Paul tells us that the fruits of the Spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.[ii] When we look at our lives, truly examine our lives, are these things evident. If we come across as cynical, mean, selfish, half-hearted, impatient, argumentative, and out-of-control, then we are not bearing the fruit of the Spirit and it is evident that we have disconnected from the vine. The fruit that Christ lifts above all of these is love. Are our lives marked by love? Loving God and loving those around us…I am not just talking about saying we love, but actually showing that we love. Can folks see faithfulness and compassion shining forth out of our lives? Do we give our lives to God simply because they belong to Him, and not to see if we can get something from God? Do we reach out and touch the lives of other, not because of what they can do for us, but simply for the sake of loving them? If not, we are not connected, we are not abiding!
However, if we abide in Christ, if we remain connected to Him, and let Him flow into us, then the love that will flow out of us will provide a sweet taste of God to the World. It is in being connected to God and remaining connected, letting His grace fill our lives, that we will find that we will do the works of Christ, even greater works than Him, because it will be God working through us. It is through abiding in Christ, that we will be “Bread of Life,” “the Light of the World,” “the Gate,” “the Good Shepherd,” “the Resurrection and the Life,” and “The Way the Truth and the Life.” He is the Vine, We are the Branches…if we abide in Him, He will abide in us, and live through us, continuing to be God’s very presence in the world…as the Word of God made flesh and dwelling amongst us.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.