Psalm 22: 24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15: 1-8
May 3, 2015
Our gospel passage is familiar to many of us. I have used it for funeral's to talk about how we are connected to God and to one another and to talk about how God works in our lives as a farmer cares for the grapevines. When Jesus taught his followers, he taught them using stories with things familiar to his listeners. We know he taught using sheep and seeds and soils and coins...familiar things. But living in the 21st century, these things aren't always as familiar for Christians today. Marshall likes to share this idea in our adult class and uses the Eskimo culture as an example. Missionaries teaching that Jesus cares for us as for lambs use baby seals instead of lambs. And that's OK, because the point is to make the parable a familiar thing that teaches a lesson as Jesus did with his listeners.
When a plant, whether grapes or apples are pruned, it means that branches are cut off. How many of you like the idea of being pruned by God, the gardener? It is not very appealing as pruning is bound to be painful. But it is often necessary for us as for the vine. I want to take another look at that word-- prune. To prune could also be interpreted as to clean. The Greek word is kathairei. Listen to that sentence and the next with that small change in translation: “Every branch that bears fruit he cleans to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.” Sounds a little better than pruning, but the meaning still may not be entirely clear. Author Bruce Wilkenson shares an explanation a vineyard owner shared with him. “New branches have a natural tendency to trail down and grow along the ground. But they don't bear fruit down there. When the branches grow along the ground, the branches get coated in dust. When it rains, they get muddy and mildewed. The branch becomes sick and useless.”
When asked if it needs to be removed, the gardener answered, “Oh no, the branch is too valuable (to remove). We go through the vineyard with a bucket of water looking for those branches. We lift them up and wash them off...then we wrap them around the trellis or tie them up. Pretty soon they're thriving.”1
I'm no vineyard expert, but that makes a lot of sense. And if Jesus is the vine and we are the branches sometimes we are like those low lying branches. We get coated with dirt. Our lives get muddied. We are not bearing any fruit. The promise here is that our times of mud and dirt and mildew does not mean we are cut off from the vine; Jesus. God, the master gardener, tenderly washes us off and lifts us up where we can thrive. Every branch can be cleaned and become fruitful. But there is more, “Remain in me as I 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.” We must remain in Jesus in order to live a fruitful life. If you are looking at your life and wondering where the fruit is...check to see that you are remaining in the vine, in Christ.
Another Bruce Wilkinson quote, he says we can divide most Christians into one of two categories: those who have a relationship with Christ and those who feel a responsibility to Christ. A relationship leads us to look to Jesus for life's answers. Peer pressure, culture, trends don't determine our life paths; Jesus leads us. We can sincerely worship God with joy and seek to serve others as Jesus teaches.
Those Christians who feel faith is a responsibility operate under feelings of obligation rather than joy. They attend worship because it is expected. They serve on committees because they feel pressure to work for the church. Their faith doesn't impact their priorities but their personal priorities determine how their faith is lived out.
Do either of these types of Christian describe you this morning? Do you have a relationship with Jesus or do you feel a responsibility to Jesus? It's an important distinction. A relationship is a connection; you are operating as part of the vine. And I think we all agree that relationship is the better choice. And that means we need to keep that connection with Jesus.
How? Probably the most important way is through prayer. Prayer keeps us connected with Jesus. And I've talked about prayer a lot in 2015. Prayer is not just about getting what we want. As we mature in our prayer lives, we understand that prayer is about relationship; time spent with our Lord and Savior and friend.
Our boys were in boy scouts. They were part of the annual derby race with homemade cars. The kids are supposed to do their own work, but sometimes the fathers just can't help themselves. Pastor Ken Kesselus tells about an experience with these cars. A youngster with no dad showed up with a car obviously made by his own hands. While his car was the poorest looking one there, it was winning some races in the elimination rounds. And he made it to the championship round. The little guy was excited and so was the crowd. Before the final race started, this little guy asked for a moment so he could pray first. The crowd, following this unlikely car and its owner, stood in silence. They were supporting him in his improbable quest.
Well, the boy won and as he was being handed the trophy the director said, “Well, I guess it is a good thing you prayed, so you could win.”
The little boy protested he'd been misunderstood. “I didn't pray to win. That would have been wrong. The other scout had just as much right to win as I did. I couldn't pray that God would make him lose. I just prayed that God would help keep me from crying if I lost.”2
Praying is about relationship. That little boy had the type of relationship that he could bring his deepest concerns to God; not to let him win but to walk with him win or lose.
Finally, a word about what the fruit we vines are supposed to be bearing. You probably noticed the large banner to my left. It is there for two reasons-it shows the grapes on the vine but it also lists the fruit we could be bearing. The list comes from Galatians 5 and the apostle Paul lists these fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. And I'm always surprised that Paul doesn't make this plural—its not fruits of the spirit--but fruit. That means that every one of us as followers of Jesus Christ have within us the power to produce all of these characteristics. Most of us don't... because most of us are not fully connected to the vine. Our lives are busy, time with God is hard to come by, our priorities get messed up by the world's agenda, we are lazy, we are tired...and we understand that we need to be connected to the branch and cleansed of the filth and dirt all around us. That doesn't just happen. There needs to be a real relationship with our Lord and Savior. If you want to be fruitful, you need to be nourished spiritually through a connection with Jesus. Prayer, worship, the sacraments--baptism and communion, bible reading, quiet time are all ways we connect to the Lord.
The primary focus in the scriptures is steadily on the first characteristic in our list of fruit—love. John's epistle that David read for us this morning is relevant to this discussion. “if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” Abide in him; there it is again. Connection to the true vine is absolutely key to fully love and to know God's love, perfected in us. But there is more fruit besides love-- joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. All of these are borne as we abide in Jesus. Jesus said to his disciples, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” May we abide in the true vine; may we be cleansed by the word and may we bear the fruit of the Spirit, especially love. Amen.
Hymn: Baptized in Water 492 PH (cleansed by Christ's blood, singing God's praises)
1Patterson, David “Family, Friends, others blogspot 2011