1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
May 3, 2015
We are familiar with Jesus’ metaphor of the vine and the branches. From him we learn to focus on becoming his disciples who reside in him so he can produce fruit in us.
Yet we don’t often think about the implications of Jesus telling this to his disciples as they walked from the Last Supper across the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane where he prayed and was arrested. Walking in the dark they would have had a direct view of the Golden Vine sculpture on the façade of the Temple, probably lit up with giant torches for the Passover Festival. When Jesus spoke in John 15:1-8 he may have pointed to that grand symbol of Israel as he spoke.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
The image of Israel as a grapevine in deeply rooted in Hebrew Scripture. Isaiah 5:1-7 is especially vivid.
Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. … He expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!
I hope you are thinking, “That sounds a lot like one of Jesus’ parables.” He had built several teachings on it, so it was familiar to his disciples, only now he has incorporated them as the major characters of the parable.
From Jesus’ metaphor of the vine and the branches we learn to focus on becoming his disciples who reside in him so he can produce fruit in us. Our first question is: what does it mean to abide in Jesus and how do we do that?
I chose to use “reside” for “abide” to point us in the right direction. Just as Candy and I reside on Flowerdale Lane, as Jesus’ disciples, we live all of our lives in his presence with him as our constant companion. Jesus said he already abides in us, even before we abide in him. Jesus resides in us and with us, whether we notice him or not.
In what ways can we pay attention to Jesus, our constant companion? I’ve mentioned a couple of time the advice his mother gave Fr. Thomas Hopko when he was Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in New York. “If you want to grow as a Christian read your Bible, say your prayers and go to church.”
When we are faithfully in the Bible, prayer and worship with other Christians, our hearts will overflow with fruit. In Luke 6:45 Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Henri Nouwen once said to me, “If you want to know what is in your heart, listen to what you say when you speak before you think.” I’d add, “Or when you catch yourself before speaking.”
From Jesus’ metaphor of the vine and the branches we learn to focus on becoming his disciples who reside in him so he can produce fruit in us. Our second question is: what does it mean to bear fruit? Sometimes fruit is presented as evangelistic success, but Scripture points in a different direction.
Wine is a symbol of joy in the Hebrew Scriptures, so when Isaiah 5:7 says God looked for justice and righteousness in His vineyard, he described the fruit of joy. In Hebrew, Greek and Latin derived languages, justice and righteousness are cognate words, sometimes interchangeable. Personal piety and social justice are inseparable. They are the same single spiritual fruit.
Paul made this crystal clear in Galatians 5:22-23 when he used the singular – the fruit of the Spirit – with these qualities: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
From Jesus’ metaphor of the vine and the branches we learn to focus on becoming his disciples who reside in him so he can produce fruit in us. Our third question is: pruning sounds painful, is it necessary or productive?
We had a purple plum tree in the backyard of the house where I grew up in California. It grew rapidly to shade a large area which hurt the growth of other things. So every three or four years my Dad would prune it back to about a third size. The year before pruning the plums were at best 1½ - 2 inches, dry and fibrous. The year after pruning the plums were 4 inches or more and so juicy you bent over to eat them. Total yield for eating and jelly was double the years after pruning than the years before.
While Jesus did warn of the consequences of not abiding in him, I think his main point was positive encouragement that by residing in him, we would do all sorts of things we know we can’t do on our own. When his words abide in us, we can ask for anything and it will be done. (v. 7) Why? Because when we are saturated with his words from Scripture, especially the Gospels, our hearts will overflow, even in our prayers, with his desire that our Father be glorified as we become Jesus’ disciples. The verb indicates we are always in the process of becoming Jesus’ disciples, not that we have somehow arrived.
The transition to a new pastor is pruning season. We started a little during the interim months I have been with you. It is a time of pruning out things that no matter how wonderful and cherished they may have been no longer contribute to the new mission opening before you. In some ways, the storm damage last fall was a kind of enforced pruning – going through storage to dispose of things no longer useful, which opened up more space. When Jonathan Brink leads you into this new era of mission, he will also lead you in discerning what to let go of so you can embrace God’s new future for you.