(From John 15: 1-8)
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide 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. I 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. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
Arguably the greatest pastor, shepherd of a flock, and preacher of the good news of God’s love, mercy and grace toward us was not the late great power of positive thinking aficionado, Norman Vincent Peal, or Robert Schuler, or Martin Luther King Jr., or even our denomination’s founder, John Wesley. The greatest of all was none-other than our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. Jesus had a natural charisma, a Chemistry if you will, that attracted everyday people to him. He combined this trait with great storytelling, utilizing people and events common to ordinary everyday life, to make his messages meaningful and relevant to his Disciples and followers. Jesus had a way of taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. People loved to sit at his feet listening to the wonderful stories he would share with them about ordinary things found in their lives.
Many of Jesus’ stories were parables and metaphors designed to serve as life-lessons or to illustrate greater spiritual truths about the kingdom of God in contrast to the ways of the world. That is the case with our Gospel lesson for this morning. Jesus chose for his object lesson today the image of the vine and the branches. When I think about a vine and its many branches which bear fruit, I immediately think of grapes. So, I brought a vine of grapes to share with you today as an illustration of Jesus’ lesson to his Disciples and followers found in Chapter 15 of the Gospel of John. We can see that the main central vine has many branches which are offshoots connected to it. These have further smaller branches that bear the grapes, the fruit of the connected branches. As long as the branches remain connected to the vine, they continue to receive the nourishment they need to bear good and useful fruit. Apart from the vine, such as this severed branch I brought along with me to display for you, the branch no longer receives needed nourishment. Its fruit wastes away and the withered branch is no longer of use except for burning.
Having shared with you visually and physically Jesus’ object lesson about the vine and the branches, let us continue with our lesson as Jesus brings his message both up close and very personal to our daily living. He states, “I 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… My Father [God] is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” There it is, folks—the interpretation of Jesus’ metaphor of the vine. Just as grape branches must remain connected to the vine to bear their good fruit, believers must remain connect to Jesus, our true vine, to receive the nourishment our souls need in order to bear the good fruit of our faith and to become Jesus’ true disciples. He is our sustenance, providing us with the strength, patience and perseverance we need to bear the good fruit of living as his disciples and building his kingdom of love right here on earth. For, apart from him, we can do nothing. Yet, as Paul told the Philippian Church, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We simply need to stay connected.
As an illustration of this point, I would like to share with you today a discussion I had with a few of our church members. Their neighbors recently behaved in a very un-neighborly manner toward them, doing something which deeply hurt these members of our church family and injuring their relationship with those neighbors. Hearing the words “love your neighbor” in a Sunday service, which we all know as believers is our commandment from Jesus, is a painful reminder for them of those neighbors who are not good neighbors to whom it is easy love. It is only through our ongoing faith, the support of our beloved church community, and our continued connection to the love of Jesus, our true vine, that we are able to persevere beyond the hurt and pain this world sometimes inflicts upon us. Walking together, we can bear the burden when our faith becomes a cross for us to bear. In these times, the Lord is our rock and our comforter, beckoning us ever forward to live on…and to love on because we are connected to and nourished by his unconditional love, his mercy, and his unmerited grace toward us. Blessed be the name of our Lord! We are not a people abandoned and alone in the world. We abide in Jesus and he abides in us. And so, we can do all things-because we are connected! Amen.
Hymn-“Jesus, United by Thy Grace” (words-Charles Wesley, music-John B. Dykes)
Jesus, united by thy grace and each to each endeared, with confidence we seek thy face and
know our prayer is heard.
Help us to help each other, Lord, each other’s cross to bear; let all their friendly aid afford, and feel each other’s care.
To thee, inseparably joined, let all our spirits cleave; O may we all the loving mind that was in thee receive.