Text: John 15:1-8
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
My son got a new tree pruner. You may be familiar with them. It is a long pole with a saw blade on one end and a pruner that can lop off branches with the pull of the cord. It is pretty slick and I watched as he tested it out reaching up about 10 feet into a tree looping off a small branch with a quick pull. The branch was quickly tossed into the debris pile for later disposal or burning.
Pruning and branches are very familiar to we who live in Michigan. We clean them up in the spring and prune trees, bushes and vines in the fall or throughout the year. My privacy hedge along the road was planted many years ago as a protection for my children but Jon and Amy are now grown and long gone with homes of their own and that hedge is still there … all 200 feet of it … and still requires work and regular pruning to keep its shape and its height in check.
Our gospel text today consists of only 8 verses that follow the discourse in John chapter 14 where Jesus promises that many rooms are prepared in his father’s house for his disciples and that he will come again to take them to where he is. The comfort of the Holy Spirit will be the one to remain after Jesus has ascended to the Father to continue to work and point all in Christ to that true comfort and finished hope that is Jesus.
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
Christ’s love for us and his death on our behalf was on our minds last weekend with the Good Shepherd gospel. The image of the Good Shepherd and the caring of the flock was the focus of Jesus’ care for those that are his and how he brings that about through his word and gifts through his church.
In our reading today Jesus speaks in image as a vine. But not just any vine but as the true vine the … “I am” the vine. The divine name that begins our reading is no mistake but is made to ring clear in the disciples ears as the name of God and Jesus as the rightful possessor of that name. He then connects his name to the Father as the vine dresser.
I chapter 14 in a more direct way when Phillip asks:
“Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”
And Jesus replies:
Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
So Jesus is making clear in the previous chapter and in this first verse - this connectivity:
Father, Son, Vine, Vine dresser, the great “I am”, and Jesus - united in unity and unity in truth.
2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
To be a disciple means two things; to be connected to Christ and to bear fruit. This work God does through the Holy Spirit. The branches removed here are not the unbelieving world but those who once connected to Christ have lost faith and do not bear fruit and have become useless to the vine. Because of unbelief … they are removed and cast away.
The fear in the text of being cut off and cast way for you and me is not the point of the text but for we who remain connected to Christ - it is the pruning and the bearing of fruit – which too can have its own pain and discomfort.
Those of you who have dealt with surgery know the pain of surgery and the blessing of looking at that it in the rear view mirror. It is the desire of Jesus that we are fruit bearers that the fruit of being connected to him shines forth in our lives … at church, at home, and in the world where we live and work.
A former pastor once said when faced with the “Judge not, that you be not judged.” scripture of Matthew Chapter 7 from a well intended person, replied:
“I’m not judging … but I am a fruit inspector!”
3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
The work of God’s justifying grace has already brought us into his family as his adopted children. Through baptism we have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and have partaken of the divine blessing that is Jesus … being marked in him as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.
So this fruit inspection is not to see whether we are truly Christian … but whether the gift of God in Christ as his children is bearing fruit in our lives … or dying on the vine.
Death will come. But do we die removed from the vine or in Christ?
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. Psalm 116:15
A good death, a death in Christ, a death that leads to eternal life is what God desires- it is our hope as well - and it only happen in Christ, the true and living vine with branches grafted in.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
To do the work of Christ and to bear fruit we have to be in Christ. We have to grow spiritually bearing the fruit that Christ desires. You might wonder what God requires. Are we being judged on our works and the things we do?
Certainly as Christians and especially as Lutheran Christians we know that Ephesians 2:8-9 makes clear how we are saved: 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. Eph 2:8-9
But fruit is evidence of a life in Christ for the Christian. It’s not a pious life or an outward righteousness but an inward change. It is God’s work and God’s continued working through his means of word and sacrament.
If I see my apple tree with a dead branch I cut it off and then prune those branches around it that bear fruit … so that they might receive more nourishment and bear even greater fruit.
We just finished going through a bible study during our midweek study called:
Unjustifiable Faiths: Four common - and wrong beliefs about justification. In these studies we learn where we at times put our hope.
1. Trust in your heart and what it is saying.
2. Prosperity as a sign that shows God’s approval and favor in our lives.
3. To trust that God only expects you to do your best.
4. Or trusting that I believe what my church teaches. (Can I pass the Confirmation exam?)
Jesus makes it clear as he continues:
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
The fruit bearing is in Christ.
Our good deeds apart from Christ are quite literally nothing. They show no fruit and in fact if done with the intention of being a good deed, bring no fruit and can take us farther away from God trusting in a false god of our own making. Our works apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in us … can do nothing, Jesus says.
1. Trusting you heart as opposed to trusting Jesus - leads to death.
2. Trusting your wealth as opposed to trusting Jesus – leads to death.
3. Doing your best as opposed to belief in Christ’s work – leads to death.
4. Faith in the church as opposed to faith in Christ – leads to death.
6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
The abiding hope is a hope and work in God and of God.
7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
To have Jesus Christ abide in you is to be in the word.
To be in the word is to be in Christ the very word of God made flesh.
To do what God requires is to believe on him whom he has sent.
This work by the working of the Holy Spirit comes to you and me through the means of grace and points us to Christ so that we abide in him and he abides in us.
8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
The gift of God makes us his and through this
the Father is glorified in his son and in we his adopted children are glorified in him and bear much fruit.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit