John 15:1-8 (NRSV) – Jesus the True Vine
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 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. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches leare gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
Next week is my last official week of my first year (of two) with as your student ministerial intern. In this community I have experienced great Love rooted Faith. You have embraced me and my family, supported my ministry and learning – over and over again, I have experienced God’s Grace working in and through YOU. I am so grateful.
It is a grace I feel each Sunday; it is a grace I feel now as we gather around Christ’s table, allowing us to sense what it is to ABIDE together in God’s Love.
And the truth is it was not easy for some of us to get here this morning. Each of us experienced moments of Grace even before we got here that allowed us to walk through those doors. We know there are those who desire to be here with us physically that cannot – by God’s Grace, they too are part of us here this morning. Despite it all, something deep within us desires to COME; to Gather; to ABIDE with one another. And so, as we explore our text for God’s Good News for us Today, Let’s Pray:
God our Vinegrower, Jesus our Vine, Root us in You this morning; Guide our hearts and minds that we would more fully ABIDE in you and that your WORD would more fully ABIDE in Us. AMEN.
The Lutheran Bishop Ann Svennungsen, says that to a good definition of Grace should be added: “Finding a good congregation is grace. Being part of a church you can call home – that is grace… It is grace…to be connected in community, formed as a disciple, sent forth to do justice and show mercy.”
All through this year we have been exploring what it is “to be connected in community, formed as disciples, sent forth to do justice and show mercy”. As a community, we have been looking at Paul’s image of the Church as the physical Body of Christ, and us as individual members of that Body. We are the eyes and the ears, the feet and the hands of Christ in this world – equally necessary, equally loved; knit by grace into ONE Body called to live in this world as Jesus lived; healing, praying, loving, restoring, bringing us ever closer to that day when it may be on Earth as it is in Heaven.
This image of the body is perfect for Paul, I think. Paul was man on the move –walking and traveling, planting churches, spreading the good News in town after town, city after city. This image of the body is an active one.
Our text today, this image of the Vine and the Branches, also shares wisdom about what it is to be a community of faith – to be fruitful disciples – but it comes from a very different place and perspective. It invites us into a kind of stillness, I think, that may add depth to our understanding of ourselves as Christ’s body; of what it is to be Easter People.
John tells us the story: in the days before the crucifixion, knowing what is coming, Jesus gathers his disciples; he feeds them a Passover meal that surely included wine from the grapes/fruit of a vine. Jesus lovingly washes the disciples’ dirty feet – and in those dark hours, he seeks comfort and prepare them. Hard as it is to believe, he says, joy will come after the suffering; He tells them that he is the vine, and they are the branches – and that, no matter what happens, if they abide in Him; he will abide in them. He tells them that he needs them, not to run from HIM or fall away one another like a branch to wither and die, but to ABIDE and continue producing the Good fruit of his ministry.
In this image, WE are reminded that our ability to produce Good Fruit; to do the work we hope to do as the Body of Christ depends on how fully connected and rooted we are in our faith; how fully we ABIDE in Christ as Christ Abides in God.
For the ever fruitful Mother Teresa the experience of ABIDING, the State of Abiding, is what PRAYER is. She says, “Real Prayer is Union with God, a union as vital as that of the vine to the branch… We need prayer. We need that union to produce good fruit. The fruit may be what we produce with our hands, whether it be food, clothing, money or something else. All of this is the fruit of our oneness with God. We need a life of prayer… to do it with LOVE.”
This word, ABIDE occurs not once, but 8 times, in these eight verses. To me, John makes this ABIDING sound almost simple – almost passive — and yet, I think it may be one of the most challenging, counter-cultural, yet foundational actions our faith. ABIDE in me. Be an ABIDING BRANCH… Easier said than done perhaps …
Jesus is master at using these images from nature help to explain the unexplainable. We can picture an ABIDING BRANCH in our minds. Maybe it is a grape vine – winding up a stake, its vine-y arms extended outward, branches growing from those arms.
We can imagine that an Abiding Branch lives with a sort of stillness that we humans find so difficult. An Abiding Branch listens to the rhythms of life that God has built into Creation; rhythms that we have largely tried to override in our busy 24/7 technology-driven culture. An ABIDING BRANCH, we can imagine, knows when to work and produce Good Fruit, and when to rest when the season calls it to do so.
The ABIDING BRANCH trusts God to prune the places of itself that are dead, or harmful or hampering growth; it trusts God even when facing damage storms and predators– knowing that those places where it is left vulnerable and exposed, with God’s grace, may just end up being the places where it experiences the greatest growth.
The ABIDING BRANCH knows that it will never be, that it can and should never be an ABIDING BRANCH alone. And here is where we come to what is perhaps the most countercultural truth of all. If things are going according to God’s plan, Branches on a vine are a woven tangle of brown and green and fruit. In this ideal image of the VINE, it’s hard to see where one branch begins and the other ends. Our lives are wholly intertwined in relationship with those around us.
In a world that prizes individuality and individual ambition, one minster says, “Christianity… is a vine-y, branch-y, jumbled mess of us and Jesus and others.” And, to that, we can say Thank God.
A few years back, the AARP conducted a national survey on social isolation and loneliness among people age 45 and over. The survey results showed that 35% – more than one in three respondents–fit the category of lonely. Of those ages 45-49, 43% responded that they faced loneliness and social isolation.
Living as a vine and branches is the antithesis of social isolation. We are called to live tangled up together, all contributing to the fullness of the whole – each necessary and responsible for production of the harvest. As ABIDING branches, we look down and see the earth beneath us; God the vinegrower providing us with what we really need. Life-giving nourishment; living water; travel from the earth, up through the vine and flowing through each of us.
If we plant our feet firmly, perhaps can we feel that source of life and goodness coursing us now. We feel it in our veins, and it is the same life-giving presence coursing through each one of us – through you and you and you—through the lives of people around the world. Each of us connected to and intertwined with one another. There is no hierarchy in this image; we each have full access to the life-giving source that is Christ.
And so we gather as Church. We come closer to one another, and closer to God. We experience Grace as our lives become intertwined with the lives of others. We find new fruit growing in the most unexpected places of our lives when we deepen our rootedness in our faith. We gather around this Table as ONE to literally taste the Good Fruit of the Harvest, reminded that Christ ABIDES IN US as We ABIDE in Him. We feel anew that life-giving Love of God flowing through out veins – connecting us to one another. We come; we gather; we learn to ABIDE together; The Body, The Branches, The Church. Praise God.