Text: John 15:1-8
Date: Easter V + 4/29/18
During Easter with the first disciples and witnesses of the resurrection to this day the risen Lord Jesus opens our minds to understand the scriptures (Lk 24:45). This includes all His words and teaching during His earthly ministry. Today, in the light of the resurrection, we recall the time right after that last Passover supper when He spoke of many things including the parable of the vine and the branches. “I am the true vine,” He said. Using the image of a grape vine He means to speak about our continuing connection with Him especially after His death and resurrection when we cannot see Him any longer as did the first disciples. The purpose or goal of staying connected with Him, He says, is the bearing of fruit. In this picture we are taught, first, how through His Word and Sacraments, we are brought to salvation, that is the justification of the sinner by God’s grace through faith without the works of the Law, and then, secondly, to the life of sanctification, the life of holy living, the life that says, “Lord, I love Your law.”
When Jesus says today, “Abide in me,” that assumes that we have somehow already come to Him. You can’t stay or abide anywhere unless you have first come or arrived there. When did you first come to Christ, to faith in Him, or more accurately when did He get to you? Each of us have different stories of how faith was given to us, drawing us to God through Christ. Some of us may think we don’t have much of a story because we cannot recall a time when we didn’t believe in Jesus. Yet the Bible says, “in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51:5), that is everyone of us were spiritually stillborn, sinners in need of salvation from the get go.
Others of us can tell of a more “picturesque,” extended and interesting story from being apart from God and then a gradual or a sudden spiritual awakening. St. Paul described life without God when he wrote, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:1-10).
In any case what all have in common is this: that it wasn’t our coming to God but His coming to us. And if you want to put a time and date on that the one thing we can say for certain of all of us according to God’s Word is the sacrament of Holy Baptism. That was the sure beginning of faith in you, that was when you were grafted into Christ the vine living and true.
Jesus speaks of His Father as the vinedresser who prunes every branch so that it may bear more fruit. That pruning calls to mind the faithful life of the continual repentance of our sins. But next He says, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you,” that is, again, at the beginning, in your baptism by God’s action you became “clean” having the forgiveness of all your sins. With this picture Jesus is describing, teaching, and reminding us that being justified or declared righteous and saved is and can only be by the action of God and not our own. I ran into a cute quote from Martin Luther who speaks of the person who does not understand that justification or salvation is completely the work and gift of God without any cooperation on our part, saying, “let others whittle and trim as they can, until they make a new birth out of works, and a tree out of fruit, they must still prove the truth of this saying, and out of all of it there shall come nothing” (Lenski, John, 1014).
First becoming a branch of Christ the Vine, justification, conversion, salvation; totally the work of God through His Word. But now Jesus says the purpose of our being a branch of the Vine, is the bearing of fruit. What is that fruit, and are you bearing and producing it?
Well we don’t have to guess for very long as the Bible informs us. I suppose first of all is the fruit of faith. This is included in St. Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). These we can and will produce as long as we remain in Jesus the vine. The warning of this text, of course, is that “the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine,” and “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.” When does a person become separated from Christ and cease to bear this spiritual fruit? It is when you lose faith, stop believing, neglect and reject your connection with Christ in His Word and Sacraments.
Are you bearing this fruit? The first is love. The Bible says “You shall love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Dt 6:5) and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). This love, of course, means paying attention to your relationship with God, a relationship of trust, faith, thanksgiving and hope. Then it means paying attention to your relationships with the neighbor, a relationship of care, help, and service.
How about the fruit of joy? This is not about how happy you happen to be at any given moment. This joy can remain even in times of great sadness. It is about an inner confidence and knowledge of God’s promises, especially His unending love. This joy motivates our service to the neighbor. It also results from knowing that Jesus has taken away any fear of death with the promise of our resurrection on the Last Day.
Love and joy bring the fruit of peace, peace with God in the forgiveness of your sins, and the possibility of peace also with the neighbor, as St. James said it, “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18). “Blessed are the peacemakers,” says the beatitude of the Lord, “for they shall be called sons of God” (Mt 5:9).
The next three fruits occasionally seem difficult or even impossible until we realize they are the will of God being worked in our hearts. I love it when a Christian says, “Pastor, I just can’t be patient,” because I can immediately challenge them, saying, “Oh yes you can!” The Holy Spirit is attempting to work that gift in you, if you’ll let Him. The same thing with kindness and goodness, these three addressing the relationship of love with the neighbor.
Finally, the last three begins with faithfulness. This is the key and most important word in the marriage vow, you know, “and I promise to be faithful to you.” So does it apply to your dedication to the Lord’s means of grace, worship, word and sacrament as central to the life of faith. From that faithfulness Christ inspires gentleness, the same long suffering and kindness we have received from Him now reflected in our care for others. Finally, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, a fruit of Christ the vine. It is that gift that characterizes all the others in a life of holy living.
“Abide in me, and I in you,” because “as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” And how does Jesus abide in you? He says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Because with His words in you, you will wish according to His will.
This is the Christian life; having been justified by faith we are given the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ and His resurrection, the power that changes us, glorifies the Father and proves you to be a true disciple of Jesus, the vine, living and true.