ABIDING RELATIONSHIPS – THE STORY OF THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES
‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing’ John 15: 5.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
It is my absolute privilege this morning to proclaim the Word of God to you, my friend. Scripture often presents various images for us to ponder, particularly, in defining our relationship with God. While, past week’s text gave us the image of God as our Good shepherd and us as his sheep, this week’s text presents yet another image. It identifies Jesus as the vine, and we are the branches. Jesus said: ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15: 5). Consider the wisdom in the words of Jesus: branches can only bear fruit, if they remain in the vine, relationships therefore matter indeed! Let us pray:
Gracious Heavenly Father, your love gave us our saviour. As our sin became an obstacle, you took care of that obstacle and reconciled us to you. You forgive us, and desire to abide with us, through your Spirit calls us to remain in relationship with you and our neighbour. We pray that through your Word you abide in us today, sanctify us by the truth, for your Word is truth. Amen.
I should begin by saying, I am no serious gardener. I have no reservations acknowledging that, some of you are far more experienced and are better at gardening than I ever could be. In fact, in this congregation, some of you are professional farmers with enough wisdom and techniques to teach amateurs like me.
As I acknowledge this, let me share with you a bit of my story. You see friends, growing up in India, I never had access to a veggie patch. As city dwellers, my parents did not have a piece of land to grow things, if we wanted to grow vegetables or flowers, we had to rely on planting pots. Until recently, I neither had exposure to farming practices nor did I have a piece of land to grow vegetables or fruits. But truth be told, for some reason I always wanted to have a bit of veggie patch, because I wanted to grow things and look after.
So, you could imagine how much I was thrilled to see a bit of veggie patch in my first manse in Wodonga, for the first time, I could assume gardening as a casual vocation. As I attended to the little patch, I managed to grow a few things, even with my limited experience. As you can see in the powerpoint, I was successful in growing fruits, some of them include: strawberries, apricots, avocados, tomatoes, a variety of winter vegetables, spices such as ginger, garlic, chillies, and even managed to grow a variety of herbs over years. After me, my dear wife assumed this role and is currently taking care of veggie patch in Mackay, growing some familiar vegetables, spices, and herbs.
In saying this, let me confess, sometimes I have been a lousy farmer. There were days, when I have not put enough time into preparing the soil, or watering plants, or attended to pruning tasks simply because other priorities in my life took over. Here is the truth, in spite of my lousy efforts at times, those plants managed to bear fruit in their proper season, why is this the case? I would like to think, this is largely because of connection and relationship those plants had with God’s creation. Think about this, there were regular rainfalls, bees did a good job at cross pollination, sun gave much needed energy for photosynthesis, and of course plants were connected to the land that had plenty of nutrients for the plant to live, survive, and produce fruit. Because of all of this, even though I was less deserving of a harvest at times, I still managed to receive fruits and vegetables.
The connection plants had with soil yielded fruit. Apart from soil, plants were also connected to sun, bees, and rain, and had to respond to these relationships. This is the simple truth. Relationship with the soil and other resources contributed to the growth of the plants. Pull a plant out of the soil, it will not grow, nor will it bear fruit. Farmers won’t you agree?
I suppose connection and relationship matters be it farming or life in general. Without connection, humans are lost. As witness to this truth of life, teachers are able to provide a perspective on this. From early childhood, teachers understand this basic human need to be connected. So, like farmers work with their plants, teachers work with children to connect them to things they would need to grow and mature in this world. Teachers strive hard to connect a child to basic language, numerical, literacy skills and resources, so that, a child is able to live, grows and survives in life. Teachers patiently seek to impart wisdom in a child and connect them with essential skills of life. Sometimes, they succeed but other times, a concerned teacher worries and fears about how their students might fare in life. These days teachers seek to connect students with resources (books or other teaching materials) early enough, so that, they are well informed. If need be, teachers encourage students to do their own research, hoping, at least through this way, a student will be able to manage their life and fend for themselves. All this demonstrates a teacher’s plan to connect students to right resources. In saying that, unlike the old days, children these days do not always need a book, they think they do just fine, as long as they are connected to a wifi network. After all, Google has all the answers, right? Connections and relationships do matter and this is the point our Lord is making when he is talking about the vine and the branches. As long as the branches are connected to the vine, they will bear fruit. It is no rocket science!
Relationships are important, no wonder our Lord begins there. Jesus said: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15: 1-2). As one of my teachers at Seminary once said: this text brings out intricate yet intimate involvement of the Trinity with the creation, i.e. you and me. God is not just someone who created us and since became distant abandoning us to our devices and struggles. God is not like a clock maker who made a clock and left it to run for itself. But God in fact became intimately involved with his creation, so much so that, he has come to be in relationship with us. Hence the image Jesus spoke of, he is the vine, and we are the branches. Holy Trinity is involved in fostering relationship with each one of us.
To start with, our heavenly Father resumes the role of a gardener, tenderly attending to the needs of the vine and its branches. Like responsible gardener, he takes a pair of secateurs at times and dresses down undue burden on the vine. The removal of a few branches is not meant to harm the vine, yes even when the vine might experience a bit of pain during pruning. You see friends, pruning is a necessary seasonal activity. Without this work of the gardener, fruitless branches continue to suck up all the sap from the vine. Those branches harm the vine, by taking the essentials like: sunshine, air, the sap from the vine and could leave the vine lifeless. In a way, sin does that to us, sucking out life, and holiness from our lives. But the good news is branches need not worry about how to prune themselves, God our gardener knows how to take care of his vine.
Hence Jesus called us to take care of one thing, ‘remain in me.’ Listen to Jesus words: ‘You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me’ (John 15: 3-4). As we said earlier, God the Trinity is involved in the relationship with us. While Father prunes and connects, the Son calls us to abide in him. The word ‘abide’ means to remain in someone or something. To abide is to be in relationship and remain in it. Jesus words calls us to remain in His Word.
Just as the words of ‘a judge’ bring a sentence, the words of a ‘chief health officer’ bring changes to our lives (good or bad), likewise, the words of Jesus offer life, and salvation. Jesus words from the cross, offer pardon to this world without reservations. Jesus words about how one becomes a disciple (Mathew 28: 19), i.e. baptised in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit makes us a disciple of Jesus. Trusting these words, we can be secure of Father’s work in our lives (Romans 6). In baptism, God has come to be in relationship with you and me. In your baptism, Father the true Gardener connected you to his son, the vine. You have been grafted to the vine that bears fruit. In your baptism God’s abiding presence has come to stay with you. I stressed this before and I will stress again, God loves you, and hence He gives all that is beautiful and Holy to you and me. His plan is we remain in Him, by returning to baptismal promises each day in repentance.
Because God cares, He gives himself to you not just for now but forever. Unlike humans, God doesn’t put up or tolerate, but genuinely seeks connection to last eternity. Because God desires lasting relationship with you, He offers you His Holy Name, and offers you pardon through it. Jesus life and death on the cross, testify how much God is serious about you. Yes, the sinner you and I are, the failure you and I think we may have become, listen up, God loves you!
I would like to take you back to the image I have already given you. It is like this, imagine connecting to a Wi Fi network, what is the one thing you need? A specific password to connect to a network. You may desire to connect to a network but without the right password it will not work, in the same way without Christ’ Word, your journey of faith is not possible. The ‘Word’, refers to ‘promises of the gospel’. For instance, the promises contained in the words of absolution you receive at church, the promises contained in the words of institution, by receiving Holy Communion, we receive ‘the body’ and ‘the blood of Christ’ given and shed for the ‘forgiveness of sins.’ Each week, Christians gather in churches around the world to hear these words of Jesus. Just as a plant receives resources from soil, sun, bees, etc to keep its life, by receiving the promises of the gospel, we receive life. The words of Jesus bring forgiveness, salvation, hope, and future, establishing the connection we need. This is why listening to the Word, going to the church is very important for us!
Just as lack of food causes starvation and eventual death, just as lack of communication kills relationships, so does lack of promises of gospel starves and destroys a faith journey. You see the devil knows this better than anyone else, hence, since Garden of Eden, he has been trying to steal God’s words of promises from people’s lives. So be alert, make time to remain in the word (1 John 2: 15).
I hope this morning you are alert enough to hear and receive words of gospel. As you heard your Pastor declare to you, ‘your sins are forgiven’ and your hearts rejoiced by saying, ‘yes!’
As you experience this saving work of God in your life each week, may the Holy Spirit empower you to see truth and work with God to bear fruit. You see friends, not only God desires you remain in Him but Christ desires you bear fruit. In fact, Christ is specific as to how this happens. Like a chef who is particular about what ingredients needs to go into preparation of a meal, like a craftsman who knows how to workout a beautiful piece of artwork, Christ is specific. He said: ‘if you remain in me and my words remain in you will bear much fruit. What is this bearing fruit business Christ expects from us?
Look at it this way: if plants could respond to relationship with rain, sun, soil, how much more would this world respond to God’s people who would like to hold the light of Christ? Hence the Word of God calls us saying, ‘beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God (1 John 4:7 NRSV). Ethiopian eunuch and Phillip story from Acts 8: 26-40 is a great example of people responding to God’s love. As the story goes:
Philip was a deacon (Acts 8:4), not even apostle. Initially, Phillip went to Samaria to proclaim God’s word and did some amazing signs and miracles in that place. He built relationships in the town and was doing fantastic work there. As it happened, one day, for some strange reason Holy Spirit sent Phillip to go to the wilderness. As Philip got into the desert the Spirit of God sent him to follow a chariot. Travelling alongside Ethiopian Eunuch’s chariot, Philip engaged in a life changing conversation. This conversation sent one person to baptism and many others in Ethiopia after him. This story is meant to give us encouragement of the fruit we bear as we remain in the words of Christ. For the Father still is the true gardener, Jesus is still the true vine, and the Spirit still truly gathers people into relationship. But the question is will there be enough love in our own hearts to forgive and reconcile with lost relationships. Will we seek connection as Christ would, would we bear fruit of the gospel in our lives?
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.