“Abiding in the Vine” (John 15:1-8)

Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 6, 2012

“Abiding in the Vine” (John 15:1-8)

In the Gospel reading for today from John 15, Jesus tells us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Abide in me, and you will bear much fruit. Do not abide in me, and you will not bear fruit. Then you will be like a dead branch that is thrown into the fire and burned.” Obviously, then, it becomes vitally important that we give our attention to this matter of “Abiding in the Vine.” So let’s do that now.

Abiding in the vine. It’s the vital Jesus connection. And as we look at our text, we will see that it involves three things: becoming a branch; abiding in the vine; and bearing fruit.

First, becoming a branch. Now on the surface of the thing, this sounds ridiculous. How do you “become” a branch? Either you are or you aren’t. And that’s the point. You can’t make yourself into a branch. By our fallen sinful nature, we are not branches. There is no living connection to the vine. We cut ourselves off from God by our sin, and we can’t glue ourselves back on. No living connection.

I’m not an expert on horticulture, but as I understand it, if you try to graft a branch onto a vine or tree, there has to be some sort of match, like to like, a genetic similarity. Some diversity is possible, yes, but there needs to be a certain amount of relatedness, and of course you need to have a living branch to graft. Otherwise, it will not “take.” Likewise with an organ transplant. If there isn’t a relatedness of like to like, the body will reject the tissue.

So this is the problem for us. How can we sinners–dead sinners, to boot–get ourselves connected to a holy God? We can’t do it. The graft wouldn’t take. The Lord would reject us outright, and rightfully so.

No, to become a branch, a living branch, God himself must do the connecting. He has to do a miracle to make us compatible. Here’s how he does it. First of all, Christ has to cleanse us to make us compatible. Our sins have to be dealt with, so that we are not rejected. This Christ accomplished just a few hours after he spoke the words of our text. It was on the night he was betrayed that Jesus spoke these vine-and-branches words to his disciples. Then they went out to the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was betrayed, arrested, and brought to trial. That next day, Good Friday, Jesus paid for all of your sins, and the sins of the whole world, by being nailed to the cross and dying there in our place. Jesus, the holy Son of God, was taking the due punishment for sinners, shedding his holy blood to cleanse us from our sins. His perfect righteousness is accounted to us, and that is what makes us compatible, clean, acceptable to God, and not rejected. It is because of Christ. The gospel of Christ declares it, and we believe it. “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you,” Jesus tells his disciples. Christ’s gospel word is powerful to do what it says, and that is, to cleanse us and to make us alive.

And in Holy Baptism, God has connected us to Christ. We have been joined to Jesus in his death and resurrection. Now we are living branches, connected to the vine, Jesus Christ, by God’s gracious action. It’s the Jesus connection, a vital vine-and-branches connection, by which we have become living branches.

Now that we are branches, the main thing for branches is simply to remain connected to the vine. The branches draw their life from the vine, so it is vital, absolutely vital, that they abide in the vine. “Abide in me,” Christ says, “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. 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.”

There is no life or fruitfulness in us unless we remain connected to Christ. Apart from him, we can do nothing. If we do not abide in him, if we let ourselves get disconnected, our life is forfeit, and we are doomed to hell. That’s what Jesus says: “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.”

How do people get disconnected from Christ? Well, you’ve got the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh tugging at you, trying to cut you off from your Jesus connection. Damage your faith, chop away at that connection, and pretty soon you’re in danger of coming detached. When people distance themselves from church, when they stop coming to church regularly, they are in grave danger, serious danger, of the faith connection being weakened. When people let the devil whisper in their ear, saying you don’t need God, you can be your own God–well, that’s how our first parents got into trouble, wasn’t it. When we let the world around us tempt us away from God, away from Christ and his church, we can lose our faith. The branch loses its connection to the vine, it stops bearing fruit, and it dies. All that is left for the dead branches is to be tossed into the fire of hell, a dreadful prospect.

No, God does not want that for you, my friend. That is why Jesus is speaking these words to you today. Abide in him. Abide in the vine. This is God’s good and gracious will for you.

How do we abide in the vine? By staying connected. Be where the life source is, and that is wherever the Word of God is preached in its truth and purity and the Sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution. This is how you draw your life from the vine. Christ feeds and nourishes you, supplies you with the life-giving vitality you need to sustain your faith and make you productive. He does this through–he does this only through–his gospel means, the means of grace. Sermons, Bible classes, preaching and teaching, the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood–here in these means, Christ the vine is supplying us the branches with the grace we need to keep going and growing and being fruitful.

Which leads us to our third point, bearing fruit. First was becoming branches. Second was abiding in the vine. Third now is bearing fruit.

“Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit,” our Lord tells us. “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” How does a branch on a fruit tree bear fruit? Does it do so by trying real hard and resolving to really do a better job of producing fruit from now on? No. All the branch needs to do is to stay connected to the vine, and it will naturally produce fruit.

Now to be sure, from time to time the vinedresser will come around and prune the branch, so that the deadness is trimmed away, so as not to interfere, and the branch thus becomes even more fruitful. This is describing how God works repentance in our life, which may be painful at the time, but it does keep the deadness from setting in and taking over.

Now the thing about a branch bearing fruit is that it doesn’t have to do anything strange or extra in order to bear fruit. It just comes naturally when the branch is drawing its life and its fruitfulness from the vine. There’s that Jesus connection again, which is the key to our being fruitful. Abide in the vine, and you will bear fruit.

What kind of fruit are we talking about? The big thing Jesus has been emphasizing in this discourse with his disciples is that they love one another. This is the kind of fruit Jesus’ disciples will produce, that they love one another. This is talking about you and me and our congregation, that we love one another. How we speak to one another, how we care for one another, how we look out for the brother or sister who is hurting, physically or emotionally, how we reach out to the one who is missing from our fellowship, or who is weighed down with sin or guilt or depression or distress–this is how love moves into action. Where is the brother or sister who is in need? What are his or her needs? How can I help? How can we help? This is what it means to love one another.

Again, as always, it is the Jesus connection that is key. We are connected to the vine, and the vine is Jesus. His love flows into us, and then flows out through us to others. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. . . . In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. . . . Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Yes, this is the fruit that living branches, connected to Christ the vine, will bear. We are those living branches, you and I are, and our fruitfulness comes from abiding in the vine. It’s the vital Jesus connection, begun in your baptism, nurtured in God’s Word and the Sacraments, blossoming in love, producing much good fruit, and giving all glory to God.

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Published in: on May 5, 2012 at 11:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. This is a well balanced law and gospel sermon. May Christ continue to bless and strengthen you. A Men.


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