"I Am the True Vine"
May 3, 2015
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 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. 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. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
Like the Good Shepherd from last Sunday,
Today’s image is another extended metaphor
From the infamous parade
Of “I Am” statements
As quoted by Jesus in the Gospel of John.
“I Am,” Jesus draws from Hebrew scripture to remind listeners
Of God’s self-disclosure
Speaking through a burning bush
Directly to Moses on Mount Sinai.
“I Am,” Jesus says,
“The bread of life.”
“I Am the light of the world.”
“I Am,” Jesus repeats, time and again,
“The good shepherd,”
And “the resurrection and the life.”
“I Am,” declares Jesus,
“The way, the truth and the life.”
And today, Jesus proclaims,
“I Am the true vine.”
(John 6:35. 6:48. 8:12. 9:5. 8:58. 10:9. 10:11. 11:25. 14:6. 15:1)
The extended true vine metaphor
Is really helpful in sculpting out the details of Christian life and faith.
Often times metaphors and parables begin to lose form
The harder one pushes.
“I Am the true vine” holds up wonderfully
Under the pressure.
Indeed, God presents it
With a longingly desire for us to dig deeper.
Grab your spiritual shovel
And join me in the dig!
Jesus is the TRUE vine, meaning there are false vines.
Beware, the world is full of quacks, charlatans, and snake oil salesman
Who all claim to be second coming of Jesus Christ
And who will promise you the farm
If only you buy what they’re selling,
Drink what they are peddling,
Or follow where they are leading.
They are often leading us like sheep to a slaughter
To a dark, damp spiritual alley to rob us blind.
Many will claim insider knowledge,
Some divine divination,
Or will attempt to scare us with threats of assorted black riders
From the impending apocalypse.
Tell them to talk to the hand!
Jesus is TRUE.
He is the only TRUE vine.
Listen and follow none other.
The Father is the vinegrower.
Our heavenly Father created the world and all that is in it.
God cleared the land,
Planted the seed,
Constructed the trellis.
And tends the vines.
God is not some absentee landlord
That created the vineyard then moved on to another project.
The hand of God
Touches his branches,
- touches us –
To thin us, to prune us, and to maximize the yield of fruit.
It is, after all, all about the fruit, isn’t it?
When Jesus abides in you,
And you in Christ,
You will bear much fruit.
All it takes is abiding in Christ;
Making your home in the love of Jesus.
Spread the Savior’s love extravagantly
To a world that would rather hate,
That is overflowing with hate,
That is burning to the ground with hatred.
Move your life into the world of God’s love.
Drink in the love of God.
This is what it means to “abide.”
When we abide in the Lord,
The one who is our divine gardener,
We can leave the rest up to Him.
The dead branches
Will be cut away and burnt.
Those under producing will be pruned back,
Not because of any failure on our part.
God prunes simply to maximize the fruit that branches can bear.
It is, after all, all about the fruit!
Here is an observation for you:
The branch cannot bear fruit
Simply by a force of will.
If it was my will,
Churches would be filled to overflowing,
And the entire world would be on a journey with Jesus Christ.
Many a church growth efforts have been launched in past years
Only to sink before they ever exit the harbor.
How has it worked for us?
Well-meaning efforts at crafting hospitality strategies,
Deploying parking lot attendants, greeters, follow up calls,
Even taking apple pie to the home
Have only created a few big churches,
Which, everyone cites as examples of bearing fruit,
But have led to decline and death of thousands of other local churches.
If you’re trying to force fruit,
You’re doing it wrong!
Attempting to force the production of fruit
Is the pinnacle of arrogance and a pathway toward idolatry.
Simply back off.
Stop trying to force the fruit.
Abide in the love of Jesus Christ
And let Christ’s love abide in you.
When you and I can be the love of Christ living in this world
The rest will take care of itself.
There is great comfort,
In trusting in our divine gardener.
It is by the efforts of the true gardener that fruit is produced,
Not by anything we have said or done.
Fruit happens organically
Because the vine is true and the gardener is good.
Apart from Jesus you can do nothing.
Apart from Jesus you can do nothing.
Sadly, most of us assume that doing something is equated with
Wealth, power, status, property
And a “Leave it to Beaver” type of perfect family.
This is not true.
We all know people who live their lives in the love of Christ
Yet, their poverty overwhelms them,
Cancer is overcoming them,
And their families are a wreck.
Likewise, we all know people who live with such affluence
And with such disregard for others,
Yet, still find it possible to climb to the highest,
Most privileged seats in society.
Apart from Jesus, you and I can do nothing.
It isn’t about doing something.
Jesus is speaking about abiding in his love.
He’s talking about making
Our home in His love.
Separate yourself from the love of Jesus,
From the love of God,
And the world begins to reveal itself for its true nature:
Property become dilapidated and returns to dust.
Families go their separate ways.
Estates are dispersed.
Status is forgotten as soon as the undertaker makes his house call.
Have faith in the divine gardener’s larger plan.
It is a plan which we can not know.
Failure to abide in Jesus results in
Destruction and forgotten memories.
There is no future in focusing on fruitless branches.
There is no point in comparing ourselves
To other disciples or other communities of faith.
Our only future is to make our home in the abiding love of Jesus Christ.
We cannot discern what is happening to the rest of the vine.
The work of the other branches is the work of the Father.
Our sole responsibility to the rest of the branches is to love.
If you abide in Jesus, ask and it will be done.
Little doubt what a branch ask for: for fruitfulness.
The purpose of abiding in Jesus,
Of living in His love,
And welcoming the love of Christ to take root and grow in our lives
Is simply to glorify the Father.
Our faithfulness will result in bearing much fruit.
Living in the love of Christ
And welcoming Him into every aspect of our lives
Will lead us
On our eternal journey that carries us
Directly to the center of His heart.
Glorify the Father.
Abide in Christ.
Live in His love.