April 29, 2018
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.”
In preparation for his near term departure
Jesus teaches his disciples,
“I am the true vine.”
This is one of seven “I am” statements in the Gospel of John:
1. I am the bread of life,
2. The light of the world,
3. The door of the sheep,
4. The good shepherd,
5. The resurrection and the life,
6. The way, the truth, and the life, and today,
7. I am the true vine.
Whenever Jesus begins with “I am”
It certainly causes those of his disciples who were born and raised Jewish
To think back,
The story of God calling Moses on Mount Horeb,
To lead his enslaved people from Egyptian captivity.
“God heard their groaning,” it says in Exodus,
“and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Exodus 2:24)
God speaks directly to Moses from a burning bush.
God calls Moses to lead his people to freedom.
“But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”
Jesus begins, “I am …”
This is no mere accident or coincidence.
I am, is the name of God.
“This is my name forever,” says the God of creation.
It is important for us
As we attempt to make sense of our Gospel passage
To make the connection between Jesus’ words “I am”
And the defining story of our Jewish ancestors
Being freed from Egyptian captivity.
Identity comes from God’s call,
God’s faithfulness, fulfilling God’s promises.
Identity comes from shared experience,
Harrowing and miraculous escape,
Communal, social, individual, and personal salvation.
Freedom becomes salvation.
Story binds and affirms identity;
Telling, and retelling the story connects
One with God,
One with each other,
One with prior generations,
One with future generations.
Storytelling is essential to the health and vitality of the human condition.
Storytelling builds and supports a sense of identity
Identity is about connections,
Relationships, shared values, respect, intimacy, belonging;
A sense of purpose, to contribute, and to be supported,
To be loved, and to love.
Over the past couple of weeks I have been reading
“Disability and Spirituality Recovering Wholeness”
By my friend, William C. Gaventa,
(a book dedicated, in part, to his lifelong friend, and my friend, Ray).
In it, Bill shares his own functioning definition of spirituality,
Based on his lifetime work
In the field of research, chaplaincy, and
Relationship with people in the disability community.
Bill observes that spirituality has three dimensions:
1. Core values, meaning, and identity, including what is sacred to someone
2. Connections and relationships, to self, others, the Sacred, time, and place
3. A sense of purpose, call, vocation or obligation, being able to contribute
(“Disability and Spirituality Recovering Wholeness,” William C. Gaventa, Baylor University Press, 2018, p.52.)
“I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus teaches (15:5).
In Christ we are connected,
Our identity is forged,
First at our common experience of baptism,
Then throughout our spiritual development;
Growing in Christ,
Connected to Christ,
Together, bearing fruit for Christ and his kingdom.
This is your space.
This is your time.
This is your time to connect with God and with each other.
Together, we are connected,
We find a common identity,
Deeply defined by freedom and salvation.
We are Christ’s Body.
Let’s all gather and sing “Kumbaya”.
Well, not quite so fast.
Jesus tells us “I am the true vine,”
Then he follows up with the equally important,
“and my Father is the vinegrower,” (15:1) or vinedresser.
Starting out my pastoral ministry in the Finger Lakes,
I’ve observed that vinedressers (mostly women) work hard
All four seasons of the year
In every imaginable weather condition.
Many carry two knives
When working in the vineyard
And they intend to cut, to prune.
Pruning is an essential task that removes
Dead, diseased, or stunted grapes.
Pruning reduces the risk of insect infestation.
Pruning makes room for new growth,
Leading to a healthier and more productive vine.
No branch is immune to the pruning knife.
It would be easy to jump to the conclusion
That Jesus is speaking about judgment here;
That if we are branches,
We should be forewarned.
Bear fruit or face the fire.
But that assumption doesn’t square itself with Jesus’ intent.
The roll of the vinedresser is to care for the vine,
To enable the vine to bear as much fruit as possible, year in, year out.
Pruning is caring.
At the same time, pruning is painful.
Short term pain results in long term gains.
Failure to abide in Christ,
To be connected to the Vine,
Leads to a total and complete failure.
“Apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus warns. (15:5)
Pruning isn’t about judgment;
It’s reward is growth.
The Greek word for “prune” is the same word that is used for “cleansed.”
Jesus reminds his disciples,
“you have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.” (15:3)
Pruning to bear more fruit isn’t by a vinegrower’s knife,
It is by learning, teaching, and proclaiming the word of God.
Therefore, let us allow ourselves to be pruned by God’s word,
Adhere to the commands of Jesus,
To abide, to take up residence, in Jesus Christ
That we might bear much fruit for his kingdom,
For this glorifies our heavenly Father.
Abiding with Christ
Connects us with the true Vine,
Connects us with our Heavenly Father, our Creator, and
Connects us with each other.
Our core Christian experience,
Our sense of spirituality and spiritual development,
Is dependent up our common connection with the true Vine.
Be pruned by the word of God.
Abide in Christ and you will bear great fruit.
Bear fruit for the kingdom.
Bear fruit for the world.
This is our spiritual destiny.