We continue this morning with our series on some of the images of Jesus we find in the Gospel of John. Last week, we talked about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This morning, we’re going to turn to John 15 and look at Jesus as the vine.
It seems that we’ve waited a long time for spring to come to Essex County and maybe finally it has arrived. I don’t know about you but I’m starting to think about reseeding the bare parts of my lawn and wondering what flowers and how many tomatoes to plant this year.
The truth is that a lot of us out here in the county fancy ourselves to be gardeners. Most of us have large yards that we can do something with. Some of us have fruit trees and some of us even have real farms.
Did you ever realize how many references there are in the Bible to gardeners and growing things? In fact, the very first story in the Bible, in Genesis 2, is about a garden, the garden of Eden. And the very last story in the Bible is also about a garden. In Revelation, John speaks about the tree of life that is the New Jerusalem. It will bear fruit all year long and its leaves will be for the healing of the nations.
That should not really be a big surprise. Israel, during biblical times, was largely an agrarian society. Most people had strong attachments to the land. They either owned it or worked it. They were familiar with farming and growing things.
So it should be no surprise when we encounter one of those gardening stories today in John 15. It is the story of Jesus as he uses the vineyard motif to describe who he is and who we are in relation to him.
Jesus begins John 15 with good news. He says in John 15:1 (NIV), “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” Why is this good news? It’s good news because Jesus, as one who often spoke in metaphors and parables, is using familiar farming terms to describe both himself and God. Jesus is the vine. The Father is the gardener.
So, what’s the significance of vines and gardeners? When you think about gardens and vines, what comes to mind? Growth comes to mind. Food comes to mind. The garden is the place where we get food to enjoy and nourish our bodies. Who doesn’t like to eat? We all do, sometimes too much.
And the gardeners is someone who cares for the garden. The gardener tends the gardens, plants the seeds, fertilizes the soil, waters and irrigates if necessary and pulls up the weeds. In this story Jesus talks about the gardener pruning the vines and caring for the plants. The gardener will also pick the fruit and reap the harvest. So these are very positive images. You hear them and you think, “Yeah, I like that. That’s good.”
PRUNING THE VINE
But then Jesus does what Jesus often does in the Gospels. He lulls us into a comfortable place and then says something that shocks us out of our slumber. That happens in John 15:2 (NIV) where he says, “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.” Yikes, what’s that all about? The farmer is going to prune the vines so that those branches that do not bear fruit will be cut off? And only those that do bear fruit will remain? What’s that all about? I’m not sure that sounds so good. So let’s unpack this a bit and see what it says because there are actually two things going on here.
The first one is that Jesus says that God will cut off every branch that does not bear fruit. The reality of Jesus’ day is that this was done in February or March. This was when the farmer when around the vineyard and took the dead branches off the vine. And there were always dead branches to remove. In fact, there were often lots of dead branches. Usually, when the farmer finished this trimming, the vines were significantly cut back.
In the house where I grew up in the Niagara Peninsula, we had quite a few fruit trees in our yard. Every year, when I was old enough, I would help my Dad trim the trees. His definition of a well-trimmed tree was that a crow should be able to fly through the tree and not worry about touching its wings. That, of course, was an exaggeration but you get the idea. You don’t want any dead wood in the trees. All you want are the branches that will bear fruit. Everything else gets trimmed away.
But then there’s the obvious question. Who bears fruit and who’s dead wood? That question comes to mind and I think Jesus intended it to be so. I think that in this verse, he is intentionally making his audience just a tad uncomfortable. They’re thinking, “Where do I stand? Am I bearing fruit for Christ or am I dead wood?” But don’t fret about that too much right now because Jesus answers it a few verses later so hold that thought because we’ll get around to it.
So, the first trimming happened in February or March. The second trimming happened later, usually in about August when the leaves were out on the vine and new shoots were beginning to form. The farmer would trim off a certain percentage of the new shots, leaving the better ones, so that they could get more nutrients with the goal of producing more fruit. This is what Jesus is talking about when he says that the farmer will prune off the branches that do bear fruit so that those branches will bear even more fruit. I also want you to note that the word that is translated as prune actually means trimmed clean. The branches that do bear fruit will be trimmed clean.
Again, I helped my Dad with that too. Let’s take an apple tree for example. On most apple trees, the fruit grows in bunches of three or four. When the buds had come out and the fruit was beginning to grow, we would look at each bunch of buds and cut off one of two of the smaller ones so that the bigger ones would again have more nutrients and more fruit could be produced. We’d get fewer apples but the apples we got would be of better quality than if we didn’t trim the trees.
Now I know that this image is also uncomfortable. Does this mean that if I don’t bear enough fruit, that God is going to trim me away from Jesus? No it doesn’t mean that at all, because Jesus here is not talking about individual Christians. He is talking about the Church as the body of Christ. The focus of this story is the Church and how God wants the church to bear much good fruit. How does God do that? God does it by tending to the Church, just like the gardener trims and prunes and fertilizes and waters the vineyard. He does it so that the vines will bear much fruit. So God cares for the Church so that it will bear much good fruit.
That, in fact, borne out in the very next verse, in John 15:3 (NIV) where Jesus says, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” The “you” in this passage is a plural pronoun. It’s the plural you. Jesus is not talking to an individual. He is talking to everyone in hearing distance. In fact, he’s talking to the whole Church.
He says that you, the Church, are already clean so don’t sweat it. Jesus says, “I am not going to cut you lose. I am not going to trim you away. You have come to me. My word is in you and I will never desert you.” It reminds us of John 6:39 (NIV) which says, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” You are clean because of the word of God that you have accepted and Jesus will never let you go. In fact, he will allow you to thrive. The church has already been trimmed and pruned. There is no dead wood in the Church. It’s all gone. And God has done everything he can so that the living branches of the Church will bear as much fruit as is possible.
This is a wonderful message of hope. This is Jesus telling his followers that God is with them, that God has a purpose for them and that that purpose will be fulfilled. And even more importantly, it tells us that the work of the Church is not all up to us. How often do we get that mixed up? We think that it’s all up to us. We think that we have to get the right programmes and we have to make the right decisions and that we need to work hard for the kingdom. And we do need to do that but, in the midst of our busyness, let’s not forget that we are not doing it by ourselves. God is near and God is here and God’s will will be done. Don’t ever forget that. We might be the branches but Jesus is the vine and our Heavenly Father is the gardener. We are not alone. We live in God’s world.
REMAINING IN JESUS
Jesus completes these thoughts with these words in John 15:4-8 (NIV): “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. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” In these verses Jesus is saying the same thing that he said before except that he takes it one step further. Not only is he saying that Jesus is with us and that are not doing the work of the kingdom alone. He also says that apart from him, we really can’t do anything at all. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing for the kingdom.
That’s a pretty radical statement. Here’s why. It says that there is something essential about our relationship with Jesus. It says that we really can’t do the work of God apart from our relationship with Jesus. In fact, it says that we can’t really even be truly human without being in relationship with Jesus. Being in Christ, therefore, is essential to who we are as human beings.
Why is that? It is because apart from Jesus we simply cannot find our purpose in life. It is he who gives life its true meaning. It is he who gives us purpose. It is only in Christ that we can ever be truly be fulfilled.
One of my mentors in the faith and in ministry is John Wesley. John Wesley lived three hundred years ago but his influence in the Church remains strong. He was raised in solid Christian home, the son of an Anglican priest. And he even trained to become an Anglican priest himself. In 1735, he boarded a sailing ship with his brother Charles enroute to Savannah, Georgia. Upon arrival he became the minister of a newly formed parish. But all was not right. He really wanted to minster to the aboriginal people which was of little interest to the church leaders of his parish. And then he got into trouble by falling in love with a young woman named Sophia Hopkey who was also the daughter of a prominent church leader and he wasn’t overly impressed. Her father quickly married her off to another man perhaps to keep her from marrying Wesley. But things went from bad to worse when John Wesley, because he believed she was lacking in piety, refused to offer her communion which further irritated the parish. He was subsequently run out of town and boarded a ship back to England.
John Wesley was a failure. He returned to England a beaten man, wondering what his future held and failing to find any purpose in life. But along the way he met some simple Christians, Moravians they were called, who were devout in their faith. They noticed something about John Wesley that he didn’t see himself. They saw that while he was the son of minister, and while he had graduated from Oxford University with not only a bachelors but also a masters degree, and while he had been ordained as a priest, he really didn’t know Jesus.
But then on May 24, 1738, while attending a Bible study, John Wesley gave his life to Christ. In what he called “the strange warming of his heart” he received Christ into his life and found the purpose that he had so long been missing. As you may know John Welsey went on to found the Methodist movement. When you leave here today, look on the outside wall of the church from the parking lot and you will discover that this church came from Methodist roots – once being called the Methodist Tabernacle – which means that we have a direct connection to John Wesley and the Methodist movement.
But here’s the point. Until he came to Christ, John Wesley could do nothing for the kingdom. With Christ, John Welsey changed the face of Christianity. That’s how important it is to have a relationship with Jesus.
“I am the vine,” Jesus said, “and you are the branches… 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.” The branch cannot bear fruit apart from the vine because it is the vine that brings nutrients and water from the ground. It is the vine that makes it possible for the branch to produce sprouts in the spring and leave to soak up the sun. It is only because it is attached to the vine that the branch can bear fruit, good fruit, abundant fruit.
finally, why do we do this? It is for the Father’s glory. It is not about us.
It is not about the Church. It is not about our Church Board or our Sunday
School or our Bible studies or our world famous turkey supper or this beautiful
sanctuary where we are privileged to worship every Sunday. Those things are
important yes because God has given them to us too. But in the end, all that we
do must point in one direction and one direction only. That is to Jesus Christ,
God incarnate to whom alone goes the glory and the praise and the honour
forever and ever. Amen.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come before you, this morning, O God of Creation, out of our need. We need your guidance. We need you support. We need your love and your caring. But first and foremost, we need to give thanks.
Thank you for your many and varied blessings. For warmth and sunshine. For clean air and clear water. For nature as it bursts forth around us. We thank you for our communities where we receive our nurturing and support. We thank you for our families which give us a place to belong, security, comfort and discipline.
We give thanks that you nourish us and treasure us and build us as your Church to do your work in the world. We, your humble people, are helpless without you and so we turn to you in all things so that your grace and your glory and your majesty may be known, so that your message of hope and love may fill the earth to lift up the broken hearted, to bring sight to the blind and comfort to the weary. May we, in our limited way be bold to proclaim your word so that we might be lights in the darkness of this world. For you are light and you are love and you are our all in all.
We pray, God of Mercy, for our communities. Our land and our livelihoods are threatened on many fronts. There is the threat of pollution and global warming. We are concerned, also, about the longer term issue of land management and the possible effect of farming practices on the land. We need to continue with our efforts to have sustainable development that our forests would be available for future generations. We pray for solutions that will benefit all people but especially we pray that the interests of Northerners will be made paramount for it is we who will be most greatly effected by future forestry use.
Finally, we pray for the sick. We ask your special blessing upon Helen, John, Sharon, Lyle and David. You, know, O God of Healing, where we all need you the most. Touch us in those deep places and give us peace.
We lift all of these prayers to you in the name of Jesus our Saviour.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
April 29, 2018 / /Easter 5
Psalm 22:25-31; John 15:1-8; Acts 8:26-40; 1 John 4:7-12
CALL TO WORSHIP
The Spirit of God is in this place:
to bring hope to the despairing;
peace to the restless;
comfort to the anxious;
healing for the heart.
Let us worship the one who gives us life.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Holy God, we come to you in worship, thankful for your gracious presence. We remember your word and promises for us, for they are life! They bring us through difficult situations without harm. They teach us your ways, your faithfulness, and your love. They keep us from failure and preserve our lives. We praise you for your truth, coming humbly to worship your name. Help us to better understand and appreciate your love and your word, and appropriate the principles of faith into our everyday lives.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy, your ways are not our ways and your thoughts are not our thoughts. We know that conflict produces weariness and stress, but yielding to the leadership of your Spirit produces peace. There are times when we forget the things of your Spirit. When that weariness sets in, help us to identify and properly deal with the conflict that produced it. Enable us to learn how to yield to your leadership and your Spirit in all ways. We want to live daily with the guidance of your Spirit.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
In a world of sinfulness, there is a beacon of hope. The light of forgiveness has come to us in Jesus Christ. When we confess our sins, God truly does forgive and we are born, once again, into the new life of faith.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
All that we have, all that we are, all that we will ever be belongs to you, O God of all Creation. We give our gifts, our time and our lives into your keeping to be used for your purpose. May the poor be fed and the lame be healed. May the downtrodden be lifted up and the lonely loved for the sake of your Holy Kingdom.
We are followers of
Jesus, people of faith. Our worship has ended. It is time to go out into the
world to attend to the needs of our neighbours. There is someone who needs your care and your love. Go and
share yourself. In doing so, you will make a corner of Creation just a little
bit brighter for someone special this week.