“Vine and Branches”
John 15:1-8
Dr. Robert J. Anderson
May 3, 2015

  

“I am the vine and you are the branches… apart from me you can do nothing.”  It is the passage that I’ve used most often as we share together the cup of Communion.

 

The passage reminds us where we get our life, strength, and hope.  The basic image of this passage is one of community and the relational nature of Christian faith.  So, at the very beginning the image challenges our thoughts about the idea that we are sovereign individuals: rugged individualism; pioneer spirit; pull yourself up by your own bootstraps; God helps them that help themselves.  The very idea of community is seen as foreign to our lives.  From this perspective, the church seems to be something that we are a part of separate from the major areas of our lives such as family and work.

 

Jesus’ image teaches a different perspective.  Jesus sees a living, growing community of faith.  It is in the community of faith that one finds productivity and increase.  The vine image shows us that each one of us is a part of the whole and has a part to do.  The part we do is the production of fruit, not for ourselves, but for the whole vine.  Apart from the vine there is no living, no growing, no productivity.

 

What is the fruit we are to bear?  Is it the exercise of love and charity?  Is it a life of good works done in public which cause people, people of faith and non-faith, to glorify God in their own way?  Is it missionary activity?  Is it the care of poor, sick, prisoner, orphan, children, elderly?  Is it working to Christianize society by remaking bad laws or enacting laws to protect people?  Is it… more that can be listed and all of them?

 

What do we know about vineyards and vines?  What can Jesus' image teach us?  Well, let’s see.  The best grapes grow closest to the central vine.  Closest to the central vine is where the highest concentrations of nutrients are found.  So the branches are not allowed to ramble all over the place but pruned to keep them short.  We are pruned to keep us from rambling all over the place and nearest to all of the life-giving nutrients God has for us.  If there are branches that do not bear fruit, they are removed from the vine.

 

If the branches are cut off from the vine, they wither and die.  There is life only when connected to the vine.  Jesus says abide in him the true vine.  The Message Bible puts it this way.  “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.”  Here in this life giving bond is strength and hope.  You often hear the response to someone that is having a hard time “hang in there.”  That isn’t much comfort to someone desperately wondering just how to do that!  Jesus offers more than just "hang in there.”  Hard times will come, but living, abiding, and finding our home in Jesus sustains us and promotes even greater well-being.  Connected to Jesus we can talk of healing, hope, and peace.

 

The word we translate “abiding” carries many meanings: staying in place, enduring, holding out.  Each of these words speaks of steadfastness and reliability.  God’s steadfast and reliable presence to the community of faith is there through all of the pain and suffering that pruning involves, in order that we might have life and have it more abundantly.  When God is doing the maintenance of the vine, we are assured that new life and growth will happen.  We may look half-dead at times and may feel it too, but our connection to the vine assures us that we are alive and not dead.

 

Jesus is the vine and we are the branches apart from him we can do nothing, but connected we can do all things.  Look at this congregation. We are pruned and we bear fruit as we are connected to the vine Jesus Christ.  We are battered and bruised by the ravages of an illness and the treatments, but we are strong for ourselves and for one another because of being connected to the vine.  Our egos are bruised and our dreams dimmed by the loss of a job or the breakup of a relationship, but there is hope and healing in the vine of Jesus.  There are many other marks of the pruning knife, that are painful, but new life comes out of the pruning.

 

Cut off from Jesus we can do nothing.  We are tempted to go it alone.  Society promises the way of salvation and health is to be independent and make something of ourselves.  But, though that is a valid goal, it is also a path to thinking we are self-made people.  Then we slip into thinking that it is all up to us and our own resources to face life and solve the problems in our path.  The hard reality is that this is a dead end path.  What looks like life is a withered branch of death.  The cut-off branch looks fine for a while, but it soon shrivels and dies.

 

Come!  The table is set!  The fruit of the vine is on it, and the bread of life is offered!  Come, let us celebrate our connectedness to the vine; and praise God for his great love!