First Mennonite Church
June 18, 2017
Abiding In the True Vine
Text: John 15:1-12
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 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. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Last year, my neighbor asked me, “Pastor, would you like to plant these canes of grapevines?” And she handed me a white coffee mug, three-fourths filled with water and soaked in it were four little sticks about five inches long. There were little roots growing from the sticks in the water. “These are from good table grapevines,” said Mrs. Rojas, as I took the mug. You know, there is a hopeful feeling when you plant something, whether it is a seed, a bulb, or some “sticks.” That night Lilian found watching YouTube videos on how to grow and prune grapevines. Funny thing, the videos I found were not from CA but from Australia. With this I mean, I have no hands-on experience with dressing or pruning grapevines. Of the 4 sticks I planted, 3 survived their first winter. It’s not bad, I guess.
Today we are considering the statement Jesus made about himself of being the true or genuine vine. The immediate description of the Father’s role in Jesus being the true vine and his disciples being the branches might seem a little difficult to understand. Jesus says, “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.” The Father removes every fruitless branch. And these branches are not branches growing off another vine, but those who are in Jesus. How can that be possible? Is it possible to be in Jesus and not bear any fruit? Is it possible to be in Jesus and then being cut off by the Father for being useless to the purpose of the True vine? These questions have been discussed over and over. There are those who believe that once saved, the person is saved forever, no matter what. There are others who say, it is possible to fall away from grace. Both groups take scripture to back up their position. And sure enough, there are scriptural references that can be used to support both arguments. But for now, let us take a look at the context of our passage.
Jesus had just finished eating his Last Supper with his disciples when he said these words. They were heading to Gethsemane, where he knew would be his last time together with his disciples. Judas was no longer with them at that moment. He well could have been in the mind of Jesus when he said that the Father cuts away from him any fruitless branch. As Jesus was walking towards Gethsemane, he began doing a balancing act of telling his disciples of his imminent departure and consoling and assuring them. His departure was not only because of his impending death, but also because of his going to his Father when he were to ascend. He was also assuring his disciples about his continued presence through the Comforter/Advocate. The Advocate, another name for the Holy Spirit, was to come upon Jesus’ departure. The Advocate would be with the disciples to guide them and to remind them of the things Jesus had taught them. Jesus also comforted his disciples by promising to come and take them to be with him forever in the Father’s house. The passage of today is part of a longer but final conversation between Jesus and his disciples prior to his arrest and consequent death. The thrust of this last interaction between Jesus and his disciples was to warn, affirm, and to comfort them.
Jesus used the image of a vine to comfort and commission his disciples. He claimed to be the true vine. This imagery was not foreign to his disciples. Israel was on various occasions in the Old Testament compared to God’s chosen vine planted with the purpose of producing an expect kind of grapes, which did not come true. As indicated by the prophet Isaiah, the handpicked vine, planted by God and given all the necessary care failed to produce sweet grapes. It produced wild grapes, instead. In this regards Jesus’ claim to being the true or genuine vine gives testimony of God renewed initiative for his people. Those who responded to Jesus, those who believed his word and had it remain in them were to fulfill the original purpose of God in choosing Israel as his vineyard. But also by declaring to be the true vine, Jesus revealed what had been the guiding principle of his ministry and the degree of his relationship with the Father. Jesus came from God and his words and deed were according to the Father’s heart. “I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (v. 10). Most importantly, in the context of that critical moment in the lives of the disciples and his impending death, Jesus was revealing the oneness between him and the Father. And Jesus wanted to see that same level of unity between him and his disciples continue despite his coming departure.
How is oneness between branches and vine possible? Verses 4 and 5 explain how: 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.
Let us break this down. Jesus is the true vine. These words to his fearful disciples were heartwarming. Jesus did not say to them, “Abide in me or otherwise . . . .” Instead, he said, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” The meaning of these words become clearer in verse 16, when Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” The disciples’ destiny or fate of hanging around a man whose life had come under Jewish religious anathema and Roman sword was not of their own crafting. They did not come begging Jesus to allow them around him. Instead, the disciples were suddenly interrupted from their routine and radically changed the day a man came by calling each of them by name to follow him. The force of his words and the conviction of his invitation were irresistible. And as the disciples witnessed the glory of God manifested in Jesus, the more they believed in him.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last to eternal life. Our relationship with the Lord although requiring a voluntary response, it is not solely dependent on our capacity to hold on to him. He abides in us. Jesus has attached you to his heart and he gives us the desire to remain in him. Our relationship with the Lord is a gift he empowers us to seek, cherish, and grow into. It is really encouraging to know that the Lord not only offers us his love, but he gives us the capacity to respond to this love. He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses. That is encouraging!
Every tree produces fruit as the branches remain attached to it. There are some kinds of plants that are very hardy and survive if it only falls on moist ground. But that is not the case of grapevine. You have to soak them in water order for it to stay alive. Therefore as branches of the True Vine our capacity to produce fruit is dependent on our remaining attached to the vine. We draw strength, grow in maturity, and remain alive in our spiritual lives when we remain connected to Christ. This idea was reflected in the words of Paul when he wrote to the Galatians: I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20b).
Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Every branch that does not bear fruit, the Father will cut off. But the promise is, every branch that bears fruit the Father will prune in order that it may produce more fruit. This is not a threat, but a promise. The Father is the careful vinedresser. He looks at our lives and sees where fruit is coming. He cleanses us from what is unfruitful. This is a reminder that we are nowhere a finished work. The apostle Paul says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). In today’s world, there are professional life coaches. Life coaches provide people, among other things, guidance on how to deal with personal issues, goals in life, business, and so on. We have God the Father who watches over us so that we may fulfill the purpose of our calling. The ultimate goal of abiding in the true vine is that we love one another. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (v. 9, 12).
It is very enlightening to see what Jesus’ utmost desire for his disciple was. He did not desire for his disciple to not forget his teaching. The Advocate would remind them of that if the remained attached to the vine. Jesus did not desire for his disciple to coincide with everything he did. That is why we have varying accounts of Jesus’ words and deeds of power. Jesus did not desire for his disciples to be guardians of the truth. Jesus was and is the truth. Jesus desired for his disciple to love one another as the utmost testimony of their abiding in Jesus. Love has proven to be the most effective means of giving witness to Jesus. Neither orthodoxy nor the right form of worship, whatever that could be, has ever converted a soul to the Lord. Most people who have been touched by the gospel give witness to having been moved by the selfless and sacrificial love of someone. Fruits of love is what remains forever. Fruits of love are what we must produce.
Let us allow the Vinedresser to cleanse us so that we might bear more fruit of love. Let us open our heart, hand, and home as we give witness of the love of Christ. Let us hear once again the words of Jesus: 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. Let us go abiding in the Lord, abiding in love and loving in his name. Amen.