Stewkley Easter 5 3 May 2015
Gospel John 15: 1 – 8
The vine and the branches
15 ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 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. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 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.
5 ‘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. 6 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. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
The Parable of the Vineyard appears in Mark’s gospel, chapter 12. It’s about violence and greed, as the workers in the vineyard plot against the owner, and end up killing his son.
The Parable of the Vine and Branches appears in John 15. It’s about fruitfulness, intimacy and love. It’s the very last of the so-called I AM parables. I AM the bread of life. I AM the light of the world. I AM the door of the sheepfold. I AM the resurrection and the life. I AM the Good Shepherd.
The message is very different from the Parable of the Vineyard, and is delivered by John the Evangelist in two parts. The first part we read today; the second part of the story comes next Sunday.
From the sound bite ‘I am the Vine, you are the branches’ you may think this parable focuses on our relationship with Jesus, but it actually starts without us.
15 ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener...’
God is the gardener, and Jesus is the Vine. Our own place is unimportant. We are only the branches. We can do nothing of ourselves, and are in truth entirely expendable, as the parable makes clear.
Unlike in Mark, God is not an absentee landlord paying the minimum wage to angry workers, but a loving father who cares for and tends the vine, his Son Jesus Christ. As part of the vine, we through grace receive his love and intimate care, if we remain connected to the vine.
Perhaps if Jesus were telling the story today, he might use the analogy of the internet. One of the most upsetting messages we occasionally see on our screens is “Not Connected.” Often we have no idea why, but the result is always the same. Our computer can do little or nothing unless we can somehow restore the connection.
Jesus’ hearers were not familiar with such things, but they did understand vines. In fact, knowing about viniculture is essential if we are to grasp the messages of this parable.
Regular pruning is necessary for the health of the vine. It’s also important if you want a good yield of grapes. Vines are normally pruned when dormant in winter. The biggest mistake is not to prune hard enough. Heavy pruning produces the greatest quantity of grapes, and even then, many grapes are removed from the trusses to improve the ones that are left.
In Greek, the word for ‘prune’ shares the same root as ‘remove’ — it just has a prefix added to it but why does the word ‘clean’ appear out of the blue in verse 3?
3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
This is a play on words, as the word for clean is also relate to the word for prune. God the grower continues his cleansing work of love. What can seem to be cruel chastisement as the branches are cut back hard is for our own good.
All this is to focus our attention on bearing fruit. The aim of the whole process is that we bear fruit, which might seem daunting and threatening, especially as we know we can be cut away from the vine and discarded if we fail. If you have toured a vineyard, you’ll know how quickly pruned branches wilt after they are cut away.
What does ‘bearing fruit’ actually mean? Does it mean mission and evangelism? A sacrificial life in the love and care we have for others? Giving half our possessions to the poor? Watering your neighbours’ garden whilst they are away?
It’s important because the writer of John’s gospel lays great stress on fruitfulness. The words ‘bear fruit’ occur 6 times in just 8 verses. But if you remember that we, the branches, can do nothing through our own power, and that we are cared for and nurtured by God, and that we remain part of Jesus, perhaps the burden is lifted somewhat.
We have to ‘abide’ in him, remain part of the vine, and be disciples of Christ. The word ‘abide’ is the key. It also appears frequently — 8 times in only 4 verses. Abiding in the vine is to bear fruit — abiding in the love of Christ — connected — that means in relationship with him.
Remaining connected means we are indistinguishable from the vine itself. We act as Jesus would act. A state of being — not just doing what Jesus would do.
There’s a mutual dependence here. The Vine is dependent on the vine owner, who tends and looks after it. The branches are dependent on the vine. We are dependent on Christ, just as he is in a close relationship with the Father.
Fruitfulness follows, but notice the fruit does not belong to us, nor does it come through any merit of our own, nor are we to be commended or thanked for it.
As individuals, discipleship is the fruit, and remaining in the vine assures good quality fruit. As a community — this church — how can we as the body of Christ work together to bear fruit?
Only you can answer either of these questions, which I leave with you this morning. Here’s the promise again:
7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.