Grace and peace to you, Dear Church,
from God and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Can you name a few fruits that grow on a vine?
Here’s some of my favorites:
Grapes, Kiwi,Tomatoes ,Cantaloupe ,Dragon Fruit
Watermelon, Raspberries, Blueberries, Cucumbers
(Yes, they are a fruit. Yes, it’s best to drink them.)
Now, I’m not known for my green thumb. But I’m fairly certain that none of these fruits could grow without their connection to the vine. I’m also fairly certain that none of these fruits can be sustained, nourished, or harvested without the help of the vine grower, or as we commonly say, the gardener.
Our scripture today, from the gospel of John, is part of Jesus’ farewell to his disciples. Jesus spoke these words to them, in the Upper Room, during the last supper. These words are also part of the many “I am” statements, or metaphors, Jesus makes in the gospel of John. All of these metaphors speak to the power and divinity of Jesus. This metaphor tells us about Jesus and about God. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.”
In using the image of the vine and the vine grower Jesus uses imagery that his disciples would understand, imagery they had heard before, imagery that would give them comfort. The Old Testament uses the imagery of the vineyard for the people of Israel, and the imagery of the vine grower for God. The Old Testament uses this imagery to explain the relationship God has with God’s people. Here, Jesus uses this imagery to explain God’s relationship with Jesus and Jesus’ relationship with his followers, the disciples. In these relationships, all abide together.
In this reading, from the gospel of John, Jesus says the same thing, over and over again. Maybe he was trying to get the disciples to understand. Maybe he was trying to get them to do more than that. Maybe Jesus was trying to get the disciples to feel this relationship of mutual abiding, abiding love, and abiding grace.
The relationship we, the disciples of Jesus, the church, have with Jesus is one of abiding dependence. What does it mean to depend on the divine vine for nourishment and growth? First and foremost it means that we are alway connected. It also means that we will be pruned from time to time for our own sake and for the sake of others.
Verse six, of this scripture reading, is often used as words of judgement and exclusion,
“Whoever does not abide in me
is thrown away like a branch and withers;
such branches are gathered,
thrown into the fire,
This pruning and burning is an ancient metaphor for cleansing. Just after saying this, on the same evening, Jesus washed the disciples feet, an act of love, mission, and cleansing.
Church, my question for you, this day, is this: Would you like to be a church that grows wild with the fruits of hate or would you like to be a church that grows wild with the fruits of love?
We are in need of some serious pruning, for our own sake and for the sake of others. We are in need of pruning because we cannot follow Jesus on our own terms, no matter how hard we try, nor can we bear good fruit on our own terms. The temptations of the world tangle our branches and stunt the growth of our fruit. The evils of the world threaten to separate us from Jesus, from one another, and from our mission together, to bear good fruit. That’s why it is vital for us, the church, to nurture our relationships with God and with one another. The nurturing of relationships is the only way to produce good fruit. We can be branches that grow wild with the rotten fruits of hate or we can be branches that grow wild with the sweet fruits of love.
Church, the love and grace of God lives in each one of us. That love nourishes us and that grace sustains us. Together they prune us from the inside out, beginning with the cleansing of our hearts.
It’s time for you, people of God, to grow wild with the fruits of grace and love. It’s time for you to overwhelm this community with good fruit, good fruit that will sustain and nourish, good fruit, made possible by the transforming power of Jesus Christ, the true vine.