Fifth Sunday after Easter April 29th

  • “I am the true vine”

    John 15:1-8. Can’t bear fruit by ourselves! 10/5/09“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, and I will 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 a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. {6} If anyone does not remain in me, he is 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 given you. {8} This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.20180311_103505 (1)Today I have brought along a branch off of our grape vine at the manse. It is a branch that I cut from the vine this morning: part of a vine that I am sure has produced good fruit. Now at the moment this branch looks alive and well. Well, as good as can be expected at this time of the year: but in reality, now that it has been cut from the vine, it is good for nothing. It is dead – fit only for burning or mulching into compost. There is no way that I can leave it out in front of our church and think that next summer we will get fruit from it. Now that this branch is off the vine, it is dead – fit only for burning. There only one way that this branch could produce fruit next season and that is if it were still connected to the vine. By itself now, it can do nothing but die. We know that don’t we; this branch is now useless. It would only have survived if it remained in connection to vine.Now our Lord Jesus Christ wants us to learn an important lesson from this illustration. Jesus is saying that the same principle applies to our lives as Christians as it does to this branch. Now if that is case then we had better do a lot of serious thinking. Have you taken note of the attendance figures of this congregation over recent years and related to that the number of members that we have on our books? Have you thought about how many times you yourself have missed church in that same period of time? Now sure, attendance every week does not necessarily mean that we are Christian, just as missing the odd Sunday mean that we are not a Christian. But it is indicator that we need to do some serious thinking as individuals and as a congregation, in light of these words from Jesus.

    The main word in this reading is remain; or abide – 8 times in this short reading. So, here Jesus is trying to make a very important point. He says there is a close connection between remaining and bearing fruit: that is, having peace, hope, love, joy and more. Jesus is trying to really impress on us the importance of our remaining connected to him, if we want to live and be happy and fruitful. He says, apart from him – if we think we can live without him, ignoring him much of the time – we in reality do nothing but die. To remain means to dwell; to be present with continually; to not wander away or have broken contact with. This is what Jesus here encourages us to do in relation to him: Particularly if we want to live and bear fruit in our lives. This illustration of the branches and the vine makes the point so well for us.

    So who are we to think that we can have only occasional contact with our Lord and still be strong and healthy – happy and content? Surely, we cannot expect to only have little connection to our Lord in worship but still be able to bear the fruit in our lives that we, and God, would want? Who are we trying to kid? It seems that we often have this idea that as long as we say that we believe, then that all that matters: then everything should be rosy for us; and everything should fall into place for us. After all, we think we are baptised and so are a part of God’s family, therefore everything is well. Now as long as we keep some contact; some faith; we will be right. Well think again!

    Look, what happens to a branch that is broken, even if it is still connected; is it possible for it to be as healthy as if it was completely connected? The greater the break, the worse off the branch would be. What happens to a branch that is only just hanging by a little bit bark and not much more? It barely gets enough sap stay alive, far less grow and bear fruit. On top of that, it is in far greater danger of being broken off completely. Yet many us seem to think that as long as we have a small connection with our Lord and his Church, we’ll be right. Who are we trying to kid? Ourselves it would seem.

    If it were you or I that were caring for that vineyard, we would cut that branch off completely and burn it. We would get rid of it because it is of no value, but is simply using up valuable resources. However, not our Lord, he still sees great potential in us; he still sees the possibility of much fruit. So he prunes the branch: perhaps he might even have to prune it very heavily, for its own good; so that it can live and produce: So that we can still live and produce the fruit that he seeks from us.

    Now sure, we do not like the troubles and pains that come our way, and we often blame God when things go wrong. But the broken branch has an important message for us. If we are not pruned, there will not be enough sap and nutrients to keep us from withering, and we may not even survive, far less produce any fruit. If we are not pruned, when the storms of life come, we will soon be torn away from the vine and die. But if we are cut back, we will be able to withstand the forces that come to bear against us. And with time, the Lord can even strengthen that broken wound and even enable us to bear the fruit that is so important.

    But now back to the main point: the importance of our remaining connected to the vine – our Lord Jesus Christ. Why is this branch dead, even though it still looks green? It has severed all connections with the vine. It cannot get the sap and nutrients that it needs to stay alive. Even though at the moment it does not look too bad, it is in reality dead. Because it is no longer connected to that which gives it its life and vitality, it is dead. There is no way that it can get what it needs for itself to be able to survive, so it will wither and die, even though it looks alive at the moment.

    The point here being, that we need a good supply of sap in order to be happy, healthy and fruitful; and that we cannot get by and for ourselves. This only comes from our remaining in the Lord Jesus Christ. Those nutrients that we need come to us in the form of God’s Word and the Sacraments. They are the key ingredients for us as Christians and we need a constant supply of this for our well-being. That is why regular attendance at worship is so important: That is why Bible Study and home devotions are essential. There we get what we need to give us the strength and vitality that is necessary for our survival as Christians: There we are given what is needed for us to find love, joy, peace and all the rest for our lives. There in the Word and Sacraments we find the love and forgiveness that we need, extended to us by our Lord. And only then are we truly able to love and forgive – bear the fruit that is an essential part of our Christians life.

    That all comes as we remain connected to our Lord Jesus. As we hear, and are extended, God’s love and forgiveness, we come to know that without him we are nothing; that we are dead. But primarily that Jesus Christ alone is the source and only means of survival and happiness. It is there as we regularly attend worship that we are fed with his Word and his Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper and receive the nutrients that we need to stay alive and healthy as Christians. There we are enabled to go out and produce the fruit that our Lord seeks from each of our lives.

    Yes, there are many who might look green and healthy at the moment, but do they see Jesus as their life giver – every day? Do they see the importance of remaining in Jesus – knowing that in him alone they have life? Do they believe that it is the Word and Sacraments that are the important means that our Lord uses to feed us and keep us alive and healthy? To ignore him and what he has to give us, and to think that don’t need him is disastrous: It is to cut ourselves off from all the goodness that our Lord has to give to us; and that can lead to only one ultimate end – to be burnt in the fires of hell.

    But on the other hand, in living in that constant relationship of love, trust and friendship with the Lord Jesus means life and fruitfulness – it means stability, strength, peace and hope. Above all, it brings great glory to our God who is the source and being of everything that is good within us.

    Here then is an important message for us to consider now and in the days ahead; and this I ask you to not take lightly. Look prayfully to this illustration of the vine and its branches and see what Jesus wants us to always keep in mind. As we remain in him may we produce that fruit that is so good and necessary. In so doing, may all glory go to our Lord Jesus Christ who is our source of life and vitality. For to him alone belongs all glory and honour, now and always. AMEN.
    Pastor Roger Atze

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