We’re going to talk about “Jesus the True Vine” which reminds me of vineyards, which reminds me of wine. I found recently some good jokes involving wine which for some reason are called “Dad Jokes about Wine” which I find kind of insulting, as if dads are the only ones who tell bad jokes. As a dad, I know: everyone tells bad jokes – it’s just that dads tell more of them. LOTS more.
Okay, so here we go. Number one: “I’m a wine enthusiast. The more wine I drink, the more enthusiastic I get.” Number two: “I was having wine with my wife when she said, ‘I love you so much. I don’t know how I could ever live without you.’ I replied, ‘Is that you or the wine talking?’ She said, ‘It’s me talking to the wine.’ And number three: “What’s the secret to enjoying a good bottle of wine? Open the bottle to let it breathe. If it looks like it’s not breathing, give it mouth to mouth.”
Okay, enough of that! But let’s remember what God said about the land that the Israelites were about to enter. God boasted that it was “a good land…a land of wheat and barley, of VINES and fig trees.” The vines produced wine – and wine was, for much of human history, a much healthier drink that water, which can easily be tainted. Also remember that one of the most common images for Israel in the Old Testament and in Christ’s parables is “Israel as Vineyard.” Often in the Old Testament prophets were sent by God to tell the Israelites that they and especially their leaders were not following God’s ways and therefore were not producing the fruit of God’s will. That is the background for what Jesus proclaims in John 15, our Gospel today. Jesus is making the claim that the He and the Father are a better vine and vinedresser than the religious leaders of Israel, partly because of the great care God wants to give us through His Son.
So in verse one of John, chapter fifteen, Jesus exclaims to the disciples on the last night of His earthly life, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinegrower.” The next sentence in our reading tonight should be changed; there is a better translation from the Greek; Jesus is not “removing” branches that bear no fruit; Jesus is saying that God “lifts up (lifts up from the ground) every branch that bears no fruit,” like any good cultivator of vines. In other words, God in Christ is constantly at work pruning each of us – constantly encouraging us and showing us how we can be better disciples and better servants to others. Jesus then says, “Every branch (that’s you and me) that bears fruit God prunes to make it bear more fruit.” Now our FLESH may not like that kind of divine discipline from God – our flesh may not like it that there are daily pruning challenges from God to love people better this way or do more that way; but our SPIRIT – connected as it is to God’s Spirit inside of us – sees this whole process differently. If we consult our spirit in this daily discipleship process, we will see with joy that over time we are becoming more sensitive, caring, and effective branches on the Vine of Christ; that we produce more fruit – more love for others. It’s amazing, such a joyful thing to see! As Jesus states here, “I have said these things to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy be complete.”
Jesus also makes it clear in John 15 that, as the Vine, He takes care of each of us, for we are His branches – a direct connection like the connection between the main vine and its branches on a vine in a vineyard. As a vine sends nutrients directly to its branches to keep them alive, so Jesus proclaims that in our trust in Him we are already saved; He says He already “abides in” us. Jesus also tells us that as baptized children we “have already been cleansed by the word that” He “has spoken to” us. That is why when Peter, just minutes earlier, reacted to Jesus wanting to wash His feet by exclaiming, “Lord (wash) not my feet only but also my hands and my head” Jesus replied, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but (that disciple) is entirely clean.” Christ said that to explain how baptism works in our lives. So in baptism Jesus says to us, officially, “You are mine; I claim you; I save you; you are saved.” It’s a done deal. As Christ proclaims in today’s Gospel, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.”
It is amazing to be part of The Vine! To celebrate, remember the first verse of “Jesus loves me.” “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.”
Now always remember that Jesus is talking about us bearing fruit from His Vine. Whenever you see the word “fruit” mentioned, it is something that SOUNDS like any old good work but is really different in one very important way. “Good works” are just our IDEAS of good works, whereas “fruit” are the REALLY GOOD deeds – deeds that always originate with God – good deeds which then flow through us to others. Jesus underlines that major point to us when He proclaims, “Abide in Me as I (already) abide in you. Just as the branch CANNOT bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you (bear fruit) unless you abide in Me…(for) apart from Me,” Jesus warns, “you can do NOTHING.” Wow. “Nothing.”
To connect what Jesus is saying here to Paul, the fruit of the Spirit that Paul famously discusses in Galatians 5:22-23 are only those good works and good attitudes inspired by the Spirit of Jesus – good works we could NEVER have figured out on our own. We can NEVER know how to “love one another as” Jesus has so incredibly “loved” us unless we maximize our connection to Jesus, our “Mainline Vine.” We maximize our Vine Connection by keeping our prayer antenna up continuously for Christ to speak to us in the Spirit. Please remember how crucial that is: Jesus is telling us today that without this Vine Connection our own efforts at doing good just don’t work. As we have prayed that famous prayer and will pray throughout the Lenten season: “O God, from whom come all holy desires, all good counsels and all just works.”
Now the great thing about our Vine Connection to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is that our prayer-oriented and worship-oriented connection has become so intimate with God that Jesus tells us we are no longer just servants but now “friends” of Christ! Wow! And why are we friends? It’s that special, intimate connection again: “I do not call you servants any longer,” Jesus tells us, “because the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends because I HAVE MADE KNOWN TO YOU EVERYTHING THAT I HAVE HEARD FROM MY FATHER.” That means with our Vine Connection we can “tap into” the running conversation going on between the Father and the Son, and apply that conversation to our lives, and bear more fruit for God and our neighbors. We will be able to love not just as much as WE can, but as much as JESUS can! After all, Christ that night went from proclaiming “love your neighbor as yourself” to proclaiming even more: “Love others as I have loved you” – a straight-from-God kind of love!
Plus, Christ tells us today that we can ask for anything “in Christ.” Now it is not asking “in Christ” if we ask for something selfishly, like asking for a million bucks. It is honoring God by asking, Jesus tells us, this way: “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask Him IN MY NAME.”
Well, my friends, we’ve been appointed. We’ve been appointed by our Savior to deny ourselves, take up our cross, bear fruit that will last, and love as Jesus loves us. We cannot and will not ever be able to do such things on our own – so don’t worry and feel guilty about what you have or haven’t done on your own in the past. Let’s just put on the mantle of hope in the future because we more and more realize that we have a connection so precious, a connection so amazing, a connection so wonderful, that we can utilize in our lives every day – the Vine Connection. It’s our connection to the one, the only – our Lord Jesus – the True Vine. Amen!
Go to kogcarmel.org and find King of Glory’s Sunday worship services as well – live at 10 am every Sunday. Archived worship services and boosts may be found at the bottom of King of Glory’s home page.