Living and Residing in the Vine

 This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, April 28 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was John 15:1-8. 

Have you ever been so hungry that you felt like you were about to faint? You are at a friend's house, and you see that on the table in front of you is an inviting, delectable-looking bowl of fruit. It must be there to be eaten. You grab one of your very favorite fruits--your mouth is watering, you can almost taste it-----and then, much to your disappointment, you discover that it is a piece of wax fruit, the fruit is fake. It may look good, but it is phony.

We are a church that loves to eat, aren't we? We love our fellowship time with coffee, tea and all kinds of goodies. And today, we have pancakes! Thank you, Mike, and To all your helpers as well.  Food is something we know a lot about. This passage from John's gospel is not some hard to figure out parable. Vines and grapes and branches were very familiar to the disciples, just as they are to us. It was and still is a common Jewish metaphor.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant.” How does this apply to us? Our society is not a communal one, like that of the Holy Land. We have a problem. Our culture prides itself on being independent, being able to do things on our own, and not needing anyone else's help. We focus on personal achievement and success.

What is the fruit God is looking for? There are different ideas about what the symbol of fruit is referring to. Some scholars believe it is that of bearing witness to Jesus, the fruit of evangelism. Other scholars believe the fruit is the ethical virtues characteristic of the Christian life. Fruit symbolizes what is at the very heart of both Christian witness and ethics--union with God. 

We easily become frustrated when we feel so inadequate. We always want to help people who need it, but it's hard for us to ask for help. However, in the Christian life, being inadequate is a good thing. God calls us. God is the vine grower, Jesus the vine and we are the branches. We cannot live faithfully on our own. Jesus said, “When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing” a (v. 5). If we look closely at a healthy grapevine, can we tell where one branch begins and one ends? They are so intertwined with each other that you can barely see the vine. In one sense, though, if you see the healthy branches, you see the vine as they display the vine's life.

Isn't that how our life in Christ is supposed to be? We are to live lives of community together, not in isolation. We should be able to turn to our Christian family when we have a problem. When people see us, they should see Jesus because his life is in us and is lived out through us. Christ's life in us and through us touches the lives of others.

We see it in very practical ways—feeding hungry children, clothing and educating children in Honduras and elsewhere. 

Without a relationship of connectedness to Christ, the vine, the church is: powerless (vv. 4-5), wordless (vv. 3, 7), prayerless (v. 7), fruitless (vv. 2-8) and hopeless (vv. 2, 6).

In fact, one may question if an organization calling itself a church, actually is one, if the characteristics it displays are prayerlessness, fruitlessness etc. It might as well be a club. The mark of a faithful Christian community, is how it loves, not who its members are.

Making ourselves at home with Jesus and his words (v. 7) includes being in union with him, sharing his thoughts, emotions and power. For a relationship to work, both parties must be engaged. God has already taken the initiative and provides the means and the ability for us to be united with him.

How then are we responding to God's overtures? An intimate relationship between Jesus and his disciples was not for a community that just wanted business as usual, to rest and take it easy. This is also for a community, like the one here at St. Timothy’s, engaged in service to God and our neighbors.

Jesus' words, “Live in me” is more than good advice, more than an invitation. It is a promise that no matter what, Jesus will hold onto us. Amen.

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