Greeting: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Text: 1) “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.”
Introduction: The gardening and growing season is definitely here. Lawn mowers are running. Lawn and garden centers are bustling. Gardeners are moving into action. It is an excellent time for us to hear Jesus’ words about the Vine and the branches. In this powerful image from John 15, our risen Savior talks about His plans for our life and growth and blessing. He is the Vine who wants us to enjoy all His can provide. Let’s listen carefully as He invites and encourages us to be healthy, strong and flourishing as “His Living Branch.”
1. Attached To The Vine
It is an elementary and obvious truth that for a branch to live and prosper, it must be attached to a strong and healthy vine. For us Jesus is that Vine. He is foundation of life for the branches, the root and source of their nourishment and development. Jesus calls Himself the “alethes” or true Vine. He is the one, genuine, living stock that can give the blessed life to those connected to Him. The branches sprout and grow out of the Vine. So we receive our life because of Jesus. Through His Word working in Baptism, the Spirit has worked saving faith in us. We have become living branches, attached to the Savior.
Now, Jesus urges us to stay closely and correctly attached to Him. 8 times in these verses, Jesus says “meinate”, that is, “always remain” in Me. He calls us to continue to trust in Him and draw strength from Him as grape branches do from the vine. He warns us against thinking that we don’t need Him or that we can do without Him. Apart from Jesus, we can have no life and we can do nothing. That’s why it is so important for us to continue to hear, study and believe God’s Word. The Word continues to fuel our faith so we stay attached to Jesus. It is also why it is so important that we receive Communion on a regular basis. The powerful, life-giving Gospel in the Lord’s Supper works continued and deepened faith in Christ and keeps us close to Him. One of the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer express that blessing of allowing us to remain in believing union with Jesus. It goes like this: “Grant, gracious Lord, that we of the flesh of Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, and to drink His blood, so that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His body and our souls be washed through His most precious blood. And grant also that we may evermore remain in Him and He remain in us.”
Be a living branch – attached by faith to Jesus, the Vine.
2. Pruned By The Gardener
As Jesus describes the experience of the living branches, He goes on to announce that they also undergo a repeated pruning or cleansing by the gardener in charge of the vineyard. That gardener is no other than God the Father. Jesus says: “My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it may be even more fruitful.” The gardener is a very important person when it comes to the health and welfare of the vineyard. Grape vines need a lot of care and attention so that can develop and produce as they should. Jesus describes God the Father at a very attentive and skillful gardener. He watches over the vine and branches so carefully. He knows His work and what He wants to develop.
In reading a bit about the care of grape vines, I learned that both the vine and individual branches require much careful work. In the first few years, the vine has to be shaped and groomed so that it is ready to produce well. Once the vine is shaped properly, the branches received regular attention so that they can produce large bunches of juicy grapes. To do his work, the gardener has a variety of tools to do his job. He has special seasons for doing the pruning or cleansing of the branches. Often the time to do this is from the end of February through the month of April. A typical grape branch will have 200-300 buds on it, but it must only have 60 for best production. So the gardener must carefully cut away 70-80% of the buds from each branch. Removing 140-240 buds per branch is a lot of pruning.
So God, like a careful, dedicated gardener, inspects our lives. He looks for a response to the nourishment that Jesus, the vine has provided. God looks for faith and trust in His Word. He looks for a thankful, grateful spirit. He looks for wholesome, personal qualities, for obedience to His will and for committed effort to do the good and right things He desires. If God finds that a person is expressing signs of faith and spiritual life, He will prune. He will use His Word to instruct, to warn, to rebuke the wrong and to call to contrition and to invite to enjoy forgiveness. He will also use other things to prune or cleanse. He may use problems and disappointments, troubles and struggles to cut away pride and arrogance, rebellion and disobedience, selfishness and defiance. He will also use the Word and life circumstances to foster faith and faithfulness, humility and loyalty, obedience and discipline, kindness and helpfulness. The pruning process involves nipping and pinching and cutting away, but it has an important purpose and provides for the blessed outcome of a more fruitful life.
Jesus warns that the gardener also has the task of removing those branches that have died out. He is referring to those who have refused and withdrawn from Him, to those who have stopped believing and responding to His nourishing Word. It is a strong picture of warning for our sinful natures. God the gardener is a nurturer, but He is also a judge. He cuts off the dead wood and removes it for burning. May Christ spare us from this outcome and keep us as living branches who are not severed, but are carefully pruned by the gardener.
3. Bearing Much Fruit
A living branch is closely attached to the Vine and carefully pruned by the gardener so that it can accomplish its great purpose of bearing much fruit. Jesus mentions that purpose four times in the text. Grape branches are meant to bear fruit, to bear good fruit, to bear much good fruit. The fruit that Christ’s branches produce are the indications of their faith in Jesus, the expressions of the relationship they have with God and the evidences of their love for God and others. This fruit will be produced by those who are truly connected in faith to Jesus, the Vine, and who are properly cleansed by the Father and His Word. These branches can be and do what they were meant to be and do.
Living, fruit-bearing branches show the life and power that God has given them. They show it in the godly qualities the Holy Spirit produces, the fruit of the Spirit we are told about in Galatians 5 – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. They show it in the good works they produce, the words and actions that flow from faith in Christ according to His Word to serve God and those around them. They include such things as: sharing with those in need, serving others, telling others about the Savior and His goodness, setting the good example, forsaking revenge and granting forgiveness, encouraging and comforting others, being eager and willing to support God’s work.
God has worked to give us this life and to make us fruitful. He plans to continue to work with us so that we can be even more fruitful in the future. All of us have untapped potential. None of us are to old to be fruitful. Our Savior intends that we bear more and even better fruit in the days and years to come. With His continued loving investment in our lives, we not only can bear more fruit. We most certainly will.
Later this year, you may take a trip to