Today’s reading from John 15 continues our exploration of the 7 “I AM” sayings of Jesus. This week, I AM the true vine – Jesus uses this metaphor twice in these few verses, and each time he offers a different teaching. Another phrase used repeatedly is “abide in.” As Brenda reads, count how many times you hear “abide in.” This is the good news of Jesus.
1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
And then Jesus says again:
5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
It’s all about connectivity. A few weeks ago, I rushed into my office here at the church early on a Tuesday morning with so much to do, but clear plan to get it done. I fired up my computer and was anxious to get started, when I realized that the little icon in the bottom right-hand corner of my computer screen, that symbol with two little blue monitors, which shows my computer’s connectivity to the internet, had a red circle with a diagonal line through it. Now if you rely on your computer’s connectivity to the internet, which many of you do, I know, then you know exactly how I felt. I was crushed. How dare this happen to me on the one morning I needed access the most. And if you’re not as computer network dependent as so many of us are, then perhaps you’re the lucky ones. Maybe they’ll even write a 21st Century beatitude about you … “blessed are you who are not internet dependent, for you shall never be disappointed.”
You see the problem was, without connectivity I couldn’t receive or send emails, I couldn’t research the internet to prepare for that week’s bible studies or worship service, and I couldn’t even access Dropbox where our church staff shares documents we work on together, like the bulletin you’re reading and Life & Work you’re looking at. None of it was available to me. So what did I do, I wasted over an hour trying to diagnose the problem … clicking here and there on my computer, reading the dropdown help boxes, switching computers and modums on and off, cursing and carrying on like it was the end of the world, until finally in frustration, I retreated to Tim Horton’s up the street for a coffee, where I could log on to their WiFi and get connected. So much for that clear plan to get it all done … and as I sat there I realized as little as 10 years ago, I didn’t even know that the word “connectivity” existed. But believe me, I do now … and it’s all about “connectivity.”
When Jesus compares himself to a grapevine with many branches, when he suggests that in order to produce grapes (which is the sole purpose of the vine and the branches), when in 7 verses of scripture he repeats the word “abide” (how many times?) … that’s right 11 times in 7 verses, my guess is Jesus would say, “it’s all about “abiding.” Because unless we abide we simply can’t get it all done.
Twice in these 10 verses Jesus promises, I AM the vine; and each time he uses the metaphor he offers a slightly different teaching. If you’re following along in your bible I’d like to begin with the second teaching from verse 5 to 7. Here Jesus not only claims that he is the vine, but also states clearly that you are the branches. But in addition, he implies something about “abiding” that stretches the metaphor beyond its natural meaning. It’s subtle but compelling to me.
In the first teaching, which we’ll get to in a second, Jesus points to the obvious – the inevitability of the branches’ connection to the vine – oh sure, branches may be pruned or even cut out by the vinegrower, but there’s nothing the branch actually does to be connected, it’s just the nature of vines and branches – they’re connected. But in this second teaching there seems to be the suggestion that branches have a choice. Verse 6 – “Whoever does not abide in me – such branches wither, are gathered, thrown in the fire, and burned.” It feels to me like if you choose not to abide in the vine you eventually lose God’s life-giving sap and dry up. Verse 7 – But “if you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever and it will be done.” Could Jesus be encouraging? ‘Choose to be connected, and be amazed at what is possible!’
This is what I’ve seen, most of us can feel disconnected every now and then from this sacred source of life and purpose, and it happens for lots of different reasons – sometimes by pure selfishness (I want to have it my way); sometimes by life’s circumstance (a tragedy, an illness, being hurt by someone); and sometimes for reasons unknown (just that general drifting away from vine). However and whenever we find ourselves not abiding in the vine, I hear Jesus offering us a choice: “you don’t have to feel separated and withered (Jesus whispers) … you can choose to re-connect … and when you do, be ready to be amazed by who else you are connected to and what is possible together. I suspect that’s what most of us are doing here.
Which makes me think of Jesus’ first illustration. “I AM the true vine,” he says, “and God is the vinegrower … who cuts out non-productive branches and even prunes productive branches so they’ll produce more. Too often the church jumps to the conclusion that this refers to God’s ruthless judgment on the sinners among us, and somehow we get to determine who those sinners are, cutting them off like dead wood. But I’m more inclined to see this as a more gracious, careful tending of a beloved vine. Gardeners among us know how important a task it is to keep our plants well trimmed so they remain vital and productive. The big question is, of course, how willing am I to have the unproductive parts of my life trimmed by the grace of God? How willing are you? Let’s be honest, it’s much easier to contemplate our spiritual growth as simply adding on and on and on to what is already there, because most of us are simply are not comfortable with the idea of removing any of the wild clutter we have accumulated. Just imagine what a little spiritual space at the hand of a gracious gardener might offer?
Which leads us finally to the purpose of every well-trimmed branch like you and me … bearing fruit. If I’d asked you to count the number of times this phrase is spoken in 7 verses here, you would have heard it 6 times – that’s how important it is. But what is this fruit? Jesus gives us a simple guideline – everything that is shared with God’s love … every act of kindness, compassion and gratitude … every expression of generosity, justice and charity … every gesture of open mindedness, tender heartedness and abundant goodness – everything that can be done to share God’s love, that’s the fruit we are growing on our branches. And it continues to ripen because of this sacred connectivity we are discovering and sharing here in this portion of Christ’s vine that is Orleans United Church. Here with each other we will be amazed by the many possibilities we share and encourage together.
It’s all about connectivity and getting it done together with Christ the vine.
And even if you can’t believe me on this, believe Jesus, “God is glorified by this.”
Orleans United Church