The Branch and the Unblemished Fruit- Easter 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… You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.  [John 15:5,16]

Eventually, unless Jesus returns before then, everyone of us will die.  When your time comes, what would you like to be remembered for?   As you look over your life, as you look at the things that make up your total life, what will you be remembered for?  Finally, what will God remember you for?

Jesus strikes a chord in us: Everyone of us wants to feel that, when all has been said and done, that our life was meaningful – it was worthwhile that you and I were here at all.  We want to have mattered in the great drama of life.

It is rough in the world we live in.  More and more we seem to be an insignificant cog in the great machinery of life; there is nothing for us to uniquely contribute, and we are told how easily we can be replaced should we not measure up in some vague way.  Scientists with their theories of evolution strenuously insist that we don’t matter – one day the universe will go dead, or it will start all over again, and there will be nothing to even have suggested that we once were here, and nothing that would even care that we had existed.  In the world of business, in the world of science, in the world of politics, over and over the message is that we do not matter.

That is what Jesus is touching on here in John 15.  Countering all the messages that we receive from all around us, He is saying that we matter a great deal.  Not only can we bear “much fruit” – but more, in verse 16, He declares that it will be fruit that will not spoil, it will be fruit that has the ring of eternity to it.  That’s sounds great.  That is just what we want to hear.  But how can this be?

For starters, we have to begin with Jesus. One article on this passage emphasized that Jesus never says He is a post, but a vine – there’s quite a difference between the two.  A post may be big and worthwhile in many ways: it can be used for fences; used to bring a power line and a telephone line to the house, and used for other important and valuable applications.  But it is dead and slowly it will rot away.

Jesus, however, says that He is a Vine – a vine is alive, it is growing, spreading out, bearing fruit, giving shelter, giving joy.  The vine is a symbol of abundant, joyous life in art and poetry.  It has roots that reach into the soil, drawing up and distributing the things that make for life.  And the Vine, this Jesus, is especially cared for by the Father – not as one among many, but rather as the only Center that gives every branch its life.

There is something important in the image that Jesus uses, notice that He talks about branches here, never seeds. He does not suggest that we are like seeds, if only we would follow his lead, as if He were referring to Himself as some model upon which other plants would pattern themselves.  Neither is He planting a seed in us as if we have the resources in us and all we need is just the proper encouragement.  Our human nature wants it to be like that, that all we need is to be pointed in the right direction, give us a little start and we will take it from there.  But instead, Jesus is saying that unless we are connected to Him in a very intimate way, we will have no life at all.

And it must be an intimate connection!  I can show a branch all kinds of pictures of a vine doing quite well; I can stick it into the ground in front of a flourishing vine to help encourage it along; I can tie it right onto the main stem of the vine – and it will simply, merely shrivel up and die.  It is only when the branch is grafted into the stem, then will it live.  It has to be that way, not just for its survival, but also if it is going to matter at all, if it is going to bear fruit at all and if that fruit is going to have any real value.  No, Jesus is not meant to be our model, He is not meant to show us how – He is the Source that gives life, that gives fruit its foundations, and makes it valuable all the way into eternity.  It must be that we are grafted into Him.

To be grafted into Him means that Jesus has to be cut, His Life has to flow.  He is cut, on the Cross, and His Blood does flow and now it surrounds us.  Without this Lifeblood of the Vine, we will simply shrivel up and spiritually die.  Here is where He must pour His righteousness into and through us.  Being grafted in means that we can count Him as our necessary Source of Life, that all which He has done and is still doing does indeed make us live.

However, being attached doesn’t mean that we automatically are green and flourishing either!  Have we not come across branches still connected to the main stem and yet are dried up and withered?  What makes the difference about bearing fruit is that the Lifeblood of the Vine must be kept flowing through the branch.  Therefore the Vinekeeper has to keep checking to see if anything is thwarting that flow to that branch.  Are the passages open and available, is the branch where the Lifeblood is flowing?  Has it lost the connectedness and is drying up?  Are there little sucker growths that are robbing the branch of what could make it thrive?

But how does one keep the pipelines of the Vine’s – Jesus’ – Lifeblood flowing?  One way is through His Word, the Bible; another is His Holy Sacraments; still another is the sharing of faith and love and worship that goes on within the Body of Christ, the Church; another is when we spend time in prayer with our Lord and Savior; another is when we take hold of His promises and watch them at work in our daily life.
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Ah, yes, we are indeed right here in church among the People of God, where the Word is preached and the Sacraments stand available to us.  Indeed, the connectedness is here, the passages for the flow of Lifeblood are open and being used.  Obviously we are on the right track.  But, hey, what’s this??  Jesus is talking about pruning!!  If everything else is working all right, then why do we need pruning!!

We would rather glide past these words, but we cannot – this is a most necessary stop if we are to go beyond just existing in the Vine and move onward to the bearing of fruit.  Jesus indicates that PAIN is involved in being a branch, deliberate pain – necessary pain.  Well, we suppose so … but, then, what kind of pain?  Opening the Bible, we discover even Jesus Himself experienced the pain of frustration, of weakness, of inability, of being victim.  Throughout the history of Israel, how often a failure and defeat are an essential stop on the way to victory!

In other words, we need failures?  We need to experience weakness and inability?  When we botch something, or we cannot do it, this is on the road to “bearing fruit”, the “fruit that lasts”?  That’s not the picture that we like to have about the victorious Christian life!  The sharp edge of the Father’s pruning knife is not an appealing thought!

But once the panic passes, once the pain subsides, then, yes, we do realize that such things in fact do strengthen our faith, and they do force us into a better road that we should travel, and they do take away the excuses and props that we use.  Our world is presently so infected with sin and its destructiveness that the Vinedresser must deal with all the things that keep sapping our life – and they do sap our life, attempting to turn our lives into merely self-absorbed existences and empty grasps at survival.  Yes, the pruning knife does help, although realistically we probably will never quite stop moaning and complaining about it.

One thing that Jesus emphasizes for a great deal of comfort to us, is that since we are grafted into Him, then we are already clean through the Word He has spoken to us.  Being grafted into Jesus is nice when we think about all that we get from Him, but we forget that He is grafted into us as well.  What must give us pause is to realize that we are pouring something back into the Vine – so just what is it which we are pouring back into the Vine?

There are things that we do that we might feel good about, but then there are many things that we are not proud of:  the times we are irritable, the times we are obstinate, the times we are selfish, the times we are uncaring, the times we are rebellious – not listening, not even thinking; the times we hurt someone even deliberately.  Whether we like it or not this is often what is being poured back into the Vine, into Jesus.

And yet we are clean Jesus says.  What a message of forgiveness! Jesus went to a different stem of wood, a Cross, and has taken all of this junk that we have poured into Him, He took it and then died for all that sin that can mount up so rapidly, as He fully pays the penalty we have deserved.   And now we are clean – we are clean!! – all that junk is gone!  Instead of getting the junk thrown back at us, what flows back is His Lifeblood – His Life!

However, what is surprising is that Jesus Himself is described as a “Branch” – the Branch of Jesse.  He literally stands on our side of the fence – or, better, our side of the “grafting.”  He has lived our human life, living the perfection that we never had on our own.  He did this, though, not just to supply a “salvation” need, but to specifically walk with us through life; that as He looks for fruit from us – in other words, a daily life that is pleasing to Him – He is not demanding something that He is not right with us to give – and He willingly is experiencing Life with us.

It is out of this experience that we discover something else.  As we see Jesus take our junk and pour back into us His Lifeblood, we become full of God; God now makes His home in us and we in Him – we become ENTHUSIASTIC – the word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek “en theou” – “in God.”  As we become full of God in us and we in God, as we become enthusiastic, then we find all sorts of changes happen in us.

Flowers and fruit start popping out in our lives: we become more patient, we cheer someone up, we give a glass of water to someone thirsty, we give the Water of Life to the spiritually thirsty.  Some things about ourselves of which we are not proud just aren’t such big things anymore – they begin to dry up and get cut away.  More and more we go out of our way to help someone else out.  Our attitudes change.  All kinds of things are popping up and popping out – we are beginning to actually bear fruit, unspoiled fruit, the kind of fruit that will last all the way into eternity.

And we realize all over again what it means that we really are a branch that has been grafted into the Vine, and that the Lifeblood of Jesus is indeed being pumped through us, His promises are indeed coming true, and we bear the fruit of God’s presence in our lives, a presence that will just never end, not even in all eternity.

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