Branches of the vine

“I am the true vine, and 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 will be even more fruitful.

You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also 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.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

If you don’t remain in me, you’re like a branch that’s thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

John 15:1-11

Good morning, Friends!

This is the season of harvest. All across the country, farmers and gardeners are getting in their crops. Fields of wheat, and corn, and soybeans. The apples are pretty much all in. People are getting in their potatoes. It’s a rich time of year, a plentiful time of year.

I don’t know if any of you have ever spent much time in grape-growing country. I remember, a few years back, I was driving down the road along the shores of Lake Erie, which is famous grape-growing country.

It was a warm autumn day. I had my windows rolled down. The air wa still. And for almost 40 miles, I was surrounded by the smell of the vineyards, ripening in the sun.

The smell was almost overpowering. It was the smell of everything rich, and everything good, you could ever imagine. For mile after country mile, there was nothing in sight, but neatly-trimmed fields, and barns and farm houses, and the great blue lake off to the west, stretching to the horizon. It was such a blessing!

Jesus is drawing a picture here for us today. He says that he, and the church together, are like a grape vine. And Jesus says that God wants us all to be fruitful.

What’s that mean? What does it mean to bear fruit?

Fruit is all the good things we do. It’s the actions we do, for the sake of Jesus. It’s doing the things Jesus told us to do.

Every time we visit, every time we listen, every time we forgive, we’re doing what Jesus said.

Whenever we pray for somebody, whenever we bring peace into the world, whenever we help sickness and sore places to be healed, we’re bearing fruit.

When we reach out. When we welcome people to our table. When we tell people what God has done for us. That’s being fruitful.

Jesus said, later in this same chapter, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. . .You are my friends, if you do what I command you. . .”

Loving other people is bearing fruit. We are the only gospel that many people will ever hear.

Most people will never see Jesus. All they can see and hear is us. Our witness. Our welcome. Our outreach. That’s how people see Jesus. Through us.

We’ve all got our own lives to live. We all have many things to do. But if all we focus on is ourselves, our lives aren’t fruitful. We need to be living more deeply, more richly, at every level.

There’s an old hymn I know some of you are familiar with. It’s called Make Me a Blessing. It talks about helping people who are weary and sad. It talks about bringing light into lives that are dark, making people glad again.

That’s what we’re talking about. Giving as it was given to us. Loving as we are loved. Helping people who can’t help themselves.

Jesus calls himself the true vine. I guess there are all kinds of other vines and brambles around. Poison ivy is a vine. Deadly nightshade is a vine. They don’t bring life. They bring misery.

Jesus is the true vine, sent and planted by God. The things Jesus says are truth. If you read or hear what Jesus says, you can trust him.

Jesus says that he’s the vine, and we’re the branches, and God is the vine grower.

I don’t know if you’ve ever done much pruning, but it’s something you have to do, all the time. I always think about pinching marigolds, or pruning flowers. It makes them stronger. And it means they keep on flowering.

Jesus said God prunes back the dead branches, the dry branches, to make room for new growth. God wants us to grow!

A healthy vine is a growing vine. A healthy church is a growing church. It’s not something we need to force or pretend. If we’re healthy, we’ll grow naturally. If we’re filled with the life of Jesus, we will grow.

To talk about the Jesus as the vine is to say that Jesus is God’s way of reaching out to the whole world. And to talk about growth and branches is to say that we are the way God reaches out, through Jesus, to the whole creation.

Jesus says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”
He says, “My life is in you. Our life is in each other…”

Another way of looking at this is to say that we’re all a family. We depend on each other for our life. If we’re disconnected, an important part of us isn’t alive any more.

You know, in some families, the family members are always calling each other up all the time, and staying in touch? They talk to each other almost every day.

And when these families aren’t talking, they’re still thinking about each other. They wouldn’t dream of making plans, or making decisions, without talking it over with each other first.

They live in one another. That’s how it’s supposed to be with us and God.

Our relationship with God isn’t supposed to be something where we see each other once a week, or once a month, when we’re all dressed up, and we only talk about safe and unimportant things.

If we live in one another, then we’re going to be calling and texting God all through the week. Maybe several times a day. And it’s not just one-sided, because God is also going to be calling us.

Just like a family, we call to say, “Hey, I heard about something great today!”, or, “I just wanted to show you this,” so we call God, and God calls us.

That’s what prayer is all about. Prayer is the way we talk with God.

For some people, praying is what you do when you’re in trouble. Prayer is your hope against hope. It’s the last thing you think of when you’re in despair.

I guess some people treat their families like that.

But for other people, family communication is what you do all the time. It’s staying in touch. It’s a part of the day. It’s the two minute phone call. It’s doing things together. It’s going to the lake or the mountains or the beach. It’s getting together on the weekend, and doing chores, and celebrating holidays and graduations.

It’s giving presents to each other, and it’s crying together. It’s laughing together, and it’s talking sense to each other. That’s what prayer is.

You don’t learn how to pray from a book, any more than you learn how to be a mother or a father or a member of a family from a book.

In a family, you say what you mean, and you listen to what the other person has to say. And you go back and forth, until you both understand what both of you mean. And sometimes, you don’t need to say anything at all.

I’m convinced that most of us don’t even approach the richness and the depth of living God invites us to. Living with Jesus, living in a church, living in prayer is a whole lot like living together in a healthy family.

It doesn’t mean we have to be in each others’ face or each others’ business every minute of the day. But we do have to invest in the relationship.

It’s a lot like a family. You put yourself into it. You invest time and effort and love.

And just like a family, a church isn’t just the house you live in. It’s the relationship. It’s the memories you share. It’s the children you raise.

A family is the table where there’s always room for more. It’s the warmth of the fire, that calls you back.

It’s being connected, like Jesus says. It’s belonging. It’s accepting and being accepted. It’s lending a hand, and it’s sharing your joy and being there for each other in sorrow and hard times.

If we can take the way we live in our families, and all the hope we have for how our families could be better, and apply those same insights and feelings to our relationship with God, then we’d be a lot better off.

Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Let’s take a minute or two, to take these words to heart and remember them for the week to come.

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