The fruit in love John 15:1-8 Easter 5
I really enjoy a good bottle of red wine, how about you! In moderation of course. In fact I enjoy my red wine so much, that I have brought with me part of a vine and some grapes from one of the best vineyards, one of the oldest and best producing vines in the Barossa; Don’t tell Peter Lehmann! Well, I suppose he won’t mind being a Lutheran himself.
Yes, I enjoy a nice red so much I want others also to share in my joy, so in a few weeks I plan to squash these grapes to make wine and meanwhile I’ll put this vine branch in the sun and wait for it to produce even more grapes for my wine, just like the vine in Peter’s vineyard.
Think I’ve got a hope? Why?
These grapes are not going to last more than a few days. Once picked, very quickly they will end up like these (sultanas), what hope have I got to make fine wine out of shrivelled, dead grapes? And the vine branch? Is it going to bear any more fruit now that it has been cut off from the vine? No, not at all. The vine branch and the fruit lived and produced because they were part of the vine. Even though it looks like the branches and the grapes are the most important part of producing good wine, in actual fact, it’s the vine that is the life and source that brings forth the fruit. Without the vine we have only this (sultanas). Who would like to try my wine then?
Using the vine as an image Jesus said ‘”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.’ Jesus is the vine, the way, the truth, the life. Jesus is the resurrection, the bread of life, the gate through which we enter heaven, the light of the world and the word of God in human flesh, the word that created the heavens and the earth, the word that is Spirit and life. Jesus describes himself in all these ways throughout his earthly ministry and clinches it with this statement ‘apart from me you can do nothing.’
Why would Jesus say such a thing? I mean, what does this do to our ego! Apart from him, we can do nothing. Sound’s a bit harsh. Let’s look again at this branch and grapes. They are indeed fine now, why? Because they have recently been connected to the vine, but give it a few days and they will be shrivelled and dead. Their life is not in them selves, but in what they are attached to. As believers and disciples of Jesus, we are these branches and our fruit of the Spirit are the grapes, but we have life only through the vine…Jesus.
Separate ourselves from Jesus, and we begin to die, and so do our fruits of the spirit, love, hope, peace, joy etc, as Jesus warns ‘you are the branches…No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine’. Jesus doesn’t say this to hurt our fillings or belittle us, but says it out of love, knowing we constantly feel the need to go it alone; be in control of our own destiny.
Now you might be thinking how is that possible? He must be talking about the heathens, the non-believers, those who have separated themselves from the vine by rejecting Jesus. They are the ones in danger of dying.
Yes that’s true, and Jesus acknowledges this saying ‘You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.’ You are not going to die in your sin. You are already clean and ready for heaven because of Jesus’ word to you in your baptism ‘your sins are forgiven’.
By this word, the same word the brought heaven and earth into being, declares you ‘justified’, put right with God, a member of God’s family, or as St Paul describes it ‘you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root’, that is, Jesus. By being baptised and believing, you are in Christ Jesus and will not die or be cut off from the vine. You have Jesus word on that!
This is the danger for us however, in our eagerness to experience, use and explore the gifts of the Spirit, given to us in baptism and through the word, especially ‘mature’ Christians, is we think we are strong and can go it alone. We think we have the ability to overcome evil, control our sinful desires, and have the spiritual ability to know what God wants for every situation. We even have the expectation of ourselves, that if we can’t depend on our ‘strong faith’ in every situation, and don’t show our spiritual strength in every issue we face, then we are guilty of not really being a disciple of Jesus, not really worthy of being called a Christian.
To feel ashamed and guilty that you are not the ‘life’ of the church, the strong or wise Christian with all the biblical answers, is a false guilt, is harmful, wrong and has nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus; that’s still operating under the law, under condemnation.
You are a branch trying to be the vine, which St Paul warns us about ‘do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.’ Jesus also says ‘do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’ Rejoice that you belong to the vine.
In the same way, if you or I expect others to never fail, never fall into sin or be ‘as committed’ as we might be’, showing all the gifts of the spirit and making all the right choices, is also wrong. It is harmful to each other and does not build up, but rather puffs up, as St Paul warns ‘Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.’ We are expecting them to be the vine and not to just a branch that depends on the vine for its life and fruit. Again, if we do this to one another, we are working under law and not love.
Jesus is the vine who nourishes us and feeds us with his life giving Spirit, through our ears as we read and listen to his word. He pours his Spirit into our veins, like the vine feeds the branches, as we partake in the Lord’s Supper, so that we can humble love and serve one another. This is authentic Christianity: That we remain in Christ the vine by feeding on him each day, like a baby suckles for their mother’s milk, through reading his word and by prayer and regular devotions and as we do, Jesus promise always stands ‘Remain in me, and I will remain in you.’
Out of this flows the freedom to love; love ourselves for who we are and the freedom to love one another. We are free because as we live in him and he in us, Jesus liberates us from the captivity of constant anxiety about not being good enough, of trying to ‘go it alone’ against the devil and sin, of having to judge one another, of having to be the ‘strong’ ones; the lone ranger Christian. This is the real good news, which is echoed in John’s other letter ‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’
A baby totally trusts in the love of their mother by relying on them for every feed, for every need to strength them and to keep them alive. They are weak, but in being weak, they are made strong. In the same way, in our weakness we are made strong because of the love of Christ who dwells in us.
Let’s say together the first verse of Jesus loves me ‘Jesus loves me this I know. For the bible tells me so; Little one to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.