John 15: 5-10 Remain in me and you will bear much fruit
Here I have in my hand a beautiful red wine from the Barossa Valley! Growing up in South Australia and having relatives who grow grapes and produce wine, I know when I taste a good red. And part of the Lutheran tradition and the German heritage in the Barossa is to share and fellowship with one another, neighbours, friends and fellow church members, the bounty of the Lord; to share a glass of red from the vintage over a meal, to share with others something wonderful that they neither toiled or laboured for; a gift given freely, because it was first given freely by God.
What makes a good red? Well I am no expert and perhaps Father Martin could call on the Catholics at the Seven Hills Monastery in Clare SA, who make a great red, to inform us in some detail. But what I do know is that the best red wines come from the grapes that grow on the oldest vines; the vines that were planted more than 100 years ago. These grapes produce the best wine because their juice is sourced from a knotted vine which has roots spreading deep below the surface. The grapes provide the best juice because they grow on stems that bud out of and remain in age old branches that are every reliable and able to provide life through its veins
Jesus said ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I in him, they will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’ Jesus uses the beautiful analogy of the vine and grapes to teach his hearers, his disciples and you and me, the churches here in Gilgandra, the source and power to produce good fruit in our life comes only through him. Only by remaining in Jesus, only by receiving from Jesus, can we do anything at all, that is seen by God to be ‘good fruit’. If the citizens of Gilgandra are to enjoy the fruit we produce, the fruit of the Christian churches, we, who are believers, and who attend church, actually need to freely receive before we can freely give. A bunch of grapes are filled with nutrients because they receive from the vine; we are first filled by what Jesus offers before we in turn can give.
Many of us, particularly those who are passionate about being disciples of Jesus, have fallen into the modern trap of believing that Jesus is the CEO of his church. And like a corporate executive, he demands results from his workers. He is only pleased with us, we imagine, when we go it alone on our own efforts and initiatives to bear fruit. He is only happy, we believe, if we bear fruit by applying to our lives our own biblical principles for improving our moral standards.
We train ourselves in spiritual disciplines and implement our own rigorous personal development programs in order to bear the fruit…the fruit he expects of us as disciples. With this image in our mind, we take Jesus to be our task master and we work harder to produce results, to bear fruit and work longer hours to see the benefits and of course, in this financial crisis, he expects us to do this efficiently and cost effectively!
Our modern work ethic would have us believe the harder we work, the more effective we will be in bearing fruit. But what is Jesus saying to us in today’s context? How are we to bear more fruit so others may receive from us? What is Jesus business principle, if you would be game to call his word that? Work more to bear more? No…’remain in me and my word and you will bear fruit, apart from me you can do nothing.’ First receive then give.
This is Jesus word to his church, to us today who so dearly want to bear fruit so that more people may to come to faith. Jesus is not our CEO, director or even our task master, who takes, takes, takes. The good news is that he is our savior, our shepherd, our vine who gave his life, his blood, and who gave of himself so that we may live and grow in him, as he says ‘for the Son of man gave his life as a ransom for many.’
A grape must first grow full of juice through the nourishment of the vine, before it gives of itself so we may enjoy a nice red. We need to remain in Jesus and feed on him and be nourished by him, grow full in his grace and truth, before we can bear fruit in our lives to give of ourselves to the community. Jesus, in John 6 encourages us to remain in him and feed on him, like a grape feeds on a vine, ‘Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.’
We need to receive something before we can bear fruit and give, we need to live before we can die; die to bear fruit in service to others. And the spiritual nourishment that Jesus provides and that we receive when we remain in him, is his word of forgiveness. A word of pardon that says ‘neither do I condemn you go in peace’, and a word of forgiveness that says ‘the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.’
Jesus is our source and strength, the fountain head of grace that empowers and equips us to bear fruit. And what fruit and blessing are we as Christians, freely empowered with, that people need most in their lives? Forgiveness! We are forgiven and are now in a right relationship with God, as Paul writes in Romans ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’
Forgiveness is a free gift from God, given and received by faith. Freely received, now freely we give. A word of pardon from Jesus himself that brings peace and not condemnation into a broken relationship; A word of forgiveness that builds up someone living with shame; A word of release from a cycle of violence and bitterness that imprisons so many families, so many couples.
Government agencies can provide money and housing. Police can provide protection. Community groups can provide food and clothing. But only Christians, empowered with the gospel of Jesus, can provide forgiveness. Only the church, that has freely received can freely give of itself for the sake of others, even its enemies. Only the church, the one body and one Spirit; only the church, empowered with the one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, can bear fruit and bring the peace that passes all understanding.
Jesus said ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given 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.’ You are loved by Jesus, remain in that love, be filled by that love and go in the joy of that love and bear much fruit in that love, as he has promised. Amen