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Sermon for Easter 5 - I am the True Vine Year B 2015

Reverend Canon Charles Royden

Easter 5 John Chapter 15 : 1-8
"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, and I will 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 a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is 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 given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Family Sermon

We had a family service at one church this mornign so instead of preaching this sermon then we had a big bunch of grapes and spoke to the children about how they grow and how vines produce good grapes. We are like the grapes, drawing our spiritual strength from God - no vine, no grapes

Sermon Proper

I would like you to look at the passage from John 15 this morning. These are words spoken by Jesus just after the Last Supper but before he is arrested and taken to the cross. These are words which he wants them to remember, part of his last will and testament.
What does he say, ‘I am the True Vine’
Jesus has seven of these sayings where he likens himself to something. Last week we had ‘I am the Good Shepherd’

His hearers would be familiar with the idea of a vine. Vines were important in Israel, obviously as part of farming. But they also had an important theological meaning. The vine and the vineyard were metaphors for Israel.
The prophet Isaiah said, ' The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting.'
Hosea declared 'Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields it fruit.'
In the Psalms God is refereed to as bringing a vine out of Egypt, meaning the Israelites and the Exodus.

Some Jewish coins had a vine on them as a national symbol and there was a golden vine on the front of the Temple in Jerusalem with bunches of grapes the size of a man.
The problem was that whilst the prophets called Israel a vine they so often went on to criticise them for failing to produce good grapes. So the most important word here is ‘True.’
Jesus want his disciples to recognise that the future for them lay not in the religious practices of the past but rather in him. He was the place where God was working.

Moreover he likens the disciples to branches of the vine. The disciples, just like branches of a vine, would be nourished by Jesus. They would find their spiritual strength from being close to Him. Jesus uses this important word ‘Abide’
Seven times in John 15:1-8 (NRSV) we are told to abide in Christ or Christ abides in us. The Greek verb menein in vv. 4ff. is in the present and continual tense, it means “Remaining” it is an ongoing, not already completed, process. It is about where we place our trust and confidence in our daily life, where do we find our meaning and purpose in life day by day.
Just as sap flows through a vine, so that the branches can receive the good ness which they need to grow. Christians are to stay close to Jesus so that they can receive the resources which they need to grow and stay healthy.
It is little wonder that so many people are desperately without meaning in their lives when they are not close to Christ. We are spiritual beings made to belong to God.
As Saint Augustine put it
‘You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you’

In our secular and materialistic culture it is little wonder that so many find a lack of meaning and spiritual peace when we are encouraged to think that the purpose of life is to possess certain things. The pursuit of such things leads to emptiness and soul searching. We do not find meaning in possessions, such an approach leads to us being possessed by things, consumerism ends up in the consumer being consumed. True happiness cannot be found in buying a new vacuum cleaner or washing machine.

  • We need air to breathe
  • We need food for our bodies
  • We need Jesus for our souls, otherwise our souls will be starved of strength
  • We need spiritual sustenance because we are spiritual beings, not just flesh and bones

So what is the outcome for those who ‘Abide with Jesus’
Six times we are told that our purpose is to bear fruit. The link between the two is made explicit in John 15:5 –
“Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”

We know what these fruits are, they are outpouring of a life which is lived following the teachings of Jesus. His call to love one another, and to show that love by the way that we treat one another and care for others. We look at Jesus and the manner in which he was prepared to look over the faults of others and try to see things from their point of view.
He never criticised the person who had been caught up in crime or prostitution.
He refused to believe that those on the margins of society were there see there because of their own sins
Or that the sick were poorly because God was judging them.
He wanted to change the structures of a society which valued the rich and powerful and neglected the weak
His kindest word were to the poor and the unloved
His harshest words were to those who held power over others, who considered themselves to be better than others and who formulated religion to protect the power of the weak.

Close to Christ we bear fruit, the closer we are the more our lives will be nourished and we will discover our purpose in life.

And God works with us in this. Jesus compared God to ‘the gardener.’ There was this relationship between Jesus and God the Father. God is the Gardener, we are told that he prunes carefully to help branches to grow.
This next part has been one of those passages which have been used to threaten people.
God’s work of pruning has been seen as a warning by Jesus, a threat to his people that they will be cut out if they do not behave themselves.
Throughout history people have seen Tsunamis, Aids, lightning and all manner of things as part of God’s punishment. To think of natural events such as the devastating earthquake in Nepal as part of God’s work to destroy indiscriminately is obscene. Equally obscene is to see any misfortune or illness which befalls a person as God’s way of punishing them. This is the Jesus who went around fixing broken bodies, healing wounds and binding up souls of the faint and weary.

As I say, the mention of fire and burning has been used by some in the church to threaten people into following Jesus, it is classic ’Turn or Burn’ stuff. Turn to the religion which I am telling you about or burn eternally in the fires of hell and damnation. It is nasty stuff this threat but it has nothing to do with what Jesus is saying here. The passage is about Abiding with Christ, being close to Jesus. Jesus will shortly be taken from his beloved friends and he gives them a promises. Note iIt is a promise and not a threat.

He is not using his last words to those who had followed him around the hillsides listening to his teachings to issue to them a threat. Jesus is speaking these words to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion. He knows what is going to happen – both to himself and to his flock – and they do not. They are about to be cut down by his crucifixion and death and he is assuring them that it will not be mere, senseless cutting but that they will survive, even flourish.

When these words were written in the Gospel of John Christians would have been thrown out of their synagogue, and they would feel abandoned. John writes to assure them that while they have suffered they will find abundant life, not in the old religion of the past but in living closely to Jesus.

It is in difficult times that we might be tempted to believe that God has abandoned us. But amid this uncertainly and distress, Jesus still invites us – actually, not just invites but promises us – that he will not abandon us but rather will cling to us like a vine clings to a tree so that we endure, persevere, and even flourish among these present difficulties.

A vine is a particularly intimate thing, the way the branches curl around tightly to one another. There is something here about fellowship and being part of the Christian community. We share our source of strength. Cut off from one another we cannot survive. It is by being part of a Christian fellowship that we grow and care for one another and learn. We love one another as Christ loves us, with a love which sees the faults and failings in ourselves and others but has the attitude of Christ which forgives and encourages,
And so it is a promise and not a threat.
Jesus did not say “abide in me or else,”
“Abide in me,” Jesus says, “as I abide in you.”

This is more than good advice. More than an invitation. This is a promise, that no matter what happens, Jesus will be with us. Notice that the disciples are not told to be abundant, they are simply told to abide, God will take care of the rest. That no matter what happens, Jesus will hold onto us. And that no matter what happens, God in Jesus will bring all things to a good end.
Which is not to say that everything happens for a reason. Rather, it is to say that no matter what happens, we have God’s promise in Jesus to work for good. Keep in mind, after all, that these words are said just before Jesus goes to the cross. And the cross was not simply a part of some larger plan, but rather the chief example of God’s commitment to wrestle life and hope from the very place that seems most devoid of life and hope.

If the cross means anything, I think it means that God chose not to sit back in heaven, removed from the pain of our mortal, free, and difficult life in this world, but rather came in Christ to be joined to it – the ups and downs, the hopes and disappointments, the frailties and faults of our life in this world – so that we would know of God’s unending commitment to us.

The cross is evidence indeed and true testimony to just how much God loves us and God’s promise to be with us through all things. The resurrection is God’s the promise that no matter how much tragedy we endure, these hardships will not have the last word.


Additional Information

Three rules for living a faithful life
Methodists attempt to practice their faith by following three simple rules. John Wesley adapted and developed these "General Rules" for faithful living. Here is a simplified version of the three rules.
Do no harm. (to yourself, to others, to God or God’s creation.)
Do all the good you can. (By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.)
Attend upon all the ordinances of God. (Ordinances are spiritual practices which include: worship, scripture study and interpretation, Holy Communion, prayer, and fasting or abstinence.)

[From the Works of John Wesley and the United Methodist Book of Discipline (alt.)]
Abide, dwell in me, live in me
If you live in my house you would not ask to listen to Radio 1
You come to know what is acceptable
I am jot sure my children have ever asked for anything and not got it, this is mostly because they know what is appropriate to ask
They have never asked for a tv in the bedroom
So it is with our prayers. If you pray for a caravan you will not get one from God
If you do get one it is not because God has intervened in world history to disturb the natural cause of events Abundant living is only possible when we are connected to the vine
This is about dependence. We are not asked to be abundant. We are asked to abide.