Let us pray: Dear Savior, although it’s not very flattering to be compared to a grape vine branch, it is very on point. And that fact sums up our relationship with You better than anything else! We Are just humble branches connected to the most amazing and awesome Source of power, strength and energy—You! Keep our focus on You and then we’ll all stay strong, healthy, and vital in this life and beyond. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE ONLY SOURCE OF LIFE!
TEXT: John 15: 1-8
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
When I grew up in the Minnesota River valley, grape vines were few, far-between and wild growing only in scrubby woodlands. Corn and soybeans reigned—and still do. If someone had said: “I’m going to start a vineyard,” they would have been laughed out of town. But today there are various vineyards in the area. I’ve even had their wines and although they are not vintage, they certainly are drinkable.
Some of you know that I collect wine. It’s fun to buy a few bottles of inexpensive wine, put it away and in a few years taste it. You learn its nuances. So, I’ve gotten educated as to how grape vines grow. One, grapes don’t really like deep black farmland soil. If you plant them in such, they produce glorious leaves and flowing vines. The fruit is also generally pretty heavy on the vine. But, they lack a depth of character and taste.—For the older adults, think of “Boone’s Farm.” No, vine grapes like tough conditions, like in the Mediterranean climate. They like to put down deep roots and slowly over the years pry their nutrients out of the depths of the earth. Old volcanic soil is ideal. Likewise, they want a hot climate so that their grapes, although fewer, develop more sugar content. Old vineyards like this look gnarly and rather pathetic. But they do produce the best wine. They have depth of character. And lastly, such grapes need to be pruned, severely, each year. This forces the vine to make grapes and not just green foliage. In fact, all fruit trees share this in common with grapes. If you want an abundance of pears or peaches or apples, you need to cut off suckers and prune branches by at least a quarter every year. Go up to Hollis NH and drive through the orchards there. You will see acres of such trees that are ladened with their bounty in late summer. They look like deciduous Christmas trees all decorated up!
The holy land was ideal for growing grapes. Since water wasn’t always pure, wine was an integral part of their culture. Vineyards and winepresses abounded. So Jesus picked on this common image to convey a pithy truth to His disciples and to us concerning our relationship to Him. “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 trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful.”
As I said in the prayer, being likened to a grape shoot isn’t very flattering. But it is true. Christ is the Source of all life, especially spiritual life. Or, as St. Paul says: “In Him we live, move, and have our very being.” The whole point of a grapevine is to produce grapes. If a branch doesn’t do so, it’s worthless. It saps energy away from the whole. So, God the Father prunes it off, He cuts it off. Meanwhile, even the branches that do bear grapes need to be pruned back to force nutrients into the harvest thereby producing fatter, juicier grapes. Think of all those wild Concord grapes you see in the woods of New England. No one tends them and the fruit is so-so, small, and bitter. The fact that no one prunes them is the reason why.
“No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” This is obvious, but people forget it all the time. Even Christians forget this fact when it comes to their faith. We get out of school, get a job, get married, and have a family. We went to church as a young child, but over time God and His church became more distant. In reality, we distanced ourselves from it. We didn’t see its relevance to our lives since everything was going along pretty smoothly. Money came in. Our health was pretty good. Our circle of friends talked more about their new cars than they did about God. Slowly but surely we detached from the vine. We deprived ourselves from what made us blest in the first place. We started to believe in ourselves and our abilities instead of in our Savior. Remaining in Christ isn’t just paying Him lip service. It’s a deep, constant adherence to Him for everything in life and a constant verbalization of thanksgiving for it all. I’ve had winter damage to my fruit trees. That last heavy snowstorm snapped some of my peach branches off, but didn’t sever them from the tree. Last week I pruned them off even though they had buds starting to break on them. That’s because I knew that although they might green up a little, their hold onto the nutrient rich trunk was tenuous and they would end up producing nothing. Don’t let that be you!
Now comes my confirmation verse: “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.”
All of you who have been divorced, could it be because you and your spouse didn’t remain in Christ? All of you who have lost jobs or faced economic and emotional hardship, could it be because you divorced yourself from Christ? We all like to think the world revolves around us, personally. That’s hubris. We forget that Christ is the vine, not us. Either we do things His way, or we have trouble.
That brings up the question: How do we get joined to the Vine? I’ll tell you: we’re grafted into it. I have an antique apple tree with 3 different types of apples growing on it. It’s made that way by cutting off shoots from different trees and joining them, grafting them, into the original trunk. That’s an image of each of us. By nature we’re all wild grapes. But the patient gardener still loves us and cares for us, so He cuts us away from the vine of sin and grafts us into Christ through faith. This process begins with baptism. It continues with Sunday School, confirmation, Bible Class, regular worship, communion, and the like. Over time that graft of faith gets stronger and more secure. Spiritual nutrients flow into us and then it’s time to bear grapes. Not the grapes of wrath but the grapes of blessing. If any of these steps are broken or disrupted, we’ll become stunted, worthless branches. If we grow toward the darkness instead of the light, no fruit will be produced.
Pastor Schulz didn’t know I would become a Pastor when he chose this verse for me at my confirmation, although he might have had glimmerings. But I cherish this insight. It guides me every single week. It reminds me that I’m totally dependent on Christ and not myself. When I ignore some of His truths and think there’s a shortcut to a bountiful life, I’m always proven wrong. When I fail to give Him all the glory for blessings and think some of them are caused by my ability, hard work or personal judgement, well, that’s when I fall flat on my face! It wasn’t me who saved my soul, it was Christ. It isn’t me who creates my own blessings, it is always Christ. He is the One who gives the increase whether it be at church, at home, or when it comes to my health and welfare.
Like all of you, I sometimes forget that fact. Let’s face it, as a nation which has gotten away from God, everyone has forgotten that fact. Right now the economy is reasonably good. Jobs are “out there.” Technological marvels abound. Health marvels bound, too. Recently I saw that most billionaires truly believe they will live to at least 100! It’s almost like the Tower of Babel all over again. People rejoice over their own strength and abilities instead of rejoicing in the Lord who suffered, died, and rose again to give them a new outlook on life.—A humble, grateful, and eternal outlook on life.
But in God’s reality, the only reality that matters, all this puffed up pride is a mere nothing. “If anyone does not remain in me, he is a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” Most people see themselves as on top of the world—green, vibrant, and full of themselves. In reality they are withered, dry, and fodder for the burn pile. They have gone wild, divorced themselves from the vine and thus are spiritually dead.
But not you! Why? Christ tells us why. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
We remain in Christ by clinging to His Word of truth, specifically the Gospel. Being told and being assured of eternal salvation is solace amid a world wracked by inner strife. Being told and assured that God loves us literally more than He loved His Son, for after all He punished Him instead of us for our sins; that is amazing and uplifting beyond mere human words. Being told and assured that nothing in this life can take His love for us away from us—proven by Christ rising from death itself in our place–well, what stirs and cheers a downtrodden soul more than that?
And so, dear Christian, in humble gratitude we bear fruit for Him. We show forth the fruits of the Spirit trying to let our light shine daily. Yes, love that never ceases, joy that won’t be contained by frustration, peace that exudes from our inner being, patience with others and God that won’t let anger take over, kindness which always tries to touch hurting hearts, goodness that refuses to allow grudges to take over, gentleness which realizes its opposite is self-defeating, faithfulness that refuses to give in to betrayal, and self-control which keeps our volatile emotions on an even keel—all these fruits of the Spirit are Godly gifts that you can now bear—thereby showing yourselves to be His disciples! Wow! Amen