May 2, 2021 John 15: 1-8 Rev. Peter Hofstra
Does our passage today speak to today’s world about Jesus? Jesus speaks to us of being the true vine, of his Father being the vinegrower. Then we get into pruning, those who bear fruit will bear more and those who do not, well, they will be removed completely.
But for those of us who bear more fruit, we have been cleansed by the word of Jesus, we are called to abide in Jesus, because as the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine, so we cannot unless we abide in Jesus. Where is Jesus going with this? 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 15:6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. AND, if we abide in Jesus and His words abide in us, it is like we have a genie. Whatever we ask for will be granted.
Jesus’ Father is glorified by this and we can bear much fruit.
I can conceptualize the metaphor. It helps that there are vineyards in New Jersey and wineries that we can visit. Because we can actually get a look at what Jesus is talking about here. Jesus wants us to understand the connection that needs to exist between himself and ourselves. That we are not out there as Christians on our own, but that we are intimately linked to our Savior. That this intimacy is laid down in us by God the Father.
But the question that remains is how do we get there?
I think I found this rather frustrating because of an incident with my cel phone. I have my news sources on the phone, trying to catch up with the events of the day as I can. I don’t do newspapers, used to do the morning shows, but with COVID, the morning routine is much more quickly to the school connections my family has to make. So there are several…online news services I try to keep up with.
Of course, there is always advertising. There are also hooks for further reading. Scroll to the bottom of the article and there will be a list of other links to things that their algorithms think I might be interested in. Now this is something that has to be considered carefully, because the news reports and advertising hooks are intermingled. And I saw one on back pain.
One simple exercise to relieve back pain. Now, I know better, but sometimes I just do not know better. The picture was someone on their back with their feet raised and balanced on a chair. Maybe it meant something. So, I started the video while I was doing some morning chores. In the first twenty minutes, I learned all about the car accident the promoter had been in, how there was one simple solution to deep problems I most likely have that I never even knew about, and that most Americans suffer from this. The video also showed no signs of ending. Okay, it was a YouTube video, so I went to find it there. I have consumed enough, tell me how to get there. Embedded in a commercial, I have no control, on YouTube, I can slide up and down the whole length of the video.
Wow, we post our services to YouTube. Go watch there, and you can fast forward through the sermon. That makes one think.
Sorry, so I go find this video on YouTube, and I fast forward to the end. First of all, the whole thing was fifty, five zero, minutes long. I was already invested for 20 minutes. I just wanted to see the promised exercise. So I take the cursor to the last few minutes where she is explaining how my credit card information will be secure when I order her DVD set, a DVD set mind you, that will show me this ‘one simple exercise’.
Yes, so I wrote an imaginary “Sucker” across my forehead and closed the video in disgust. Because I knew, deep down, it wasn’t going to get me there. There are a ton of short videos on YouTube about stretching and exercising and doing things better, and each of them gets to the point and is actually there to help you. Almost an hour on back pain is trying to sell me something, it is not getting me there.
So what does a backpain video (which turned out to be the provider of pain just a little lower than my back) have to do with our text this morning? Well, we have a special today, for just five payments of $29.95, I can send you my DVD set explaining just what the heaven I mean….
But there is a connection here. Jesus is promising us some pretty amazing things in our passage. Doing what we ask? That’s the allure of the lottery. “Give your dreams a chance.” Or “Anything can happen in Jersey.” Jesus says, if we abide in one another that, “ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you.”
And yet there are a huge number of people out there who want that, but have no idea how to get there. Or they tried, and they got burned over by the church community that they joined to get there. These were churches that were in for the money. These were churches that were in it to promote their personal savior in their faith leader. These were churches that were so motivated by political agendas, to the left and to the right, that people were left overwhelmed, burnt out, cast off.
It has been my experience that while there are a lot of people who have problems with the institutional church, there are very few that have issues with Jesus directly.
I am the vine and you are the branches. I think we can imagine what that means, Jesus’ words, Jesus’ love, Jesus’ actions, all these things coming out meaningfully in our lives as believers. But for whatever reasons, it does not come about. I believe that is why there is a whole vocabulary built up around spirituality and spiritual growth, this internal connection to what is good and loving and wonderful.
It came home to me last week when we had the joy of celebrating a baptism here in the service of worship. There were promises made and there are expectations that the gathered family and this gathered congregation are going to fill that young man’s life with Christian love and attitudes, that he will know Jesus abiding in him and know himself abiding in Jesus. But we seem to live in a time where we cannot seem to embed that knowledge, those life lessons, in the next generation.
The answer to this bridging question, this question of getting from where we are right now to a place where we, individually and collectively, is something that Jesus lays out in the chapter before this one. John 14 is one that is pretty well known, where Jesus says things like “in my father’s house there are many dwelling places” and “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He also talks about sending another, a Counselor, an Advocate, one who will be with us when he returns to heaven. We know this counselor as the Holy Spirit who, with God the Father and Jesus the Son, make up the Trinity that we understand as our God. And in three weeks, we are going to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church at Pentecost.
But what exactly do we do to grab onto that Holy Spirit? When I was watching that back pain video, what I wanted to know was what the exercise was that would make the back feel better. What is the mechanism, what is the exercise, what is the process by which the Holy Spirit enters into us? My assumption is the Holy Spirit is the process by which Jesus abides in us and we abide in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the bridge.
Something Jesus repeats twice in these verses, above the references to the vines, is his word. We are cleansed by the word, vs. 3, and the words abide in us, vs. 7. The truth, the bridge, the knowledge is in what Jesus shares with us.
So where do we even start? What words of Jesus do we seek to absorb into our memories? Into our hearts? How do we seek to live differently? Maybe we begin by going to the outside. The truth that Jesus tells is that apart from him, we can do nothing. Figuring out what it means to abide in Jesus in this day and age, understanding not just in the symbolism, but in the reality of head and heart what it means that Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. Juxtapose that against what else is out there, which is not much of anything.
And unlike the world today, Jesus is not so much out to sell us something as to give us something. We are given the free gift of salvation in Him. Well, there is actually a cost, it is our whole being, but what truly does it cost us? It costs us the joy of knowing what true love is. It costs us the sure and certain knowledge of life everlasting. It costs us the strength of the Lord to bring love to the world-a world that is deeply in need of God’s love.
If we have hit the wall and we are truly wondering about our faith, it can be very helpful to pause and consider the other option. Because there isn’t one. And the call is to abide in Jesus. We can renew that process simply by embracing again the promise of Jesus’ love, of the glory of God carried out through our discipleship. The branches that don’t bear fruit, they are the ones that are removed, gotten rid of. But the promise of the metaphor is that if we are feeling pruned back, if we are feeling like every avenue of faith and its expression just seems to be shutting down and slipping away, sometimes things get pruned back so that a greater expression of faith may blossom.
So how do we get there? How do we abide in Jesus? Take seriously the other option and push away from it. How often do we discover just how much we love something when it is taken away from us? Simply acknowledging afresh “Lord Jesus, I am here for you” is a step into the arms of the Holy Spirit. Know that no matter what happens, in the church, in life, in our own journeys of faith, Jesus is there. That is the foundation upon which life in Christ can always be built powerfully, for we are the branches, but Jesus is the vine. And Jesus is the vine, but God the Father is the vine grower. And nothing can stand against God’s love. Amen.