It’s not uncommon for Jesus to use the landscape around him to teach ancient scriptures to his followers. Like this one found in John’s gospel about the vineyard and the vine - whose roots come from the prophecies of Isaiah.
Last week, Jesus looked over the green pastures and drew from scripture to describe God as a trusted shepherd caring for his flock. Today, he describes God as a loving and attentive gardener – pruning and preparing us for unbounded glory.
Click here to read John 15:1-8
As Jesus and his disciples leave the upper room to go pray in the Gethsemane garden, they most likely wandered past the vineyards of Kedron. There, among the leafy vines heavy with grapes and the warm glow of the fires burning in the distance, Jesus is inspired to remind his disciples about their relationship with him and with God.
We don’t have to know much about vineyards to understand the point Jesus is making when he says, “I am the true vine. And God is the vine-grower.”
Scripturally speaking, Israel is described as the vine. By Jesus saying he is the true vine, he’s saying his God’s chosen, the one’s called to bear the fruit of God’s kingdom. But even Jesus understands that he does not do these things alone. God is with him, carefully attending to him and his needs, so the vine, like my apple tree, can bear fruit.
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It’s safe to assume when Jesus tells his disciples, “I am the vine and you are the branches” he is saying the root, stem, leaves, tendrils and grapes are all one part of the vine.
And any part of the vine that is that isn’t doing its job will be removed and thrown into the fire. Just the same, any part that is bearing fruit will be pruned and shaped to bear more.
Although we are free to rove and climb the trellises of life, we can never lose sight of the ever-attentive gardener in our midst. The one who is cutting and pruning to increase the yield of the vine. This tells me that we will all feel the stinging pinch of a sharp pair of pruning shears at some point in life. And even feel the searing heat of the fire.
Before you let your mind wander off to some dark and dismal place, I don’t think Jesus is speaking of some fiery eternal pit. He’s looking around and seeing literal fires burning in the distance. Fires that are providing light and heat.
You see, even dead branches have some good use in God’s kingdom. After all, everything that God does is done to give life, and to increase the yield of all that is good in life.
Just think about that dead branch being tossed into the fire. What happens to it? Does it burn forever? No. Eventually it transforms into something new. Ash. An avid gardener knows that wood ash is an excellent source of lime and potassium and other things that plants need to thrive.
Let’s not forget what God did with those two wooden branches hewn from a mighty tree and fashioned into Jesus’ cross. They were used by God to transform death into everlasting life.
So here we are with Jesus looking at his disciples (mind you, one has already gone off to betray him). Despite their lack of truly getting what he has been telling them about what is to come, he still is able to see their fruit. He tells his disciples, us, that we are part of Jesus, bearers of God’s redemptive fruit.
Today we have so many distractions that draw us away from allowing the fruit inside us to bloom. Sometimes the busyness of life keeps us from producing God’s goodness.
Occasionally we will need to be trimmed and pruned if we are going to live into our calling. This means we have to let go of the things that are stopping us from thriving.
But how can we do this when we are still hurting from this pandemic? How can we do this when the news around us leaves us spiritually and emotionally drained? Jesus says, “Abide in me as I abide in you.”
This is an invitation to attach our lives to his. A life that God has carefully shaped to bear the fruit of the Spirit. Fruit which scripture describes as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)
To abide in Jesus is to make his Spirit your greatest priority. The way to do that is to remain close to him - his love and faith.
Years ago, I visited a winery in Sonoma Valley up in Northern California. It was there I learned a few things about vineyards, and grape growing. For example, the soil, the climate and all the stress they put the vines through add to the grape’s unique character - which provides the distinctive notes found in a bottle of wine. These flavors are most prominent in the grapes produced closest to the central vine where the nutrients are the most concentrated.
Just as the life of a branch is sustained by being connected with the vine, our lives are sustained through a close relationship with our Lord. When we are connected to Jesus, when we make our home in him, we are able to draw from his spiritual abundance that helps us bear his fruit – God’s steadfast love.
This can be hard at times. Especially given the world and the issues we face today. There are so many other things there that draw us away from our source of life. But the branches and leaves and tendrils and fruit cannot survive without the vine. For this same reason we need to remain close to the one who feeds our soul and gives us life, if we are to truly live.
Lately, I’ve been struggling. I recently confessed to a friend that I am not really feeling the joy of my ministry anymore; my heart struggles to find words to preach; even my prayers seem empty. As I was naming these issues, I began to see where I have wandered away from my source of life.
I confess that I have allowed the pandemic, and politics, and other personal stuff to take my focus off abiding in Christ. This has made it impossible for me to bear any good fruit because I am not being nourished by a healthy source.
Imagine what would happen to my apple tree without water or fertilizer. Not only would it not produce fruit, but it would shrivel up and die. We are not meant for death, but life. And Jesus is the way to living and thriving in this life and beyond.
I guess the moral of this story is this: The closer we are to Jesus the stronger our branches of faith become, the better yield of fruit we produce, and the greater the glory we bring to God.
Here Jesus is inviting us to take an inventory of our lives. He’s asking us to examine what is...and what isn’t...producing fruits of the Spirit in our lives. His is an invitation to give oneself, the good and the bad, over to God so that we can be shaped and transformed in God’s abiding love.
Our goal is not to remain a scrawny, twisted branch. We are called to be become one with the true vine so that we can his bear fruit, and nourish others so they can sprout faith and grow in love.
So, I invite you to look within yourself and ask, “What is going on in my life that is stopping me from really bearing the best yield of my good fruit?”
Perhaps it’s a toxic relationship that needs to end. Maybe it’s some deep seated anger you haven’t honestly dealt with; or resentment that you still hold on to.
Maybe you’re jealous of a friend. Or envious of someone else’s life. It could be an addiction, or you’re just wandering along the trellis of life without any real meaning, because you don’t really understand what your purpose is.
There are so many things that draw you away from becoming your best self. Whatever you are dealing with, whatever is stopping you from truly thriving and abiding in God’s love, Jesus says ask God to take it away. And it will be done for you.
To abide in Jesus is to abide in God. To abide in God, is to invite God into the fullness of your life – however messy that may be. It is to welcome and allow God to prune and shape you so that you can produce the sweetest, most heavenly fruit possible.
To abide in God, is to be empowered to transform this world - loving others, living into the mission of the Church, restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
Jesus says, “I am the true vine… abide in me as I abide in you.”
This is not a command, but a reminder of who we are and what we are called to be – beloved children of God, called to a new and wonderful way of living. A way that begins and ends with God’s steadfast and abiding love.
As the living embodiment of Christ’s body, we are called to bear the fruit of God’s love always.
This is why we always have to show up. This is why we have to make love our highest goal. We do this by living into our Christlikeness by living out the love of God in all that we do.
For God’s love liberates us to live fully and faithfully. It opens our eyes to see the injustices around us and empowers us to act in ways that seek the well-being of all people.
God’s love levels the playing field so that everyone can thrive and rejoice.
It transforms all our messiness into goodness, so all of creation will bear good fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Therefore let us go and live into the blessedness of life, bearing the fruits that proclaim God’s glory, now and forever. Amen.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year B Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008.
Montes, Luz Cabrera. How to Love. (accessed May 1, 2021).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”