Easter 5B John 15:1-8
It’s that time of the year when everything seems to be growing. Actually, everything seems to be GREEN! The sunlight streaming in my windows each morning is so green from the reflected light off of the grass and trees that it looks like the sun is wearing enormous green sunglasses. The emerald city of spring and summer is virtually here. You can even watch the green progressing up the mountains each day. The flood of spring creeping up the sides of these ancient mountains makes them look young and lively. A giant crayon box full of every shade of green ever imagined.
Despite Discovery Channel shows, episodes of NOVA I watch, even the botany classes I had in college or any other understanding of the science behind it all, nothing will ever take away the magic and mystery of the changing seasons. If you want proof of God, there it is. God, the botanist. God, the engineer of the manifold mysteries of the earth. God, the artist of all that is beautiful and growing, changing and turning. The God of this glorious, amazing, living earth.
It seems appropriate that at this time of the year we hear Jesus’ talking about abiding in him and abiding in love, mostly because of the beautiful image he creates for us in his metaphor of the vine and branches. This fascinating analogy he makes for his disciples and for us is one filled with life and wisdom.
So what is Jesus saying with this talk of vinery? Well, it seems it has something to do with ‘abiding’. In our text for today, he uses the word ‘abide’ nine times and he is using the image of the vine and branches to illustrate for us what it means to abide in him.
Jesus says, “I am the true vine”. Now, when Jesus says “I am” there are a few things this leads us to think about. First, he is likely using a metaphor to describe not only his character but also to teach something about his relationship with us; usually his saving relationship with us. When he uses phrases like ‘I am the Good Shepherd’, ‘I am the Way the Truth and the Life’ or I am the True Vine’, he is not only telling us about the nature of who he is as the Son of God, but he is also helping us to understand the nature of our salvation and of our relationship with him.
Another thing to think about is the first time this phrase shows up in scripture is back in the Old Testament. This is more than a statement like ‘I am going to the grocery store’ or ‘I am a redhead’. It is more like a title than just a statement. Imagine that scene we’ve probably all heard of or seen in a movie when God speaks to Moses from the burning bush and Moses asks him, ‘who are you anyway?’ God tells him, “I Am that I Am.“ or simply “I AM.” This is God’s name. So, when we hear Jesus saying phrases that begin with “I am” we can remember that scene from Exodus because Jesus is intentionally drawing a line from himself to the God that spoke to Moses from the burning bush. A great big, bold, bright line!
There is another Old Testament connection here, too. In the psalms, we can find several places where we hear that God is bringing a vine out of Egypt and planting it in a good land. This is when Moses went on the journey God told him to take from that burning bush and led the people, by the hand of God, out of slavery and into the wilderness. Here and in several other places in scripture, the vine is a symbol for Israel; for the people of God. And here in our text for today Jesus is saying ‘I am the true vine’. In other words, I am the true Israel, the true son of God. I am what the people of God are to be.
He doesn’t stop there, either. Jesus goes on to say that we are the branches of that vine. This is where the abiding part comes in the clearest. To abide means to live with, be with, to dwell, remain, continue or stay. To act in accord with. Jesus is saying that this abiding with him looks like the way branches and vines abide. There is one life flowing there between the vine and branches. The branches get their life, their identity, their very existence from the vine. Branches are nourished by the vine and grow freely in the life flowing from the vine.
It is easy to think that life on the vine is somewhat static, but the reality is that branches are always growing and changing. They produce new leaves, move forward and produce fruit for the world.
Martin Luther once said that the branches of the vine do not need to think about whether or not they want to bear fruit nor do they really even have to try to bear fruit. Simply by virtue of being attached to the vine they are fruitful. In other words, when we’re abiding—living attached to Jesus—we will bear fruit.
Something else interesting about vine life is this: everything is connected. If you have ever visited the gardens and vineyard of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville you can marvel all day long and the beautiful flowers and plants. There’s one particularly impressive old grapevine. It is massive! It trails over, under and around a long trellis and wide overhang area all along a sidewalk. Walking from one end of the vine to the other, you can’t help but notice that it is all one plant. The leaves, fruit and branches at the beginning and the leaves, fruit and branches at the end all connected together. They are all one piece, even if they seem a long way from each other. This is like us as well. We, all of us here in this congregation as well as Christians around the world, the branches growing from the vine of Jesus are all connected through him. Christians in other countries or down the street or even sitting in the other pew are all branches from this one TRUE VINE, Jesus. Despite our differences and distances, we are all one through him.
Jesus also tells us about the vinegrowner; the gardener who tends the vine and its branches. Trimming, digging and planting, the gardener is the one who has not only planted all of creation, but tends to every single branch, caring for both the overall plant and the health of each particular branch. Of course, pruning isn’t easy. The thought of parts of us or our lives being snipped or lopped off is not pleasant at all, especially if they are parts that we may not want to give up even if they are damaging to ourselves, one another or even the world. But as any experienced gardener can tell you, careful pruning is the secret to a healthy and thriving plant. And this vinegrower is more than just a mastergrower, he is the creator of the garden itself.
This True Vine gives a life to the branches that is more than just living and breathing. This vine grows from the cross. This vine isn’t just a vine that lives one day and dies the next; it isn’t one that can be cut down by the painful blows life deals us all. This is the True Vine that gives eternal life. Through the love of Christ for us, dying and rising for us, transforming the death of the cross into a live, vibrant vine of eternal life, we are branches that abide in the love of God.
There is so much to be seen in this beautiful metaphor Jesus uses to teach us about himself and his saving relationship with us. This is only a small portion to think about today. I challenge each of us to think on this image this week. How do we live on the vine of Jesus? What does that mean for each of us? For our families? For all of those we come into contact with? What is the fruit we’re producing for the world? Where does God prune us so that we will be healthier branches and so that the entire plant may thrive? How can all of us abide in Jesus, dwell in him just as he dwells in us, in such a way as to live as Luther described—producing fruit as a part of our nature? What does it mean to you and to me to live life as a branch of the vine of the cross?