When Josiah and I were first married, we lived in the parsonage for our church. I loved this little house. One of the surprises for me was that one whole side of the back yard fence, running the length of the yard was an old grapevine. It was at least 80 or 90 years old. It was gnarled and full, it spread up onto the garage if we didn’t carefully tend to it each year. It was a prized grapevine, all of the older women in church would ask if they could harvest grapes for their jam. It was a prolific fruit-bearer. It made more grapes than we could ever eat, than the women could ever can, and the birds could ever eat. The branches were heavy with fruit every fall.
And these grapes, they were unlike any grape I had ever tasted or since tasted. You know how when you buy grapes at the store they are kind of light in flavor. Well these grapes were deep and intense. They tasted like grapes are supposed to taste. They are clearly the inspiration of grape flavored things, like kool-aid and grape bubble gum. They simply were amazing grapes. And year after year, the vine produced.
I am the vine… This is the last of the I am statement that we will be exploring in this series. We started with the significance of the I am… Jesus began in the beginning of John with saying essentially I am… he connected himself with Yahewh, the God of the Jews, it would have been very clear that he was identifying his divinity. Throughout this Gospel, John is pointing out all the ways Jesus identified himself, all the metaphors Jesus used to try to help people understand who he really is. I says I am the bread of life, I am the good shepherd, I am the resurrection, I am the way, the truth and the life. But this image, I am the vine, is one of my favorites.
Even as children, we understand how a vine works. We get that the vines are connected to a lager system. They understand that if you cut off a piece of the vine, it won’t grow, or at least not easily.
But there is more to it, than just getting cut off from the vine, because the real promise here is growth. When we are connected to the vine, we bear fruit.
Vines, presumably, Jesus is talking about grapes here, vines work together. First of all, a vine has to be rooted. It has be rooted so that it doesn’t get pulled as the vine expands. It has to be rooted to gain nutrients from the soil. The root is the source of life itself. It is the very essence of life. It is the vine. Vines have to be rooted.
Vines spread to gain new nutrients, new sources of light, places for new life to form and thrive. They expand so that the older parts of the vine can still grow and thrive and continue to multiply. It spreads so that the new shuts can make their own way, make their own fruit. Vines multiply.
Vines also have to cultivated. There is an outside farmer, some of you know a thing or two about farming, but the farmer, the gardener, makes sure that the vine is healthy. The farmer prunes off any dead weight. Most of us know that when a part of a plant is dead, it takes nutrients from the rest of the plant. And the whole plant suffers as it tries to grow, heal, and maintain the unhealthy part of the plant. Vines have to be pruned.
So this is a pretty straightforward teaching, Jesus identifies himself as the vine, and the disciples, the followers as the branches. And God, the Father, is the gardener.
Jesus is the life, source. The rooted vine. The system that gives life and growth to the rest of the plant, to us. Jesus says, stay connected to me. Remain in me, so that you can bear fruit. How do we remain in Jesus? He tells us, remain in my love. Love others as I have loved you. Love one another. Be connected to the love of Jesus.
So to be rooted with Jesus, you need to first know Jesus. Seek Jesus out. Know what it is to love others the way Jesus loved us. He talks about laying down his life for his friends, not his servants, his friends. He doesn’t withhold anything from us, he is our friend and he wants us to know that he, the source of life, has sacrificed everything so that we might have life. So that our joy may be complete. Be rooted in Jesus. Nothing else matters. Really, when your focus is on Jesus, nothing else compares. When you are exhausted because your spouse is struggling with health issues, or working too much overtime, or you are having relationship troubles… stay rooted with Jesus.
I read a daily devotional book, I actually read a couple, but I love, ‘Jesus Calling,’ by Sarah Young. In it she says that when life is feeling overwhelming, like it’s more than you can handle, just say, Jesus. Literally, whisper the name of Jesus. Refocus yourself. Root yourself in Jesus. And specifically, root yourself in Jesus’ love. Jesus loves you so much that he gave his whole life for you, so that you might, in turn love others. The vine’s whole purpose is to grow new branches so that those branches can bear fruit. Stay rooted in Jesus’ love.
And once you do, this is the really good part, you will bear fruit. Than answer to all of it, all of it, the war in Israel/Palestine, the war militants in Iraq and Syria, the refugee children at our borders, the frustration with your children, your work, your spouse… the answer to all of it, is love. If only we loved one another the way Jesus loved us…
It is when we are rooted in Jesus’ love that we bear fruit, this fruit is love. Love for one another, love for all people. Isn’t this what it’s all been about? Jesus the bread, Jesus the shepherd, Jesus the resurrection, Jesus the way, the truth, the life, it’s all about Jesus is love and Jesus wants us to love others. And it’s not enough to just love them quietly from our own pews, we must go out, spread the love, invasively like a vine. Vines are invasive by nature, they take over and they make new branches to make new fruit. We must stay rooted in Jesus love, and we must then spread Jesus’ love.
But here’s the thing, when we don’t love, when we aren’t bearing fruit, when we must be pruned. This the gardener doesn’t start by throwing the bad branches into the fire, the first step is to prune. So it is with us. When we are not bearing fruit, we better be ready for some pruning shears. What do we need to cut back, cut off, reconsider in our own lives in order to bear fruit. What do we need to get rid of in our lives in order to bear fruit? What anger, what feelings of self-righteousness, what fears do we need to give up in order to bear fruit? In order to truly love one another?
Remember, a branch cannot survive on its own. If we aren’t embracing the health of the whole vine, we are destroying the vine. One branch affects another branch. We must all be well, together. This has all kinds of implications. It has implications in our own lives. If we are feeling the strain, the heavy burden of life, perhaps we need to reroot ourselves in Jesus’ love, and then begin to spread that love. Whisper the name of Jesus.
It also has implications for our churches. Are we a dead branch, a dying branch. Are we as a community rooted in Jesus’ love and then spreading Jesus love? Or are we only interested in our own preservation, so we are taking from the vine and not growing?
It has implication for the church as a collective. Is the whole church rooted in Jesus and is it spreading the love of Jesus? Ask most non-Christians in the Western World and they will say that the church is not only irrelevant, but it is judgmental and critical. It is the opposite of love.
When Josiah and I were first married, we loved that little parsonage. We would take walks in the evenings around our neighborhood. We always stopped to visit the men who stood outside at the rehab center, smoking. We would always stop to visit with Ruby, an eccentric older woman who lived a block over. We would visit with any neighbors who were out. Rooted in God’s love, it was our desire to reach out to the neighborhood, not just to live in the neighborhood, but to engage the neighborhood, spread God’s love in the form of being a ‘friend.’
Jesus could not be more clear. Jesus is the vine, Jesus is the source of life. And we are the branches, we are the ones who, when connected to the vine bear fruit. Root yourself in Jesus’ love and then spread the love.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to encourage you to be in church. Not just because it’s August and everyone is trying to get their last weekends in at the cabin, but be in church because we are going to be making ourselves ready to spread God’s love.
The past few weeks we have rooted ourselves in the identity of Jesus. Now we need to make sure we are a branch ready to bear fruit. A branch rooted in love, ready to spread love. In the fall, we are going to emphasize the invitation. As a community, we are going to think about church, and what we do when we gather, and at the same time, hopefully provide plenty of opportunities and inspiration to spread. Rooted so we can grow. The vine and the branches.
Missed church? No worries, read this week's sermon online. Coming soon... listen online.