Sermon 4.29.18 Easter 5

John 15:1-8    4/29/18

Rev. Kenneth Frey    Easter 5

John 15:1-8  “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 prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Show yourself to be a disciple
1.  Remain in Jesus
2.  A warning not to become dead
3.  This brings glory to the Father
 

Can you tell one tree from another?  How do you identify a tree?  Usually by the leaves, right?  Oak trees and Maple trees are easy to identify because of the unique leaves. What about an Ash tree or an Elm tree?  Palm trees are easy to identify but how do you tell a Date Palm from a Coconut Palm?  The leaves don’t give as clear of a clue.  Now you need to look at the fruit.  How do you know a disciple of Jesus?  Could people tell if you are a disciple of Christ by the way you live?  Jesus teaches us today to show yourself to be a disciple.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.   Do you like to garden?  I know a lot of you like to grow your own vegetables in the summer.  You are probably getting anxious to get out in the garden right now.  When you grow vegetables, what’ the first thing you do with them after you harvest them?  You wash them, don’t you?  Carrots and radishes that are pulled from the soil need to be washed and cleaned before you eat them.  

Did you know that God the Father is a gardener?  You are his planting.  And like vegetables, we were dirty.  We grew in the filth of this world’s sin, living in this culture of rot.  But God washed us in the blood of Jesus.  John said, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1John 1:7)  This is all God’s doing, not ours.  A carrot is content to just stay in the dirt and grow.  So we, by nature, are content to just live in the dirt we were born into.  But God set about to change that.  Jesus said, You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  

There is a reason Jesus instituted baptism with water as the visible element.  It communicates the cleansing we have in this sacrament as God takes us from the dirt of this world, cleanses us and makes us his own.

Or as Jesus pictures it here, we are now part of him.  He is the vine; we are branches growing from the vine.  Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  In the vineyard, the branch doesn’t struggle to produce fruit.  It just naturally does.  It doesn’t produce fruit because it has to or because it was told to do so.  It just does. 

So it is with us.  As we remain in Christ, his strength will flow through us producing fruits of faith.  Martin Luther said, “There are many who confess these two points that Christ is true God and our Savior; but their confession remains mere froth on the tongue.  There is no sincerity in their heart, no truth, but merely a fleeting fancy.  For this reason St. John insists that faith be genuine and active in good works and that it be seen through works.  For although faith is enough for salvation and I obtain the kingdom of heaven through faith, good works must nonetheless follow, or my faith is not genuine.  For faith is so serious a matter that it does not remain without good works.” (Quoted in Meditations, Vol. 37, no. 2, p. 67)

God wants us to bear fruit. So sometimes he prunes us.    “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 prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.   A visitor to a botanical garden noticed a limb on a pomegranate tree that had a deep cut in it.  He asked the caretaker, who happened to be walking by, if the cut was the result of vandalism.  The caretaker said that workers in the garden, and not vandals, were responsible.  He explained that the branch had been producing nothing by leaves for years.  After the branch was cut, though, the tree produced an abundance of fruit.  

For fruit trees to be productive, they need to be trimmed and pruned.  That’s true of us also.  As branches in the vine, we will need pruning at times so that we stay in the vine.  When things don’t go your way, God may be pruning you to keep you spiritually healthy.  For example, if work becomes too important and threatens your connection to the vine, he may bring economic problems to help prune you.  Whatever troubles you may face, recognize that God is simply pruning you for your good.

Remember, pruning is not punishment.  Thanks be to God, Jesus has borne the punishment for our sins.  If sometimes we suffer under God’s knife, let’s try to imagine how we would agonize under his wrath, and let’s thank our Savior again for enduring that for us.  

God prunes us so that we remain in Jesus and he warns us that we can become dead on the vine.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.   Satan doesn’t want you to think that there is an advantage to being connected to Jesus.  He would rather that you think of it as being shackled, like a prisoner in chains.  But what happens if we disconnect from Jesus?  We die.  

Branches of a tree can get snapped off by strong wind or by the weight of wet snow.  In Colorado are the remains of a huge tree.  It was a seedling when Columbus discovered America.  It was half-grown when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.  Over the years lightening struck it 14 times.  It survived countless winter and summer storms.  Eventually it died from an invasion of little beetles.  They chewed at it silently until the giant tree fell over.

In the same way Christian can die spiritually.  If they allow themselves to be “blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14) Or we can become weighed down with the cares and pleasures of this world and get snapped off the vine.  Or apathy can eat away at us like little beetles in a tree until we just fall off the vine.  

And what happens to those dead branches?  They are thrown into the fire and burned.  Does the thought of eternal punishment in hell make you shudder?  It should.  Hell is what we deserve.  We can’t escape the reality of hell by pretending it doesn’t exist.  We can’t do anything to save ourselves.  Only Jesus can save us.  We don’t want to lose our connection to him.  

Jesus’ warning and promise lead to this conclusion:  on their own Christians can fall away from the faith.  But firmly connected to the Lord their faith and salvation are secure.  So as a branch connected to the vine, we want to make maintaining that connection our highest priority.  Make the Word of God part of your daily life.  Be frequent guests at the Lord’s Supper.  See the gospel not only as the means that God used to bring you to faith, but the only means he uses to keep you in faith.  

When we do that we will bear fruit.  I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing, Jesus said.  Then he added, If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.   Prayer is not primarily asking for things we want, but rather an expression of a living fellowship with Jesus, the vine.  By our fruits of good works and prayer, we show ourselves to be disciples of Jesus.  

Fruits of faith often possess an unseen glory.  A mother caring for her child.  A husband showing love for his wife.  An employee giving an honest day’s work.  A teen standing up to peer pressure.  A child doing his homework without complaining.  Visiting a shut in or taking care of an aged parent.  All these, when done from faith in Jesus, are fruits that show our connection to Jesus and bring glory to God.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

You can tell the different kind of trees by their leaves and by their fruit.  An oak tree produces acorns.  A pine tree produces pinecones.  An oak tree doesn’t produce pinecones and it never will.  A disciple of Jesus will show by his good works and prayer.  May staying connected to Jesus, the vine, be our highest priority so that we bear those fruits which show  ourselves to be his disciples.