Welcome to Christ Lutheran Church and welcome if you’re listening on the radio! We’re blessed to be together to worship the Lord today and we’re blessed to be able to give thanks for the moms and step-moms and adoptive moms and birth moms and foster moms who have shared the Lord’s love and care with us.
Thanks to all you moms out there for the magical ways you share God’s love with your families!
We heard the reading this morning from John 15 where Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches.”
I love to grow things but for some reason, I have never grown grapes. Some places along the Flathead Lake have been growing grapes in recent years. And grapes are a major crop in Israel and have been for centuries. So when Jesus referred to grape vines, his listeners knew what he was talking about.
And it was more than an agricultural lesson. It was a theological lesson that had a long history to it. In the Old Testament, in Psalms, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Hosea and Micah, (Psalm 80:8-16; Ezekiel 15:1-8; 17:1-21; 19:10-14; Jeremiah 2:21; 12:10; Hosea 10:1-2; Micah 7:1), the people of Israel are referred to as God’s vineyard, a description of God’s care and providing for his people. The people are the vine that God took from slavery in Egypt and planted in the Promised Land.
So when Jesus said “I am the vine and you are the branches”, he was making a powerful statement about his relationship both to God the Father and to the people of Israel, a statement that his listeners would have understood.
Isaiah 5:1–7 is called the “Song of the Vineyard”. But it’s not a song of joy. It’s a song of God’s frustration with the bad fruit that his vineyard, his people, have produced.
Isaiah 5:1 “I will sing for the one I love, a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.”
Isaiah writes of the “loved one”, meaning the Lord, and his vineyard.
Isaiah 5:2 “He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.”
It’s bad enough when you put a lot of effort into a garden or vineyard and get nothing good. It’s infinitely worse when you’re talking about a nation of people who have turned away from the one who saved them from slavery and gave them a whole new start---and still they reject him.
Isaiah 5:3-4 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?”
So God decides that he will allow Israel to have their way and run after the foreign gods that they think they want. And they will endure judgement because along with those foreign gods, come nations that will conquer them.
Isaiah 5:5 Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled.”
It’s a sad song---because the people of Israel are still the Lord’s delight and the recipients of his love.
Isaiah 5:7 “The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.”
Of course this is not the end of the story. Jesus comes to renew the vineyard. And the people would understand that not as agriculture, but as the good news they have been hoping for from God.
John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.”
Jesus calls himself the vine, the one that God is working through. Hope comes in him and what he is doing in God’s name for all people. But he reminds them that vines need pruning by God.
John 15:2 “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.”
When I was in high school I had a summer job working for a landscaper who taught me how to prune shrubs. One day I came home and looked at our yard and asked my father if I could do some pruning. He said fine and I went to work. But when he came home he said “What did you do?” I guess I pruned a lot more than he expected.
Thankfully the Lord knows what and how much needs to be pruned in each of us. Proper pruning of a grape vine or other plant helps it to produce more fruit year after year. When we allow the Lord to work in us, he shows us the non-essential parts and dead wood in our lives that need to go.
John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
This seems to be where we often go wrong. Do we really believe that all of life comes from the Lord? Do we branches really need the vine?
The house we lived in years ago was an old stone house that had ivy growing up the side and covering most of it. It looked beautiful but it got to the point where it started covering the windows and was getting out of control almost up to the roof. So I decided to cut it all back to 6 feet above the ground.
Somebody told me it would be easier to peel the branches off the stones if I cut them and let it dry out and wither first. And after about a week, below there was 6 feet of green healthy vine and branches below and above was about 20 feet of dead, withered brown branches severed from their source of food and water. It was a visible lesson that a branch detached from the vine has no life. The same is true when a phone line that looks like an ivy vine gets cut–no life!
We humans struggle with believing that we really depend on the Lord that much. After all, we work hard. We create things with our hands and solve problems with our minds. We grow crops for our food. We often believe we are self-made people.
But who created the bodies we use to work hard? Who created the raw materials we use to make thing with our hands. Who designed the brains we use to solve problems? Who continues to send the sun and the rain so we can grow the food we need to survive?
“Apart from me you can do nothing.” Absolutely true. But we may not recognize it always because even when we distance ourselves from the Lord, he still sends us his material blessings---whether we appreciate it or not.
Matthew 5:45 “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
But when we branches separate ourselves from the vine, we miss all the spiritual blessings that come from being closely connected with Christ.
John 15:6-7 “If anyone does not remain in me, he is 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 given you.”
Ask whatever you wish? Notice what comes first---“ If you remain in me and my words remain in you, Ask whatever you wish… ---If we remain in Christ and his Word lives in us, we will pray in accord with his will---we’ll be praying for things that are aligned with his kingdom, not just selfish requests.
Tom Wright says---“The urgent question, then, is this. How do we ‘remain’ in him? What does it look like in practice? …….. We must remain in the community that knows and loves him and celebrates him as its Lord. There is no such thing as a solitary Christian. We can’t ‘go it alone’. But we must also remain as people of prayer and worship in our own intimate, private lives. We must make sure to be in touch, in tune, with Jesus, knowing him and being known by him.”
So what’s the result of remaining in Christ?
John 15:8 “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
We bear fruit that benefits us and the world and brings glory to the Father.
Galatians 5:22-23 “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
When a plant bears fruit, it’s not so much for the benefit of the plant itself. The fruit benefits other organisms that use it for food and the fruit contains seeds to grow new plants. When our lives bear fruit, the main benefit is not to ourselves but those around us that enjoy those fruits of the spirit that Paul describes in Galatians.
When we produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control---everyone around us benefits from those fruits---which carry seeds in them to produce more and more fruits of the Spirit.
People today crave something---but often we don’t know what. And so we try to fill that craving with things that will fail sooner or later.
Youth, health, physical skills, intellect, friends, work. They are all important. But they have one thing in common, eventually they will all fail. So what does last?
Dr. Paul Brand spent most of his life as a Christian medical missionary in remote parts of the world. In a speech he once commented on the various peak moments in his life. At age 27, he felt he reached his physical peak. He had abundant energy and could take on any physical challenge. He said, “For some people when they pass that peak, for them, life is over.”
At age 57, Dr Brand felt like he had reached his mental peak. He was a famous surgeon working with patients in India. He said, “For some people when they cross this peak, for them life is over.”
Then Dr. Brand said that in his 80's he felt like he was reaching his spiritual peak. All his experiences in life were coming together to mature him into a wiser, kinder, more peaceful follower of Christ. He said, “And I realize that when I cross that peak, for me, life will not be over, it will just have begun!”
Dr. Brand discovered what it means to remain in Christ, to be tightly connected to the Lord in the same way a branch is connected to a vine, to bear fruit for the Lord. In Christ we find a source of strength that never fails.
And ultimately we experience the peak of eternal life with Christ.
Here and now, we may face difficult times, but they can serve to connect us even more tightly to Christ the true vine. Each stage of life can be a new opportunity to bear the fruit of the Spirit---for the glory of the Father---and connected to Christ as the branches to the vine.