O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Sap for a New Life
Sap for a New Life
Based on John 15:1-8
Preached on May 5, 2015
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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, your Lord sure loves His word pictures, doesn't He? For example: He speaks of His church as the bride and Himself as the Groom. He also speaks of His church as His body with Himself as the head. Last week we heard Him teach that He is the Good Shepherd, and we are the sheep of His flock … the sheep for whom He lays down His life and takes it up again.
Today we hear about Vineyard Jesus. He is the vine and we are the branches. Jesus paints this picture of Himself as the root and center of life with us branching off of Him. He tells us it is good for us to abide in Him, just as a branch abides in its vine. But - we don't really use that word abide anymore, do we? What does it mean to abide … especially what does it mean to abide in Christ?"
Well, for starters, the word abide does not describe an action. It is not something you do. Instead, it describes a condition. We have other words like it - such as stand, stay, remain, and so forth. For example, when I say that our statue of Jesus stands in the narthex, the statue is not doing anything, it is just standing there. In fact, we have that expression, "Don't just stand there … Do Something," which depends entirely on the fact that standing is not doing. The word abide is like that. It is not something you do. Instead, it is the way you are. The condition you are in.
When we apply this word "abide" to plants it is fairly obvious that no branch can survive very long without its vine. The vine is the source of food for the branch. And without food, the branch will soon starve to death. The branch must abide in the vine, or it will wither, get cut off and be thrown into the fire, and burned.
But Jesus isn't trying to make you into a good gardener here, is He? No, He is speaking about your new life in Him. He is promising you - that you are in the right place when you are in Him. No matter what may be swirling around in your life. In telling you to abide, to stay put - He is warning you not to move away. Not to stray. Not to wander off. Abide in Me, He says.
Now, if you are honest with yourself, this admonition probably comes as a little bit of a shock, doesn't it? Because this is backwards from the way we normally think about life- especially our inner, pious, spiritual life. We think Jesus should be telling us what we should do next in order to be a good Christian, you know, in order to bear fruit. I can't tell you how many times I've had people say that to me, "Pastor, I know that Jesus loves me. I know that His grace is a free gift that is received only by faith, but come on now - tell me what I need to do to live out a life of faith."
Jesus says it doesn't work that way. Your new life in Christ is not chiefly one where you try and do good. No, it is one where you try to keep yourself from doing wrong. It is a fight with sin. A fight to stay put. A fight to stand your ground against the devil, the world and your sinful nature who are trying to pull you out of the vine. Abide in Me, Jesus says.
I liken it to a beautiful sunset over a calm, blue lake. There it is, colourful and bright, you could gaze at it for hours - but blocking your view is this old, dead tree - all dried up and brittle. The sunset doesn't need any work. Somebody just needs to cut down that tree!
Your new life in Christ comes from Him. He is the vine. You don't need to add any good to what He will do through you - you silly branch. His powerful, living-giving Word is the sap that runs through your veins. It can't help but bear fruit. Your focus is on clearing the view for His sunset. Being prepared to have your old dead twigs pruned out of the way, so others can see Him shining through.
He says it this way, "Whoever abides in Me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit." That's a promise. It's not a command. Remember, abiding isn't something that you do. Christ promises you will bear fruit because you are in Him. He promises to work in you, for apart from Him you can do nothing.
This is the ironic part, isn't it? Old Adam, your old sinful nature is the dead branch trying to make himself alive again. He is the one trying to get better - to prove he can be good - but he is dead. He is doing everything he can not to be removed from the view, not to be cut down like the old, dead tree that he is - and he is a resilient stump. He constantly leads you to think that there is something better you need to be doing, so you don't take the chainsaw to him. This fight against sin is hard, isn't it? Staying put is a lot harder than it sounds.
But, beloved, where does all of this lead us? Where do we turn in our struggle with sin? Back to the vine. Back to the only place we are connected to Jesus. Our baptism. Holy Absolution. Preaching. And the Supper. Forgiveness. The true vine has forgiveness coursing through His veins out into His precious branches. Forgiveness won by His own innocent blood. This IS the sap that bears much fruit. This IS the strength His Christians need to live the way He wants. This IS what causes us to look inside ourselves, see our sin, and be prepared to have it pruned away. For we know He is merciful. We know we will never get anything but grace and mercy and compassion from Him. He is the vine, we are the branches.
So let's make this concrete and practical, so we see how it fits in the new life. When you come to the Lord's house to eat at His table, picture yourself coming before the vinedresser, your heavenly Father. Come that He may prune away those dead parts in you that are blocking the view. Kneel in humility and openness before Him, not hiding those parts, but having honestly examined yourself, holding them up for Him to clip them. And when the bite of His shears sting within, open your ears and your mouth and receive His mercy - Hear His words of forgiveness. Swallow deep the very strength you need to bear fruit for Him, even His body and blood. As He says, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from me you can do nothing." Then return to your pew and pray. As He says, "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." Pray that you will abide. Pray that you will stand your ground against the devil, the world and your sinful nature - Pray even as He taught you, forgive us our trespasses. Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from evil. Pray to Him in thanksgiving there in your pew, for when you receive His body and blood - He has actually done all these things for you. Then, go forth from here with His blessing, knowing He will shine through you as His words and promises declare.
Brothers and sisters grafted INTO Christ, your new life in Christ comes from Him. He is the vine. And He will keep you abiding in Him as He prepares His eternal sunset for you in His heavenly kingdom. For He - the One true God - abides in you. May the God of peace keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus the Vine, unto ages of ages. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr