O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on John 15:1-11
Preached on May 6, 2012
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Fellow baptized saints and branches growing from the true vine, how is your yard work coming? Yes, its that time of year again to turn our attention to the leaves and the lawn and the vines. And if your yard is anything like mine, you might already feel like you are very far behind. Especially with the backyard. Planted in the middle of my backyard, scaling the wooden beams of the pergola, is a long twisting vine.
Now this vine has all sorts of branches that grow from it, and if I don't stay on top of them, they will stray off into other parts of the yard and ruin things. I am constantly cleaning up these stray branches so they don't kill the grass or choke the strawberries or some other unmentionable backyard crime. However, not all of the branches are such a hassle. There are other branches that are woven together with the vine itself. I never have to clean up those branches, for they are so closely intertwined with the vine that they stay out of trouble. In fact, sometimes they are so closely connected it is difficult to know where the vine ends and the branch begins.
My backyard vine woes came to mind at the words of our Lord in the Gospel reading this morning, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned." Christ used this image of a vine and branches to illustrate His relationship with us. He wants us to see that He is the source and root of our life and salvation, and that when we are not connected to Him, our soul is powerless.
But it is funny what our mind does when we hear this, isn't it? We hear that we are branches, and that apart from Christ the vine we can do nothing, but then we make every attempt to graft ourselves back into God. We try our best to 'be a good person,' to prove to God that He shouldn't throw us into the fire. We say "look at the fruit I've produced, don't you want to graft me in?" Fellow Christians, what are we trying to do, make God a liar? Are we trying to rouse Him to anger? Are we trying to be thrown into the fire?
No, our soul is powerless without God. A branch cannot bear fruit without the vine. But we try and we try and we try. We even convince ourselves we are being successful. We are like a florist that is determined only to sell fake flowers. We labour and toil to make the flowers look as real as possible, and we are able to fool many, perhaps even ourselves, but upon close inspection, especially by the true vinedresser, it is revealed that they are not real flowers that are full of life and sap, healthy and supple, moist and breathing, but only replicas, counterfeits, fakes. We are masters at making our life look good on the outside, but inside we are rotten, godless and spoiled. No one would ever want a full bite of the fruit we produce without the vine. Dear Lord, then what are we to do? Repent. For Christ the true vine has done it for you.
He said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Christ came down to earth to die for you. He has planted Himself in our death and His dead body was placed in the earth. But death could not hold the source of all life, so Christ the mighty vine now rises up out of the ashes of death, strong, vibrant and full of life, looking to graft us into Him. We have heard it from His own mouth. He has loved us with the love of His heavenly Father. The Son of God loves you, the same way He loves His heavenly Father. And you know its true when you see Him hanging on the cross for you. This vine wants you to be connected to Him, He wants you to be connected to Him very, very badly.
And you don't have to figure out how to connect yourself to Him, for your Christ the risen vine tells you how He has done it for you. He says, "Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you." Already. You are already clean. Already connected. You are already a branch grafted into the vine. How? Because of the word He has spoken to you. The Word of Baptism. There in those waters, He grafted you into Himself. He washed you in His Word and declared you clean. Not because you were a special branch, not because you had produced a lot of fruit, but so that you would become a special branch, and so that you would bear much fruit.
For that is what this whole vine and branches talk is all about, not the initial connection, but the growing of the vine and branch together. That is why we keep hearing that weird word - Abide! Abide in me. For Christ has far more to do in you - Yes He has already connected you to Him - now He goes on to say Abide in me, and I in you. Weave together with Christ more tightly everyday. Wrap your branchy arms around the vine. Don't be a stray branch that terrorizes the vinedresser, but let the Word of God dwell in you richly so that it is difficult to tell where the vine ends and the branch begins. Grow in Him. For Christ continues to speak His life-giving Word into you. The Word is in you - Be in the Word.
It sounds good pastor, how do I grow in Him? How do I abide in Him? How do I stay connected to His Word? To be in the Word is to hear the Word. Hear His Word preached as much as possible, as many times as it is offered. Sing and speak His Words with your family at home. Make abiding a priority there. Let Jesus speak within your home. Pray. Pray that you will grow in Him. That the vine and the branch will weave together more and more. Ask Him to show you how to grow in Him. Pray that you will bear more fruit. For He promises that He will do every good thing for this vine-branch relationship. He will do whatever you ask in His name.
Whoa pastor, all this sounds a little intense, what is Christ doing in me when I abide in His Word like this? He is drawing you closer to Him. Making you realize that He is the source of all good, that everything good you feel flows from Him the vine into you the branch. All good flows from Him and He has grafted you into Himself that you may experience it - that you may enjoy it - that you may share it with Him - that you may realize how foolish it is to stray away from the vine, or keep Him out of certain parts of your life, or at a distance at times. Christ is preparing you for when He returns, helping you to look forward to seeing Him on judgment day, for it will be a day of indescribable joy. You do not need to hide from Him or run away or fear anything, for His Word in you has replaced fear with joy. The last thing He says in our reading is this. "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and your joy made be full." The Word of Christ has much more to do in you.
Well, I may have a lot of work to do in my backyard, perhaps even a fair bit of vine management, but the true vine, our Lord Jesus Christ, the very Word of life, has a lot of work to do in each of us as well. He has died and risen for us. In baptism He has come to us. And He continues to abide in us. May He also then, through us, bear much fruit.
In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr