Sermons were meant to be heard, not read, so listen here.
Scripture: Psalm 22:25-31, John 15:1-8
Title: What Remains
I like wine. (Never thought you’d hear a sermon start with that did you?)
Other than knowing the difference between sweet and dry, red and white, and that I like it, I don’t know a whole lot more about it.
I haven’t ever toured a vineyard, and I don’t really know much about the process of winemaking other than that one I Love Lucy episode where they are stomping grapes.
A connoisseur I am not.
Earlier this week I was talking about this sermon to Sam and he asked if I had preached on it in another year, because he was pretty sure he remembered me talking about growing things before this.
While I haven’t preached on this particular text before, it is true I have certainly not hidden my lack of skills in the area of horticulture.
And really even if I was particularly green thumbed, which we know is not true, my summer veggie garden isn’t quite the same as grape vines in a vineyard.
All this is to say that when you combine my lack of knowledge of winemaking with my black thumb, you get a Gospel lesson that is a bit problematic for me.
So even more than usual, it’s important to try to understand what Jesus is trying to say his 1st century middle eastern disciples, and what it might have to say to us, 21st century american ones, when he talks about vines, branches, fruit and vine-growers.
Two main themes come forward when we listen to today’s text.
Jesus says the same few words over and over again, while it can make this text seem repetitive, it does not make it difficult to figure out what Jesus is trying to communicate. The two words we hear throughout this text are “fruit”, and “abide”. And it is with these two words I’d like to stay today.
If you’ve ever planted veggies from seed, the little packet of seeds tells you to sprinkle them on in there, and let them sprout, and then when they start coming up, you’re supposed to remove sprouts until they are 1-2 inches apart.
I can never do it.
For some reason, it goes against something in my core to pull out veggies plants and let them die. The fact that I got it to grow in the first place is a big deal, then to just pull it out when it’s doing so well? It makes me feel so guilty.
But while from the plant’s perspective, that might seem very nice of me, when I don’t thin them out, those rows of veggies end up getting a little crowded. And then they can’t really grow. In fact, they either don’t grow at all because there isn’t enough space or nutrients, or they can only grow a little and you end up with mini carrots and mini radishes. (Not like I know from experience or anything.)
This thinning that the seed packets ask us to do?
That is pruning.
And unlike pruning of grapes and vines, it’s the kind of pruning I understand.
Pruning for health, not to destroy things.
And it’s this kind of pruning Jesus is talking about today.
I think we often hear the verses about pruning this morning and hear them in a few ways –
The first is to think Jesus is saying watch out, God is hanging out with pruning shears ready to go to town so you’d better start producing some fruit, or else.
Or, it’s also pretty easy to hear this verse and look around and say, alright, who do I see in here that needs to be pruned? I’ve got this God, leave the pruning up to me.
Pruning is not something that we decide.
We are not the vinegrower, God is.
And God prunes because pruning is necessary for health and growth, and for fruit.
If you look back at verse 2 Jesus says that he prunes the branches in order to make them bear, not just fruit, but MORE fruit.
There is a purpose for pruning.
See, pruning happens not to get rid of dead, bad branches, but in fact, a lot of pruning happens just like it did in my garden. We prune things that are living and doing well, but that are making it difficult for the nutrients in the vine to go where they can be used for fruit. Sometimes branches are cut simply because they are in the way of the fruit.
So what remains after pruning is fruit.
And not just any fruit, but healthy, abundant fruit.
The phrase “bear fruit” is found 6 times in 8 verses.
And three of those add the word more, or much to fruit.
So this passage is first about abundance.
It’s not a condemning passage, and I think it’s a mistake to read it that way.
The vinegrower isn’t seeking bad stuff and cutting it out, instead the vinegrower is finding good stuff and giving it a chance to be even more fruitful.
It’s a perspective shift that’s important.
Pruning is about life and growth, and the result of pruning is abundance.
And pruning, though necessary, is sometimes painful.
When we take time and ask, how do I need to be pruned? We find ourselves faced with the difficult task of being honest with ourselves.
Honest in relation to our place in the community: am I connected and bearing fruit, or am I taking nutrients away from fruit makers?
And honest with ourselves in our relationship to God: Am I connected to God? What things in my life get in the way?
How do I need to be pruned?
The answer to that question is found by remembering the purpose of pruning is fruit bearing.
So what does it mean to bear fruit exactly?
And how do I know if I’m doing it?
I think we look to see how Jesus is manifested in our lives.
Do we care about the things Jesus cares about?
And if we care about those things, do we care without action?
I think when we look around, we can see evidence of places where fruit is happening.
When one person hears and is inspired by a story of service and steps forward in faith to serve as well… that is fruit.
When a small group of POP members serves a meal for cancer patients staying at Hope Lodge… that is fruit.
When hugs and prayers and time are given to hurting friends… that is fruit.
When rival gang members stand unified to protect police officers, because they believe a broken system can’t be solved with more brokenness… that is fruit.
When emergency personnel and aid workers rush toward the scene of utter devastation instead of away… that is fruit.
When we are Jesus’s hands and feet in the world, fruit happens.
If we want our lives to bear fruit, we need to be connected to Jesus.
Abundant life, or, fruit producing life, isn’t possible apart from the vine – apart from Jesus. And John’s Gospel makes that very clear with his use of one word: Abide.
The word abide, in Greek Meno, occurs 8 times in these 8 verses.
John is not hinting at something.
He’s not being subtle.
Abide with me. Meno
Stay with me. Meno
Be with me. Meno
This passage, besides being about abundance or fruit-bearing, is also about relationship.
The relationship between God and us.
In verse 4 Jesus says we should abide in him as he abides in us.
God is already in us.
But it’s a two way street.
God is with us, and we need to be with God.
When we separate ourselves from the vine, we cannot grow.
Just as cut flowers have a limited life span, so too do we when we disconnect from Jesus.
Sure, we can survive for a while, even look pretty, but we cannot thrive.
We can’t bear fruit.
“Abide in me as I abide in you.”
It’s already happened people.
God is in us.
We are a part of the vine already.
God is with us.
This isn’t about God being with us, it’s about us being with God.
Our relationship with God is a two way street.
And God has done God’s part already.
Verse 3 reminds us that we’ve already been cleansed, and verse 4 says God is with us.
Nothing changes that.
And now it’s our turn to abide with God.
To “be with” God.
When we stay close to the vine, things happen.
Abundant life happens.
After the year of tiny inedible radishes and carrots, I learned to prune.
But I have to tell you, I have never stopped feeling horrible taking something out and just letting it die. So for the last two years, I have pruned and replanted.
I sort of think of it as my version of grafting.
Grafting, in case you don’t remember from junior high earth science, is when a cut section of tree or plant is attached to an existing tree or plant and it grows anew.
Grafting is how vinegrowers make new varieties of grapes, or even help small vines become stronger and more resistant.
So maybe you’ve been listening and thinking to yourself, you know, if I’m brutally honest with myself, I don’t really feel connected to the vine anymore.
I’ve walked away, I’ve put distance between myself and God, I’ve struggled with that relationship. I think I’ve been pruned.
Or maybe you’ve been thinking, you know, I’m pretty sure I’m connected to the vine, but I don’t think I’m really a fruit producer. I’m not pruned yet, but I think I could be.
If either of those feel true for you today – I want you to know that it’s not the end.
If you’ve ever wondered what grace means for you, today we have a reminder.
Today, we come forward, we come here (move to the altar) and get reconnected.
We have confessed our sins, we have been cleansed and freed, and now we are brought back to the life-giving vine.
Because even if you have walked away, even if you have disconnected, that doesn’t change what remains. It doesn’t change what God has already done for you.
For it was on the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks…. (communion)
End of service closing:
There’s one more fun fact of today’s text I’d like to leave you with today.
It’s the yous. All of the you’s in today’s Gospel are plural.
You can read it as “You all”
I am the vine, YOU ALL are the branches.
Apart from me YOU ALL can do nothing.
My Father glorified when YOU ALL bear much fruit and become disciples.
Because a vine doesn’t have one single branch.
It’s made up of many branches.
Our culture lifts up autonomy and independence – but we are challenged to go against the grain and bear fruit not by ourselves, but in community.
We are here together, because even though one little branch can and does produce fruit, a vine full of branches produces fruit in abundance. (and then we get wine)
So we go, confident in our connection to the vine, regrafted into this community, to bear fruit, and love and serve the Lord.