Christ the Vine, We the Branches

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Like the vine delivers nourishment to the branches, giving strength and producing fruit… God delivers strength and produces fruit in us.  For us to thrive… be happy and strong… the Spirit of God must move in us.  The Word of God must live in us.  The love of God must grow in us.  That is the lesson of the vine.

Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 6, 2012
John 15:1-8
Peder Stenslie

I remember walking around my hometown as a kid… walking to school, walking to the ball diamond, walking to my friend’s house, walking to the park or swimming pool.

As we walked, we looked around and observed life as it was happening.  We monitored the progress of crabapple trees.  We sampled the nectar of caragana bushes.  We watched people mow their lawns and tend their gardens.  We greeted friends on bikes.  We greeted people’s pets.  As we walked around, we observed and learned about life in our community and world.

I thought about that this week as I was driving to school one morning and saw a scene that I realized I see all the time.  An 8th grade boy was walking on the sidewalk on his way to school.  He was staring at his cell phone, thumbs flying as he was sending and receiving messages.  He never looked up the entire time he was in my view.  In this wide world of wonder, all of his attention was fixed on that little 4 inch screen. 

I am amazed and alarmed at how electronic devices seem to be cutting us off from the world around us.  I really wonder what consequences will be felt when the welfare of our planet is in the hands of a generation that spent their childhood glued to T.V., computer and cell phone screens. 

What will they actually understand about the living world around them?  What will they know about the amazing web of life they are a part of?

Jesus uses nature and its many expressions of life all the time in his teaching.  Last Sunday we heard about the Good Shepherd’s unfailing and courageous care for his sheep.  This Sunday, Jesus speaks about the relationship between the vine and the branches as a metaphor for the relationship between Jesus and us.  Next Sunday Jesus calls on his disciples to “bear fruit.” 

I understand something about “bearing fruit” because – as a kid – I had my eye on that crabapple tree!  I understand something about the relationship between the vine and the branches because I’ve interacted with flowers and bushes and trees ever since I was a kid tasting that caragana nectar.

In his teachings, Jesus draws our attention to things in nature in order to teach us about God’s love and about the life given to us by God.  He does this because hidden deeply in the life God created are vital truths that we simply cannot learn from our iPhone no matter what amazing apps we might download.

Underlying Jesus’ teaching about the vine is the important truth that the key to strength, health and happiness in life is a deep and living connection to God.  “I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus says.  “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” 

Like the vine delivers nourishment to the branches, giving strength and producing fruit… God delivers strength and produces fruit in us.  For us to thrive… be happy and strong… the Spirit of God must move in us.  The Word of God must live in us.  The love of God must grow in us.  That is the lesson of the vine.

When that connection to God is not open… not working… our lives wither and fade.  We cannot manage our lives.  We buckle under the pressure of our troubles and hardships.  We make self-destructive choices and take self-destructive paths.  We begin to die.

On the other hand, when our connection to God is active and healthy… God’s life flows in us.  We find strength to weather hard times… strength we never knew we had…. strength, in fact, we never did have, because it comes from God.  We grow in love and wisdom and are able to see life and the world in new ways.  We are able to see the Kingdom of God in our midst.

How does this happen?  In what way does life come to us through an active and healthy relationship with God?

One important way is through the “pruning” power of God’s word.  Verse three in today’s Gospel lesson reads:  “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.”  Jesus is making use of the vine and branches metaphor here and is speaking about the process of “pruning.”  Pruning is clipping and clearing away dead or unproductive parts of the plant so that the whole plant can become stronger and healthier.

In the Bible, when Jesus speaks and teaches, he prunes.  When we read scripture, the Spirit of God goes to work pruning in our lives.  As we hear the Word of God in scripture over and over again, it shapes our thoughts and changes our hearts. 

Sometimes the Word of God in scripture is hard, like Jesus’ words spoken often to the rich and powerful.  Such words, when God speaks them to us, are necessary to prune away arrogant and self-righteous beliefs and attitudes that prevent us from admitting our weakness and need for God’s grace and gifts.

Sometimes Jesus speaks liberating and forgiving words, like he often did to sinners and outcasts.  When he speaks such words to us, he prunes away feelings of guilt and shame that prevent us from knowing and feeling God’s love… and from seeing the new life God always calls us to when our lives come to a dead end.

Sometimes Jesus speaks instructional words that teach about the unexpected way of the Kingdom of God.  When those words find a home in us, God prunes away our foolish and false ideas about power, riches, strength, God and ourselves.  He gives us eyes to see the world… and truth… in new and liberating ways.

Pruning means removing from our lives those things that deny us the goodness and riches of life God intended us to have.  Pruning can occur in many different ways.  Your time here at Y.C.C. should be a time of pruning. 

Working hard, together with teachers, counselors and staff, it is a time to identify those things that you need to let go of or you must be rid of in your lives so that you can finally claim the future of hope you were created for.

Pruning can be a painful and difficult process.  It can be hard to let go of things we’re used to and comfortable with.  It can be painful to admit that our habits and ways of looking at things are wrong for us and need to change… and it’s harder still to actually change them.  But this is all essential.  It is work we are all called to.  All of us need pruning in our lives.

When I tend to my plants in my yard… fertilizing, weeding, pruning it is because I want to see life strengthened.  Healthy plants are amazing and wonderful things.  They transform a yard as they share their strong life with everything that happens to come into their presence. 

That is what God wants for us as well.  He wants his life to be rich and strong in us so that we can know the full measure of his love and goodness and so that we can share his life with everyone around us.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus, with his talk of the vine and its branches, directs us to understand what is necessary for our lives.  First, we need to receive God’s word, God’s Spirit, God’s love into our hearts and minds so that we might be filled with God’s life.  Life comes by no other means. 

Second and equally important… we need constant pruning… we need to see those things in our lives that prevent us from knowing and receiving God’s goodness.  And those things… by the spirit of God and with the help of good people – we must find some way to remove so that needed growth can occur and, life… as it what meant to be… can be lived.