John 15:1-17 Remain in the Vine by Revd Alex Pease All Age Service Sermon

What fruit comes from a vine?

Today theme of service is about a vine and its branches and their fruit. Jesus uses a vine and its branches and its fruit, to tell us something really important about you and me, about people and about God. So in the Bible reading we will hear today Jesus says we are like branches on a vine, Jesus is the vine and God the Father is the farmer.

So if the fruit of a vine is grapes what do you think the fruit of a person (like you and me) is? I will give you a few moments to think about that.

A vine doesn’t look much at this time of year.  Thank you to Rob Raimes who is a vinegrower in Tichborne, for giving me this vine. You can see the leaves beginning to come out and the buds.

But later in the Summer and Autumn the vine will look like this The vine As the branches grow during the Summer the vine passes all the good things the food or nutrients that the branches need, to produce good fruit.  

Every year the farmer will cut back the vines in the Autumn: all the dead branches will be removed and burned. Here is a stick –it’s actually a dead branch from a vine you can see its dead because it snaps.  When when you look inside its brown. It’s totally useless –it cannot produce fruit. It has died and so it cannot carry the plant food needed to produce the fruit.

In the Spring the farmer also has some work to do on the branches of the vine. He has to prune them so that they are growing in the right direction and so that the fruit will be good. If the branches are too long then the branches might get snapped off by the wind and the energy of the plant won’t go into the fruit. If the energy goes into the branch getting longer and longer the grapes will not taste as good.

But what is the difference do you think between cutting off the branches in the Autumn and pruning in the Spring? In the Autumn: the branches which are cut off – are dead.  In the Spring: the branches which are cut are alive. You can tell that they are alive because if you cut the branch now it would be green not brown. It might hurt the branch when you prune it in the Spring, but the pruning is good for the fruit and for the branch.  In the Autumn the cut back branches are just dead.  Nothing much can hurt a dead branch.

So I mentioned earlier that Jesus is using the vine to say something to us about how we are like branches on the vine, that Jesus is the vine and God the Father is like the farmer. So Jesus is saying that like the branches of the vine cannot bear fruit if they are cut off from the vine…so we cannot bear fruit if we are cut off from Jesus. We need to remain in the vine and not be cut off from him.

What is slightly odd about vines, is that it is difficult tell from the outside, whether the branch is dead or alive. And that’s a bit like us too, You can’t tell on the outside if we are spiritually dead or alive.

So back to that question I raised earlier: what fruit do people produce? OK the fruit of human beings are their actions; what they do, not necessarily what they say. Not what they say in church, for example, but what they actually do, how they behave. Jesus is saying we will only produce good and plentiful actions if we remain in him.  Only if we have the food and nutrients that he gives to the branches, can our fruit – our actions, our behaviour– be good. Only if we remain in him can our lives be worthwhile.

Just to recap: Jesus says he is the true vine;  we are the branches.  Jesus says ‘remain in me and I will remain in you’. If we remain in Jesus, he says Firstly we will bear much fruit (verse 5) Secondly if we ask whatever we wish it will be done for us (verse 7)

But how do we remain in Jesus?

We remain in the vine if we keep his commands and remain in his love (verse 10). But keeping his commands is difficult, we cannot do it by ourselves, because we are great ones for excusing ourselves.  Working out why what he says, doesn’t apply to us, in our situation.  But we need to be willing to be open to learning to be disciples;  to be pruned.

But when the farmer God is doing his pruning –It’s going to be painful – if we are spiritually alive, it’s bound to be, because it is so often a challenge to our pride. But if we are spiritually dead on the other hand well we probably reject the vine and its nutrients ,we probably will just walk away from the vine, like Judas Iscariot on the night that Jesus was explaining this analogy to his disciples as he walked to Gethsemane Judas Iscariot had separated himself from Jesus,  had separated himself from the true vine.

Yes God’s pruning is painful, if we are alive. So how does God do his pruning? Well he can do his pruning directly or he can do it indirectly – through others. When he is pruning us directly it may be through the impact that scripture or a speaker has on us for example when we read something in the Bible or hear something in a talk and it hits us in the chest:‘this applies to me’ or ‘that’s me he/she is talking about’. This is what Amanda was preaching about last week – this is recognising Jesus’ voice.

Or maybe Jesus does his pruning through others by other disciples, if they love us enough, to challenge us directly (but privately) about our behaviour. This is a good thing – although we don’t like it.

But other disciples challenging us only works because of what Jesus says next: Jesus’ most important command to his disciples, (verse 12) to love each other  ‘as I have loved you’.

You know, we have such a distorted picture today of what the word ‘love’ means. Love in Jesus’ lexicon is not a warm fuzzy feeling which you might have about a puppy or a kitten. It does not necessarily mean ‘like’. When Jesus talks about love he is talking about self-sacrificial love –in Greek agape..Agape means acting in a way towards someone which is self-sacrificial and in their interests. And that could involve doing something that they don’t actually like or saying something which hurts their pride.

And then he explains the ultimate of what love means (verse 13): ‘laying down your life for your friends’. This is the limit of self-sacrificial love; loving self sacrificially, even to the extent of death.

So it’s really not about me, it’s about you. Can you say this now to the person next to you: ‘it’s not about me, it’s about you’. 

This is the only way we can remain in the vine is if we love each other self sacrificially. Only if we remain in the vine, only if we are looking to Jesus to provide the nutrients we need, only then can we produce good fruit, the good actions and behaviour –joy, self control, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness; only if we remain in the vine, will we be able to draw more people to Jesus; only if we remain in the vine, will Jesus do for us what we ask.

You see if each of us is loving everyone else, in our church like this. Then each of us will produce great fruit; there will be wonderful actions; more people will be drawn to Jesus;  and this will all have a huge and lasting effect on our parish; on our villages; on our country and across the generations. Amen

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