Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Sermon: John 15: 1-17 Abide in me

What’s the difference between an apple tree and a Christmas tree? It’s not a trick question, it’s not even the start of a really bad joke. What is the difference? An apple tree produces fruit by itself; but a Christmas tree has its decorations tied on. There’s a world of difference between a tree that you have to decorate (and then quickly get fed up looking at!) and one that naturally bears fruit.

In our reading tonight, Jesus describes himself as the true vine. It’s another of those ‘I am’ sayings, where Jesus takes the Old Testament name of God and applies it to himself. He declares that he is God, and then goes on to show one aspect of what that means.

In the Old Testament, Israel, the people of God, were depicted as a vineyard, as a vine (e.g. Isaiah 5), but here Jesus says that he is the true vine, the true vineyard, the true Israel. And where is it he says this? We’re still in the upper room. It’s the night that Jesus celebrates the Last Supper with his disciples; in a short time, he will be arrested and be on the way to the cross. Jesus is preparing his disciples for what will come next, for life without Jesus physically present with them. In this extended metaphor, Jesus shows the disciples what it means to be in relationship with Jesus.

He says: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower.’ Just a little while before, they’ve shared in the passover meal, they’ve drank the wine, now Jesus says he’s like the vine. The Father is the vine-dresser, the one in charge, the one who is tending and overseeing the growth of the plant.

Sometimes, there’s remedial work needing done - ‘He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.’ You see, if you’re investing in a vine, you want to make sure that it’s producing fruit - if there’s no fruit, it’s a sign that it’s dead, unproductive. The fruitless branch is removed. And we might think that’s right and proper. But it’s the next part that we might find more uncomfortable:

‘Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.’ You might think to yourself, well, if something is working, if it’s producing fruit, then let it be. But the father won’t settle for a little fruit; he knows what he’s doing as he prunes - it might be painful, but in the end there will be even more fruit produced.

What will this pruning look like? It may well be in our circumstances, as we face illness, or unemployment, or bereavement; our location or income or opportunities. The natural reaction to these things changing seems to be - why is this happening to me? But Jesus calls us to see the hand of the vine-grower, and instead ask - what are you teaching me through this? How can I produce more fruit in my new circumstances?

The busy and stressed worker can become the prayer warrior when they are laid aside through illness; the retired person suddenly has more time to devote to sharing with others; a family bereavement can remind us of the shortness of life and of what is truly important.

Now if the goal for us is to be fruitful, to produce much fruit, then how do we do it? Is it by organising seminars and really striving to increase our fruitfulness? Do you see the apple trees in the orchard urging one another to squeeze out more fruit? The chances are that those of us gathered here are those who are the busiest in the church family - the pressure to be fruitful is one more burden to be added onto the top of all your other duties and responsibilities; one more box to tick. But before your mind races (or switches off), Jesus tells us the secret of fruitfulness: ‘Abide in me as I abide in you.’

The secret of fruitfulness is being connected to Jesus. Imagine a branch lying off by itself, really straining itself to produce grapes. It will undoubtedly fail. There’ll be no crop. Jesus says: ‘apart from me you can do nothing’. The branch needs to be connected to the vine, receiving the life-giving sap; the fruit will surely come.

Over the winter there were some fierce storms. Some of the big trees at the back of the rectory lost branches. While the remaining tree starts to produce the green shoots these days, the branch won’t be producing anything. It’s only fit for being cut up for firewood.

It’s the same in the Christian life. We simply can’t go it by ourselves. Either we are connected to Jesus and receive his life-giving spirit, empowering us and enabling us to produce the fruit of the Spirit; or else we’re just trying to fake the fruit on our own - keeping up appearances, turning up to church, looking respectable; but just like a Christmas tree, with the decorations tied on.

As we’re connected to Jesus, as we abide in him (remain in him), so there are several things that flow from that. The first is that we can pray with confidence, knowing that our prayers will be heard and answered. As Jesus says: ‘If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.’ Jesus isn’t just saying, ask for whatever YOU want; rather it’s as we abide in Jesus, as we’re connected to him, we’ll be asking for the things that he wants - what he wants will become what we want; we are changed to become more like him.

It won’t be that we ask for a Ferrari (or whatever it might be you fancy), rather that we’ll be asking for those things we know Jesus desires - for others to come and be connected to him; for the Father to be glorified; for the church to grow; for more spiritual growth and fruit, and so much more.

Next, Jesus says that there’s like a domino effect of love - the Father loves the Son, the Son loves us, and so we’ll want to keep his commandments; and in this way, we’ll share in his joy. The love of God overflows into our hearts, and overflows to those around us - to enable us to obey Jesus’ commandment (which we’ll be thinking more about tomorrow night as well). Jesus calls us to love one another - that’s not an easy thing to do - just look around! We’re all different, different personalities, temperaments, backgrounds, hopes, desires etc - for us to love one another takes the power of God, his love empowering us to love one another - the fruit of the Spirit growing and developing in our hearts and lives.

As Jesus calls us to bear fruit, he gives us one last burst of encouragement in those closing verses. He looks around the upper room and says: ‘You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.’ Fruit from the greengrocers quickly spoils; the bananas don’t last long. But the fruit of the Spirit lasts for eternity - our love and joy and peace (and all the rest) will be displayed for eternity.

Are you connected to Jesus? Are you receiving from him the life-giving power? Are you going through a time of pruning? Take heart that God is in control, and his purposes are for our good and his glory. Are you praying as Jesus wills? Are you receiving and sharing the love of God? Jesus says: Abide in me.

This sermon was preached at the Holy Week service in Aghavea Parish Church on Wednesday 4th April 2012.

1 comment :

  1. this was a simple, but profound sermon. Thank you for sharing.