John: The True Vine

John: The True Vine
A Message on John 15:1-11
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 23, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 15:1-11 (NRSV)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

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I have learned a lot about growing grapes the past couple of years. About three years ago I bought a muscadine grape vine and planted it in the backyard of the parsonage. And that’s all I did to it other than water it when it got real dry.

Week before last I went out and picked the ripe muscadine grapes and made some muscadine jelly. There weren’t a whole lot of grapes, and the ones that were there were small, but I got enough to make jelly. (Well, not really. I needed 5 cups of juice and only got 4, so I added a cup of Welch’s grape juice to make up the difference. Okay, I know, but don’t judge. The jelly tastes great!)

Now my daughter Emily attends Texas A&M University (Whoop!) where she is majoring in Agricultural Communications and minoring in Horticulture. She knows about plants and growing things and the past several years she has been telling me over and over and over that I need to prune my grape vines during the winter when they are dormant. She begs me to prune them. And every year I don’t.

I’m not good at pruning things. It hurts my heart to prune. I figure if the plant is growing, just let it grow. As a result I have a real bushy plant (here’s a photo). I am disappointed year after year that I don’t get very many grapes from it and that the grapes I do get are very small. So I say that I’m going to prune the vines come winter but then I chicken out and say things like, “Well, if I water it more this year than I did last year I’ll get more and better grapes.” Except it never works.

Here are two photos. On the left are my grapes. On the right are what they are supposed to look like. Sigh… So why are mine so puny? I’m guessing it’s because I don’t prune the vines. The plant’s root system is spread too thin trying to get water and nutrients to too many leaves and stalks that it doesn’t have what’s necessary to raise good, large grapes.

Pam is much better at pruning than I am because she is more brutal than I am. Back before I went into the ministry we had rose bushes at our house. After seeing my feeble attempts at pruning and she would get the pruning shears and prune them properly. And every year I thought she had pruned too much and killed the plant. It would just be like a couple of sticks left and it looked so pitiful and I would think, “Well, she’s killed that bush. We’ll have to replace it this coming year.” (I would also think to myself, “I’m never letting her cut my hair. I wouldn’t have any left!)

But we never had to buy new rose bushes. In spite of my pessimism and her viscous pruning, the rose bushes would grow strongly and produce beautiful blooms.

In the scripture we read today from the gospel of John Jesus is talking about grape vines and the importance of pruning them. Even in the ancient world they, unlike me, knew the importance of pruning the vines so that they would produce more and better fruit.

Grapes were a very important part of the ancient world. In Genesis we find Noah being credited as the first person to plant a grape orchard. He planted grapes after he and his family got off their cruise. (He also got drunk off the wine from those grapevines, but that’s another sermon for another time.)

One of the things required for the sacrificial system, along with animals and grain, was wine. So it had significant religious purposes even in the Old Testament.

In Jesus’ parables we find the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). So grapes and vineyards and wine were important in Bible times!

And of course in the New Testament I hope you think of the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus told his disciples that the wine was his blood and that the bread was his body. It’s something so significant that we still celebrate it today (except for during this pandemic). I am SO looking forward to the day when we can celebrate it again!

Today I want to explore what Jesus means when he is talking about the true vine, pruning, and producing fruit.

First, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.” This means that God is the vinegrower, and Jesus is the vine. Jesus, in doing the will of God, is the “true vine,” the connection to God.

Of course in Trinitarian theology we know that Jesus is not only the way to God but IS God, as is the Holy Spirit. God in three persons, all equal, all God. But Jesus is using a metaphor here, and when it comes to God all metaphors fall short.

Jesus is saying this for our benefit, to help us comprehend a theological concept. Jesus is telling us, through the terms “true vine,” that he is the real deal.

There is a variety of wild grapes that grow in the middle east, but they are not very good. The grapes themselves are small, dry, and not very productive. In Isaiah 5 we read about these wild grapes.

“Let me sing for my beloved, my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.” Isaiah 5:1-2

Later in the chapter Isaiah writes this: “And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” Isaiah 5:5-6

Because the grapevines that are growing are wild grapes, the owner is destroying it, abandoning it. Isaiah is saying that because Jerusalem and Judea have not followed God’s laws and have turned away from God, becoming in effect “wild grapes,” then God will abandon them to their wicked ways. The vines in the orchard were not “true” vines.

Jesus is the “true vine.” As we read in the scripture last week from the previous chapter in John, Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Unfortunately there are many wild vines that lead us astray today. These vines look pretty, they are nice and green and look attractive, but they don’t produce any fruit. We water and fertilize them with our time, our energy, our finances, our relationships. We give them our attention, thinking that at any time they are going to bear the fruit we seek: completeness, wholeness, finding the meaning for our life.

But the fruit never comes, because it can’t. IT’s not the true vine. Only Jesus is the true vine, the only one that produces the fruit of righteousness, of grace, of love.

Now let’s talk about pruning. Pruning hurts. We don’t like to prune, and we don’t like to be pruned. But just as with grapes, pruning is necessary to bear fruit.

When we follow Jesus there will be times when it will be necessary for him to prune us. When we start thinking too much of ourselves and make everything be about “me,” when we begin thinking the world revolves around us, we need to be pruned in order to bear the fruit of humility.

When we begin to make idols and begin to worship them, things such as greed, popularity, possessions, careers, or hobbies, then we need Jesus to prune us in order to produce the fruit of worshiping only the one true God.

When we fail to feed the poor, to seek peace, to stand up for justice, to advocate for the oppressed, and to fight evil in our world, we need Jesus to prune us in order to produce the fruit of, well, being Christian.

The reality is that anything we think, say, or do that doesn’t bear fruit for the Kingdom of God needs to be pruned. It’s not pleasant, and it can be painful at the time, but it is what is necessary for us to be connected to the True Vine and produce good fruit.

The final topic I want to explore today is that of bearing fruit. As Christians, we are called to bear fruit, to further the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Christianity is not a self-centered religion. Unfortunately many people get the idea that the primary focus of being a Christ follower is our own salvation, of making that decision to follow Jesus and therefore, be “saved” which keeps us from burning in hell after we die. I call that “Jesus as fire insurance.”

But there is so much more to being a Christian than that! It is an important part, yes, but once we are “justified” (to use a Wesleyan term) then we are to work to move on to sanctification.

Remember is Wesleyan theology we have prevenient grace, which is God working in our lives, even when we don’t realize it or know it, before we come to Jesus. Justifying grace is when we accept that grace that Jesus offers us by making the decision to accept him as our savior, but the third expression of grace is sanctifying grace, those things that we do after we are saved that draw us closer to God and to–get this–bear fruit.

How are we to bear fruit? By telling others about Jesus. Not only that, but being active in leading others to Christ as well. When we are pruned from the world’s temptations and desires, then we will focus on God, being connected to the True Vine, and will lead others to Christ. We will fulfill the great commission found in the 28th chapter of Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20

That’s how we produce fruit! Unlike my puny grapes, big, beautiful, gorgeous clusters of grapes!

So my challenge for you this week is three fold: 1. Remember to stay connected to the True Vine. 2. Prune anything out of your life that doesn’t lead toward producing fruit toward the Kingdom, and 3. Tell others about Jesus so we can bear fruit for the Kingdom.

And if you need your grapevines pruned, you better call Pam or Emily, not me.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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