John 15:1-8 Common English Bible (CEB)
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. 2 He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. 3 You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. 6 If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.
Several weeks ago I added and extension to a wall in our kitchen. It necessitated running electrical wires by drilling through the studs. Die to the tight spaces, I found myself having to use bit extensions of about 24” in order to get the holes to go through. Everything started out well as the spade bit dug into the wood and began making the hole. A little over half-way through the progress stopped. Adding more pressure didn’t seem to make a difference. It turns out that the shaft of the bit that fit into the bit extension had broken. The break was invisible, hidden by a collar on the extension. Nevertheless, the connection was lost. The bit wasn’t turning. Connection was absolutely required.
Our theme throughout Lent is, “The Need For …”, based on chapters 13-16 of the Gospel of John. Jesus was addressing what disciples – what we - would need to be a part of God’s plan for the world. The first week we looked at the need for cleansing. Last week we spoke of the need for belief. This week our theme is “The Need For … Connection” Connection is a mutual indwelling. Eight times in Eight verses Jesus uses the word, “remain.” We are to keep a strong connection with God. It harkens back to John 14:20, where Jesus said, “… I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you.” That is the connection we are to remain in.
Why would the disciples need to remain in Jesus? There was an immediate need for this – the trials and tragedy of the next two days would test them beyond belief. Their world would be turned upside down. The one they had come to know as the Messiah, come to trust his guidance, would be taken from them by the treachery of one of their own. The very Temple authorities they had trusted would be at the forefront of the plot. It wouldn’t just be a lively debate it would be a trial and a conviction. Those authorities would demand his death. All this would test their faith to the limit. They needed a deep connection with God and each other in order to weather this storm. But, even more pressing, in Jesus words are the ties to the word “produce.” Seven times in eight verses Jesus talks about producing fruit. Their connection to Jesus and the Father needed to produce fruit in their lives. In verse 4, Jesus says, “A branch cannot produce fruit by itself.” In an image that was crystal clear to the disciples Jesus says that without this “remaining” in relationship with himself their lives would produce nothing. The immediate fruit for each of the disciples needed to be endurance, comfort and hope- for their own well-being. They were to abide in Jesus for that fruit.
Consider a fruit tree. Fruit contains the seed for another generation of trees. “In the bulb there is a flower, in the seed, an apple tree,” in the words of Natalie Sleeth in the Hymn of Promise. The disciples had a purpose to fulfill – to bear fruit for additional generations. In Matthew 12:33 it says, “… the tree is known by its fruit.” Christians are known by their fruit. In John15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit.” When we abide – when we remain connected to God – we glorify God and prove that we are disciples of Jesus. [John 15:8]
Talking of fruit reminds me of Galatians 5:22-23 – the Fruit of the Spirit. Let’s hear these two verses again. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this.” Have you ever noticed that most of these descriptions of fruit are relational? This ties directly to 5:26 – “Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other.” The point is that as we remain in God and God in us – we also must abide with each other. Our connection is with each other as well. In another remodeling image, I have put in many junction boxes in the process of rewiring our house. For the lights in the living room and dining room, the power comes into the junction box and is then distributed to each of the light fixtures in that area. The various wires are connected with wire nuts. In some of the larger junction boxes I have to use a larger wire nut because I am connecting 5 wires together. Every now and then, in the process of connecting the wires one wire pushes back out of the bundle and loses contact. When I test the circuits that circuit is dead. I have to rework the connection. We are bound together in Christ, for our own good as well as for the good of the Kingdom. We “conduct” the power of God to and through one another. We must keep our connections with each other as well as with God.
Part of Jesus’ teaching in chapters 13-16 is to bolster each disciple individually. Another part is to bolster the disciples in the mission of bringing salvation to the world - spreading faith, love, grace, hope, strength, and so much more to the world. “The church was not established by Jesus and then left behind on earth to carry on his work, but God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit continue in and as the church on its missionary journey. This is the power of the vine image! Jesus says he is the vine – not just the trunk or just the root, but the whole vine, branches and all. God is not an absentee Lord, but an indwelling Lord. God is an integral part of all that we are and all that we do. Listen to 1 John 4:11-16. “God has given us his Spirit. That is how we know that we are one with him, just as he is one with us. 14 God sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. We saw his Son and are now telling others about him. 15 God stays one with everyone who openly says that Jesus is the Son of God. That’s how we stay one with God 16 and are sure that God loves us. God is love. If we keep on loving others, we will stay one in our hearts with God, and he will stay one with us.” That is the beauty of an individual abiding in God and the body of Christ, the Church, abiding in God.
We need a solid connection with God; continuous, vital, living connection. It is for our own well-being as well as for the well-being of the world.
We need connection with each other. Together we are the whole vine joined in Christ for all God’s work.
This Lent, renew that connection with our Lord and Savior, and look for the ways God will build us up – individually as well as corporately – for the work of the Kingdom.
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Pastor Paul Grossman