Sunday 2nd May 2021
(Joanna Fisher - Liturgical Assistant )
The Vine and the Branches
(Based on John 15:1-8)
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,
while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes
so that it will be even more fruitful.
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
Remain in me, as I also remain in you.
No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.
Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches.
If you remain in me and I in you,
you will bear much fruit;
apart from me you can do nothing.
If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers;
such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit,
showing yourselves to be my disciples.'
A moment of prayer….
Lord may these spoken words be faithful to the written word
and lead us to the living Word, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Unlike many of you here, gardening is not my forte! I’m never quite sure what to plant, when to plant or where to plant! I’ve attempted many times to plant daffodil bulbs, but my track record for bringing them to flower is two; two lovely yellow daffodils out of 50 bulbs, nicely socially distanced at 2m apart from each other in the garden, and subsequently procured by my son for football goal posts!
So, I had a little smile to myself when I felt God nudged me to take up this reading about Vines and Vineyards – about growing things and pruning!
Thankfully, Jesus knows a lot more about gardens that I do!
The Gospel lesson that Lyn read for us today from John will be a familiar passage to you, some of you may even have sung about it at Michael School –
‘If Jesus is de vine, we must be, de branches… ‘
The lesson is one of a succession of lessons that Jesus taught his disciples in his last days in and around Jerusalem. Time was short. He needed to make sure they knew what to expect when he was no longer with them, he needed to reassure them and let them know that they would be strengthened by the Holy Spirit, he needed to tell them how to live and love.
And so it is, in Chapter 15, that we come to this lesson. The words are probably some of the very last that Jesus taught his disciples before his death and resurrection.
Here, in this lesson, Jesus gives us an allegory; a simple story that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning. And in this story about vines and branches, Jesus reveals to us that he is the true vine, we are the branches, and Father God is the gardener; he reveals to us that we may need a bit of pruning here and there; and he reveals to us that if we are to bear fruit, we need to be connected to the vine, the source of nourishment.
It’s a passage rich in teaching and there is much we can learn from it.
We can learn from it individually or collectively as church.
We could focus on different aspects of the story.
For example, we could explore the characteristics of the gardener, Father God.
We could study the true vine itself, Jesus.
We could discover things about ourselves as branches and fruit-bearers.
But what I’d like to explore in depth this morning is what I believe to be the heart of the story, and it’s encapsulated in this short phrase -
‘remain in me, as I also remain in you’ ‘remain in me, as I also remain in you’.
Simply put, remain means to stay and its used 8 times in this little passage.
Some Bible translations, use the word abide, which has a more homely sound to it – somewhere we can rest and feel that we belong.
We, the branches, are being called to remain or abide in the vine, in Jesus,
and when we do this, he assures us that he will remain/stay with us.
It’s what theologians describe as being in “union/communion with Christ.”
So, what does Jesus mean practically when he says… remain in me?
Well, in order to remain in something, there has to be a connection.
Clearly branches are attached to the vine, and the vine is attached to the branches.
We can’t separate the branches from the vine,
and we can’t ‘remain’ or stay in something that we’re not attached to.
When I was at school, I studied biology, and I remember learning about how sap containing water, minerals and nutrients moves up and down the plant, through the roots, stems or branches and leaves nourishing the whole plant.
The plant grows because all parts are connected. If they’re not connected, they can’t receive the nutrients, they wither, they become fruitless, they shrivel up and die.
When we are connected to Jesus, we can tap into that life-giving spirit which refreshes and nourishes us through his word and his love, and allows us to branch out,
to grow in Christ and produce the fruit of the Spirit.
If there is no connection, we don’t function as we were created to do,
there is no life in us, no growth, no fruitfulness.
Tony Horsfall in his book ‘A fruitful life’ recounts a story about his computer skills.
He says… if I have a problem, I usually need to consult my children for whom computers and the internet are second nature. Recently when my computer ‘died’ on me, I called my daughter for help. 'Dad,' she said, 'always remember one thing with computers. If something goes wrong, first check the connections.'
It's the same for us, when things seem to be going wrong in life,
if they are not working out for us – we need to check the connection –
are we in touch with Jesus, are we still attached to the vine,
the source of our nourishment and strength?
So, 'remain in me' is about being connected; about being refreshed and nourished.
Then there comes the next part of the phrase, 'as I also remain in you’.
This is such a reassuring and empowering phrase.
The disciples must have been so comforted when they heard this, as must we be.
Jesus is saying that we are not alone, if we remain in him,
he can do no other than remain /stay in us (as the gardener God, wills it);
he will give us whatever we need to become more Christ-like, and to bear fruit.
And this fruit – is the fruit of LOVE.
Without love, we are lost, shrivelled up, dead, we can do nothing.
As Paul says in 1 Corinthians (13)
' If I...... do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.'
Love’s purpose is to branch out and grow the Kingdom,
and the fruits of love – patience, kindness, truthfulness etc make this happen.
As we stay connected to Jesus through faith, prayer and scripture,
he will stay with and in us, enabling the propagation of the gospel,
the spread of the Kingdom.
There is a strong interconnection here, a closeness, a mutual relationship.
Jesus provides the nourishment; we need to offer a response.
We can’t remain in something without engaging with it – we can’t for example remain an accomplished musician if we never practice.
So, what actions can we take to remain in Jesus?
What would Jesus say and have us do?
He would say….
What opportunities do we have here in this church to remain in Jesus?
We have a study group on a Wednesday evening which all are welcome to attend.
If an evening is not suitable, I’m sure other times can be arranged.
We have private study opportunities using Bible Fellowship notes amongst other things.
We have worship opportunities – mainly on Sundays, but there is no reason why we can’t worship Jesus when we are out and about – giving thanks for creation, for blessings, for family etc. It’s called ‘Fruitfulness on the Frontline’.
We have pastoral care –opportunities to look out for each other and show love.
We have a thriving MU group which is active in church and community.
We have fellowship opportunities – not least after this service when hopefully you will be able to share grapes from the vine along with Dorothy’s cakes!
There is a lovely hymn we sometimes sing at Evening Prayer
“O strength and stay, upholding all creation, whoever dost thyself unmoved abide”.
Jesus is our strength and stay,
let’s remain in him and be thankful that he indeed remains in us.