Late spring has come to the beach and Scott has planted a garden of sorts. Because our soil is mostly non-existent and mostly sand, he is doing the ‘container gardening thing.’ He has planted cucumbers, and squash (two kinds), and tomatoes (4 kinds). He has managed to put together a trellis system so that all of these vining plants can grow, and grow, and grow. He feeds, fertilizes, and waters, and really pays attention to these plants. Why? Why go through all that trouble?
So these plants can produce fruit. The goal of the garden is the fruit.
And so it is with God. Did you know that God is a farmer?
Jesus said to his disciples: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
God has planted people. We are his garden, and he wants to produce fruit. You and I were created by God for a purpose—to produce fruit for God. But what kind of fruit is God looking for? He is looking for obedience, righteousness, worship, and glory from his creation. But if we are God’s garden, and if we are created to produce fruit for him, we arrive at a fundamental question: How can we be sure that God is pleased with our fruit?
Each and every religion has a different way of answering that question. What will it take for us to be acceptable to God? Do we need to follow a strict set of rules and regulations? Do we need to perform certain sacrifices and rituals? What do we do with the nagging feeling that we do not measure up?
Let’s talk about that.
In verse 1 of our reading today, Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.” Did you notice the “the” in there? Jesus did not say, “I am like a vine.” He is not just comparing himself to a vine. He is the vine. Similarly, he doesn’t say, “I am a vine,” as though there were many vines, and he is just one of them. No, Jesus says, “I am the vine,” the one and only vine.
But that is not all. Instead of simply saying, “I am the vine,” he says, “I am the true vine.” But what does that mean? How can a vine be true? The word true is the whole point. We then ask the question: If Jesus is the true vine, who or what is the untrue vine?
In today’s world, there are many “untrue vines:” money, popularity, power. All of these produce fruit. But is it fruit that matters?
Jesus is the vine, and He said that we are the branches. In verse 5 Jesus tells his disciples, “I am the vine, and you are the branches.” Jesus makes it clear that there are two different kinds of branches: fruitful branches and unfruitful branches.
Which one are you? Are you a fruitful branch? Do you produce what is pleasing to God? Or are you an unfruitful branch? How can you be sure of which one you are? This passage tells us there is only one difference between the two. Fruitful branches abide in the vine. Verses 5 and 6 explain this clearly:
Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
So the secret of the fruitful branches is that they abide in Jesus. What does it mean to abide? Abide basically means “to remain,” “to stay put,” “to linger in one place,” “to dwell,” “to stay connected.” The most important thing for a branch to do is to stay connected to the vine. Only a branch that receives life-giving sap from the vine will live and bear fruit.
And so it is with us. Are you connected to Jesus? Picture a lamp. What is the purpose of a lamp? What is the “fruit” of the lamp? Light. What has to happen before that lamp can work? It has to have a bulb. It has to be turned on. It has to be connected to a power source. And you say to me, Bishop, what does this have to do with vines? Let me tell you. The bulb of the lamp is our soul, our faith. We have to turn on our faith by prayer and study….but does that shed any light? Not if the lamp isn’t plugged in it doesn’t. In order for the lamp to work properly, or at all, it must be plugged in to the power source. Like us. We must be “plugged in” to Jesus. Before we can bear any fruit at all, we must be connected to Jesus. He must be our Power, our Strength, our Source.
And what, exactly, is our fruit to be? We are told in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Chapter 5, verses 22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” The fruit of the Holy Spirit is the result of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of a Christian. And so, what is it that our Christ expects of us? He was pretty specific about it. In Matthew 22: 36-40, Jesus says, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
How can you, how DO you, show the world Christ’s love? How do you show the world that our Christ IS love? DO you produce fruit? What kind of branch are you?
Father God, You are indeed the Supreme Gardener. We ask that you tend to us, nurture us, help us to grow and to bear fruit for You, that the world might see your love, and that we may bring others to the Light of your Salvation. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.