Jesus said to his disciples, “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.”John 15:5
I had the privilege of preaching at our Lenten Community Worship Service yesterday. Here is a written manuscript of my sermon.
By now most of you have probably heard of the new word game, Wordle. Each day you get six guesses to try and figure out the five letter word of the day. It is a simple, fun game that I have been enjoying for the last couple of months. There are lots of suggestions for the best starting word to use – words that theoretically give you the best chance of figuring out the word of the day. But lately I have been choosing starting words with another purpose in mind: to set my intention for the day.
I am using words that also happen to be good starting words, but more importantly help me to stay focused that day on a particular aspect of my faith. I was using “GRACE” because I love being reminded of God’s grace every day. But for Lent, I have been using a different starting word: “ABIDE.”
This is the word that is helping me remember to abide in Jesus. It has been my spiritual focus this Lent. And it is the focus of my message today.
Abide in Jesus
“I am the vine,” Jesus tells us, “you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
This may not seem true, at first blush. We can do nothing apart from Jesus? Really? Aren’t there many people doing many good things apart from Jesus? Worthwhile things, for their families, communities, and world? Yes, of course. But they are not us. And we are not trying to do good things – we are trying to do Jesus things. We are trying to help usher in God’s loving kingdom. What could be more important than that? But we cannot do that apart from Jesus.
Simply put, we cannot be the people that God is calling us to be, individually or as a community, apart from Jesus. In fact, we cannot do anything truly worthwhile, for God and the world God loves, apart from Jesus.
Getting It Right
This is the simple truth that Jesus reminds us of in John 15. That apart from Jesus, we will never get it right. We can do nothing that we really care about, as his followers, without him. Nothing.
I like how A.W. Tozer, an American Christian pastor and writer, puts it: “I guess my philosophy is this: Everything is wrong until God sets it right.” Everything is wrong, when we are trying to serve God, until God makes it right.
And how do we make sure that we are getting it right? How do we make sure that we are not doing anything apart from Jesus? He tells us: “Abide in me.” Abide in Jesus. Just as he abides in us. Those who abide in Jesus bear much fruit. And bring glory to his Father. It all starts with abiding in Jesus.
Jesus Is the Vine. We Are the Branches
But what does it mean to abide in Jesus? Jesus answers that question by giving this great picture, of a vine and branches. To abide in Jesus starts with us recognizing that we are just the branch. Jesus is the vine. His followers are the branches.
And the only branches that are worth anything are the ones that are connected to the vine. The others dry up and whither. They become like the chaff that the wind drives away, as Psalm 1 puts it. But the branches connected to the vine are the ones that remain healthy, and that bear much fruit.
We are the branches, and Jesus is the vine. When we remember that, we will stay on the right path. We will stay connected to Jesus. We let him bear his fruit. We let him work through us to bring glory to our heavenly Father.
What Kind of Fruit (As Congregations)?
But what kind of fruit? What kind of fruit do we bear when we abide in Jesus? Well, if you ask me, it is an incredible variety of fruit. The fruit that First Lutheran Church bears is different from the fruit that your congregations bear. And that is a good thing! Because we aren’t supposed to all bear the same fruit! But I think it is also worth remembering something else today: Our congregations and denominations may all bear different fruit; we may all be different branches; but we are all connected to the same vine: Jesus. There is only one vine: Jesus. And we are all his branches. Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and on and on.
An endless variety of denominations and congregations, all bearing fruit and glorifying our heavenly Father. All branches of the same vine. There is truly only one vine. And its name is Jesus.
What Kind of Fruit (As Individuals)?
But the fruit that we bear is even more varied. Because we all, as individuals, bear different fruit. We are all connected to the same vine, but we all bear different fruit. As congregations, but also as individuals. We all have different gifts; we all have different circumstances in life, different seasons, and that affects the fruit that we bear when we abide in Jesus.
Sometimes bearing fruit will mean staying home with a sick family member. And sometimes bearing fruit will mean visiting those who are sick or hurting.
Sometimes bearing fruit will mean spending a lot of time caring for your children or grandchildren. Sometimes bearing fruit will mean spending time volunteering at school or church to help with other children.
Sometimes bearing fruit will mean serving on a church committee. But sometimes bearing fruit will mean praying for that committee while confined to our home or institution.
Cling to Jesus
There are different seasons in life when we are called upon to bear different fruit. And I can’t tell you the kind of fruit you are supposed to bear right now. But one of the reasons why I find this passage from John’s Gospel so encouraging, is that it reminds us that we don’t have to figure out what kind of fruit to bear. We just have to remain connected to the vine. If we are doing that, we will naturally bear the fruit that Jesus intends us to bear. That’s what Jesus promises.
There may be some seasons in your life when you won’t seem to be bearing any fruit at all. Seasons when you are just hanging on and trusting. Seasons when you are trying to abide in Jesus, but mostly just clinging to his promise to abide in you. That’s okay. Just do that. Cling to Jesus. Don’t worry about whether or not you are bearing fruit at the moment. Trust in his promise that when you abide in him, he will abide in you, and you will – in his time and in his way – bear much fruit.
All you have to do – all any of us are ever called to do – is to abide in Jesus. Stay connected to him, as a branch is connected to a vine, and trust that you will bear his fruit. It’s why we are here, isn’t it? We are all here as branches who know that we need the vine. We need to stay connected to him. We need Jesus. It is what unites us, what brings us together.
So, let us be faithful in staying connected to the vine. Let us trust in his promise. And let us watch for all the wonderful fruit that the vinegrower will produce. To the glory of God. Amen.