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Easter 5B Sermon
John 15:1-9

May 2, 2021

Sermon Archives


John 15:1-9

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide 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. 5I 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. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

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. Last week we overheard Jesus telling his disciples that he is the good shepherd. He knows his own and his own know him. He calls his flock, and he is gathering others to join his flock. It is an enduring image of the relationship between God and God’s people, featuring protection, comfort and care.
The image that we have this morning is very different but effective, nonetheless. God is the vine grower. Jesus is the vine. We are the branches. The relationship that we have with Jesus is inseparable. We are an outgrowth of Jesus and as such are to produce the wonderful grapes that give life through the food and wine they provide. It is not only a command, but it is a promise. Yes, we are commanded to produce the fruit of love; and we are grafted onto the one who is love incarnate. Indeed, we have been grafted onto the body of Christ. That is a bond that we don’t always understand but is important.

Have you ever seen anyone graft a scion bud to a rootstock organism? Let me back up a minute and define those things; a scion is a detached, living bud or shoot joined to a rootstock through grafting. A rootstock is a main branch of a plant which has its roots intact, like a tree, vine or bush. Rootstock plants are those which can successfully have a scion grafted onto it. There are at least four different types of grafting - whip grafting, side grafting, bridge grass grafting, and the most popular, cleft grafting. After a scion is cut from a plant, it is kept in a zip lock bag in a refrigerator for up to a year. This keeps it cool and moist. When the buds of the rootstock plant are just beginning to pop in the spring is the perfect time to graft a new scion onto a stock - the sap is running, and the tree is teeming with life.

In order to do a cleft graft, one first takes the scion out of the refrigerator and clips the far end to have it nice and fresh. On the end that will be grafted onto the stock, one creates a wedge or “v” by shaving opposite sides with a knife. Then one cuts into the middle of the stock upon which the scion will be grafted, gently, until it is able to split just enough to insert the wedge. After the wedge is inserted, one binds the new graft with tape or twine so that it does not dry out or become detached. It usually takes two to three years for the new graft to be able to sprout buds and eventually bear fruit. Be careful to replace the tape or twine or cut it occasionally so that, as the root stock plant heals around the scion, it has room to grow.

Why, one asks, would a person want to go to such lengths to graft a new shoot onto another tree or branch? There are many reasons - to produce more fruit, for example. Or maybe to produce different kinds of fruit from the same tree. While it is not possible to graft a cherry scion to an apple tree, you could graft different types of apple onto a single tree, thus have a variety of fruit produce by one plant. When a scion is successfully grafted onto a rootstock, the shoot will be as much a part of that tree as the other branches that naturally grew on it from the time it was a sapling. I find that amazing!

In baptism, we have been grafted onto the body of Christ. When God claimed us as God’s own children, the vinegrower grafted us as scion branches onto that wonderful rootstock vine, so that we are as much a part of God’s garden as the vine itself. There are so many gifts that come with this promise! The eternal life of Jesus flows in and throw us without our saying or doing anything. In John’s writings, Jesus and John both like to use the word, “abide.” What better image of abiding in Christ than that of being grafted onto the vine? It means that we are being set up for love, the love of Jesus that was shown to us on the cross. To abide in God’s love means to dwell in the reality that without Jesus and the love that Jesus continues to show to us, we will wither and fade, only to be cut off and thrown into the fire. But with Jesus, we are able to love without abandon.

We also have the promise that we are not alone in sharing this love. The vine of Jesus has many, many different branches going in all different directions. And like that apple tree with different kinds of apples grafted onto it, we all share the love of Christ in many different ways - through our gifts and acts of mercy, through our advocacy for justice, in leading Bible study, in teaching, healing, nursing, or simply caring for our neighbor. No matter how we produce that fruit of love, with are most prolific when we abide in the one who is teeming with life and love that flows into us, Jesus Christ.

I read an article this week written by a young pastor who became very frustrated because she didn’t think she as producing fruit as a branch abiding in the vine of Christ. She was called to a congregation that was ripe for growth, and she read all of the church growth books and made lists of things to do to accomplish the growth in numbers and it wasn’t happening. Oh, they gained a few members here and there, but not what was promised by the expert authors of those books. She shared her frustrations with her mentor, a pastor who had much more experience than she had. She felt like a failure and asked him, “How do you know if the problem in the church is you or if it’s them?” The elder pastor kind of leaned into her and said, “It seems like what you’re learning here is to stop reading those books.” They both shared a laugh over that simple - but illuminating - insight. He had identified the problem that many church leaders, young and old, have. We abide in the idea that growth means numbers of members in the church and not Christ himself - abiding in Christ and Christ’s love so completely that instead of making to do lists about how to produce the fruit of love, we just do it.

Our congregation is not large and is probably not considered “successful” by worldly standards. But I believe that we continue to abide in Jesus as intimately as branches grafted onto a living, loving vine. Through our congregation and individual members of it, all sorts of people experience the unmerited love and grace of God through our connection with Jesus Christ. Even during a Pandemic we found new ways to abide in our Lord, and we have continued to produce the fruit of God’s love. That is all on account of the vine to which we are all connected, and the promise that through this bond we are branches of God’s loving presence in the world, and we will continue to abide in that love and share that love as we are able.

We have read some of those church growth books here. They have been somewhat helpful, but they can also be overwhelming when we think about the challenges that we share as a congregation. That pastor I mentioned earlier said she stopped reading those books and started reading things like fiction, biographies, mysteries and some chick-lit. She read sermons and theology and even some poetry. She invested herself in the community not as a strategy for numerical growth, but in places where she felt compelled to share the love of Jesus. Her story stuck with me, obviously, and I hope that it is a modern-day model for you as you consider what it means to be grafted onto the vine, Jesus Christ. May the love of the risen Lord flow through us to produce the fruit that we need and that our neighbors need as we pray for God to love this world through us and through all who are branches of the vine. Amen.