We are bringing to a close, this week, our series on the stories Jesus told. We’ve been studying the stories that Jesus used to paint the picture of what it means to be a Christian.
This week, we’ll be exploring a story that is particularly relevant- at least in name- to us here at Living Vine. And while this is not a story, in the linear and narrative sense, it’s still portraying a story, has participants, and is teaching us a lesson.
The text we’ll be reading from today comes from John 15:5-8. Let’s take a look at it as we begin:
5 “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. 6 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. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Who’s “The Vine?”
Starting off, let’s explore the characters in the story. Let’s get a handle on the current that’s moving beneath the surface.
The first question has a very simple answer…sort of.
Who’s the Vine? Well, as we read in verse 5, Jesus is the vine. But don’t move on too quickly. This isn’t just a bit of cute wordplay that Jesus is partaking in here. The vine, and the concept of the vine, is something that came before Jesus’ time on earth. It has been an important metaphor that has been around for generations.
Who else has been the vine?
This metaphor started in Genesis with Joseph being called the “Fruitful Vine” (Gen 49:22). And it grew to describe the set-apart nation of Israel. In Jeremiah we see Israel described this way:
“I (God) planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock.”
And from there, it moved on to become the symbol for wisdom and eventually for Judaism during the time of Jesus.
In this image of the vine was wrapped up the greats of history, their national identity, and who they presently were as an exiled people.
This wasn’t just any illustration. This was THE illustration that captured the hearts of the listeners around Jesus, and this was a beautiful and powerful illustration for how the Christ follower was to live his life.
Passive vs Active
Now there are two specific parts to reading this story. The passive and the active time in the life of the vine.
Everyone here knows about vineyards and about vines. You know that there is a season of life, of growth and eventual harvest, and you know that there is a time of resting, and replenishing.
In other words, there is a time of work and a time of rest.
Today, we’re going to talk about work, and more specifically, the fruits that we as Christians yield during the seasons of action.
A bit of a heads up: We will be having a month of Abiding in the month of November. It’s during this time that we will study what it means to abide and rest as a church. We will be coming back to this passage and will study this in more depth then.
The simplicity of fruitfulness
Plants don’t have conscious thoughts. They can’t reason, and they can’t make difficult decisions, can they?
If you went over to the community garden, and stood next to those unbelievably tall corn stalks and asked that stalk whether it was right for a hungry man to steal a loaf of bread for his hungry family, would it be able to answer your question?
Of course not!
What about the Fig tree? Or the tomato plant?
Yet every year, around the same time (well, for trees and other perennial plants) they will begin to come alive. They will form buds and those buds will produce flowers or fruits. Those fruits will always be the same thing. This fig tree will never decide to become an apple tree, right?
And the lemon tree wont decide it wants to now be a plum-tree. A vineyard of grapes won’t one day bloom olives because it’s tired of growing grapes. The tree is exactly what it was created to be!
And, the beauty is that each tree, vine or plant’s yearly rhythm and tradition of growth and death is done without the ability to think logically and abstractly.
In other words, plants grow fruit because it’s the most natural thing in the world for them to do it!
What happens when you stop producing?
The simple answer is that you’re discarded.
I was talking with Ron the other day about the trees that grew behind our house. Elizabeth and I were remembering about a persimmons tree that grew, and were sad that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the fruit it was grown. But in my telling Ron about our sadness in losing that tree, he told me that the tree wasn’t producing good fruit, and so it was taking up space that could be used for, say planting another healthy tree in the future.
In our passage, Jesus reminds us that this is the same thing that happens to those who do not produce fruit in their lives.
If the plant or plants are unable or unwilling to produce healthy fruit, they are in danger of being cut down and disposed of.
That’s a nice feeling, huh?
What is your vine?
This is a scary thought because we all can make a vine out of so many things.
Think about it. What is the nature or purpose of a vine? The branches, leaves and fruit (in other words, us) don’t have the power to find sustenance and nutrients alone. If you cut off a branch and stick it in the ground, what happens? It just becomes a dead stick in the ground.
However, connect the branch to the vine, the branch will thrive because of the nutrients it receives from the vines and roots.
So, if we are the branch, our question becomes what is our vine?
We can try to fulfill our life, our energy, and purpose by more than just Christ.
We can connect ourselves to our work. We can sustain ourselves by money. We can fuel ourselves by relationships, or we can become dependant on emotions.
All of these things will give us energy. They will give us sustenance and will help us to develop fruit.
And, the truth is, it’s very difficult to tell what the nutrient source is. Nobody sees inside the plant. Nobody can tell what’s happening down at the root level. But the branches, leaves and fruit are being developed and they are being fed.
And our fruit, the product of our life will either be healthy or not based on the source of our existence.
So, you can tell a great deal about a person, about their values and about the way they want to live their lives based on the fruit they are producing. Right?
What is our fruit?
So, it’s obvious the message Jesus is trying to get across is that we need to be fruit bearing people, as well as a fruit bearing church, but what does that look like for us?
Paul gives depth to these beliefs. In Galatians 5, Paul paints a picture of the fruits one would develop as he or she grew in relationship with God.
He lays out both the fruits of the Kingdom of God and the Fruits of the kingdom of man.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Fruit of the “Me-Centered Life.”
When we live our lives for ourselves, for the pleasures we long for, for our job, for our notoriety, for revenge, for control, for excess of everything we will find that our lives begin to for the fruits of that life.
A person will live this life and be remembered for how they lived it. Maybe they will be remembered for the harm the caused.
However, it doesn’t have to be a negative memory. Maybe they are remembered for their great accomplishments. The money the accumulated. The music they made. The art they created. Their accomplishments in their chosen field of work.
You can live a good life, can accomplish a lot, but still not produce anything of lasting value.
Fruit of the “Christ-Centered Life
You can spot this person a mile away. The person who invests his life in the kingdom, they will begin to develop a heart of love, generosity, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness. You will begin to be identified by those qualities instead of the accomplishments in your life.
Think about the best person you’ve ever known in your life.
Tell me about them.
I have had the blessing of knowing several people (being related to several) who displayed what it meant to possess these fruits of the spirit. One of these giants of the faith was my great, great Aunt Marty.
She was someone who had every day struggles in her life just like anyone. Early in her marriage, her husband left her for her best friend. Even though she had every reason be be, she refused to become bitter, and I never heard my Aunt Marty speak a bad word about him.
Aunt Marty believed in God’s calling of the youth. This found it’s way in her intentional investing in a deaf man, living in a world that didn’t understand how to deal with him, and helped foster his calling to preach. Her connection helped him realize his calling to be a great preacher, bringing the gospel to those who could not hear.
She invested her time in overseas missions, serving in Puerto Rico.
She created a simple, yet sweet song that she sang to my mom and to ever baby who came after. My mom sang that same song to my sister and I, and now my sister and I sing it to our own kids.
She had this beautiful phrase she would say.
She would ask, “Has anyone ever told you they love you today?” If not, she would say, “let me be the first.” If you had, she’d say, “add me to the list!”
And, at the end of her life, at the age of 87, she passed. When people gathered to remember her life, the church was filled with people who also called her “Aunt.” She loved without ceasing, lived with an infectious joy, spread peace, was patient, kind, good and gentle.
And she loved the Cardinals, to boot.
This Godly woman lived a life filled to the brim with God, and you knew her deep love and goodness by the fruit in her life.
What fruit are you producing?
Are you connected to God? Are you spending time with him? Are you praying?
What fruit is this church producing?
This is both inward and outward in appearance. This shows by the love, compassion and generosity we show.
A secret: I brag on you all to the pastors of this district. Do you know that? When we talk about how life is going at our collective churches, I always talk about how God is stretching and challenging this church, but that you all are responding. That you all are giving of yourselves, being generous with time, and finances.
But lets not be happy with where we are.
In a few weeks, we’re going to begin a sermon series on Prayer, and will end with the culmination of a big week of prayer. We’ll give more info in the coming weeks, but I want you guys to begin to pray that God continues to shape and mold, both you and this church.
Ultimately, may we be the people and be the church that is remembered for asking, “has anyone told you they love you today?”