Branches in the Vine

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter based on John 15:1-8

Dear branches in the true vine: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

When it comes to bearing fruit, do not focus on the branch. There is nothing but despair as far as the branch is concerned. Jesus says that every branch of His that does not bear fruit is thrown away and withers, and is then gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.

This makes sense. If you have dead branches on your fruit trees that produce no fruit, would you not cut them off and throw them away? Dead branches steal water and nutrients from living branches and yet produce no fruit. For the good of the whole plant, you cut off dead branches. A fruitless branch is useless.

But don’t focus on the branch. Focusing on the branch is focusing on yourself and what you produce. Are you producing enough fruit of the Spirit? How have you shown that you love your neighbour as yourself? Have you not rather loved yourself above all others? Where is your joy? Is your joy in the Word of God or in what this world has to offer? Where is your patience? Do you wait patiently for God’s good timing to save you from trials, temptations, and suffering, or do you complain and grumble against God as if He desires something that is harmful for you? The same could be said of peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, the other fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

Don’t focus on the branch, because a branch by itself can produce no fruit. Whatever love and care you give the branch, by itself it remains dead. Disconnected from the vine it is worthless. You can water it and fertilize it and prune it. You can give it just the right amount of sunshine and just the right about of shade. Yet, the branch that is disconnected from the vine can produce nothing. Thus, Christ says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

You cannot produce love, joy, patience, or any other fruit of the Spirit by yourself. It’s called the fruit of the Spirit because the Holy Spirit is the source of the fruit. Abiding in Christ, the vine, the Holy Spirit produces fruit in you.

What does it mean to abide in Christ? There is no way to abide in Christ apart from Baptism, the Word, and the Sacrament of the Altar. These are the only connection Christ has with us. Apart from these Means of Grace, we are disconnected from the vine and fit only for the fire.

Through these Means of Grace, we abide in Christ and Christ abides in us. Baptism joins us to Christ, the vine. God’s Word and Holy Communion feed us and nourish us keeping us in Christ. Whoever abides in Christ bears much fruit.

We sometimes wonder why we’re having so much trouble being loving towards our neighbour or being joyful no matter our situation. We wonder why we are impatient or discontent. Yet it is because we have neglected our Baptism, the Word, and the Lord’s Supper. We haven’t been nourished as we should, so we have languished. We have mistakenly thought that God is working in our hearts apart from His Word, thus we have mistakenly thought we are self-sufficient branches with no need for the vine. Apart from Christ, the vine, we can do nothing. Apart from Christ we are dead branches destined for fire.

In Christ, however, we are alive. His forgiveness flows to us through His Means of Grace. Every sin we have ever committed is forgiven because we are in Christ. He died for our sins and rose again from the dead, so in Him, the devil and hell have no claim on us. Death is now our doorway to heaven. We will rise from the dead as surely as Christ is risen from the dead. Christ keeps strengthening our faith through His Word and His body and blood. He keeps forgiving us our sins so that we are blameless and righteous in His sight.

And God the Father prunes us. Pruning isn’t pleasant for us, but it is necessary. For plants, pruning is done to train a growing pattern, to improve plant health, and to increase the quality and quantity of fruit. This is the same for us. God prunes us to train us in godly living, to strengthen our faith, and to increase the quality and quantity of fruit we produce. God prunes things out of our lives to which we cling too closely; things that have become too important for us; things that have become idols for us.

This pruning isn’t for dead branches. Dead branches are thrown into the fire. This pruning is for branches that are in the vine and are producing fruit. This pruning is for you and me.

God the Father prunes us through sending sickness, suffering, and affliction into our lives. He doesn’t tell us why He sends particular trials our way. He doesn’t say, “You lost your farm because you spent too much time working.” He doesn’t say, “You got cancer because you don’t go to church enough.” He doesn’t say, “Your child was hurt because hockey became too important for your family.”

God doesn’t tell us why He prunes us the way He does, but we do know that all His pruning is to train us in godly living, to strengthen our faith, and to increase the quality and quantity of fruit we produce. The pruning of our loving Father and vinedresser turns us away from ourselves and everything in this world. His pruning works repentance and faith in our hearts.

Pruning is painful, but do you know what? We should pray for it! We should pray, “Heavenly Father, prune from my heart every desire for riches and fame. Take away from me everything that is important to me in this world. Destroy everything and anything in my life that I hold dear until I realize that You are my priceless treasure and that when I have You, I lack nothing and have everything. Destroy and burn down everything in this congregation and in our synod that man has built, until all that remains is what You have built.”

We do not pray this way, but we should. We should pray that God cuts from us everything we try to produce on our own and that He would keep us in the true vine so that we will bear much fruit and so prove to be disciples of Jesus.

Fortunately for us, even though we fail to pray this way, the Father still prunes us and keeps us in Christ, the true vine.

In the true vine, we are continually nourished by what Christ gives to us – His body and blood, given and shed for us. Connected to Christ, the vine, we abide in Christ and Christ abides in us.

Abiding in Christ, you will live forever. On the Last Day, you cannot be judged for your sins because you are in Christ. Christ was already judged for your sins in His death on the cross. In Christ, your sins have been taken away from you and drowned into the depths of the sea. In Christ, your sins have been removed from you as far as the east is from the west.

So, do not be weary or angry with God when He prunes you. It is not pleasant, but it is for your eternal good. And don’t focus on yourself as the branch or what you can produce. Focus on Christ, the true vine, who feeds you and nourishes you, and produces much fruit in you to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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