5/3 2015 Fifth Sunday of Easter The text is John 15:1-8.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Whenever important events are going to take place, we make plans. A husband and wife will spend hours planning for a 50th birthday party or a 50th anniversary. Soon-to-be parents will practice a trip to the hospital. A couple will dote over every detail of their upcoming wedding. But, no matter how well we plan, we can’t always be certain everything will happen as we envision.
For one couple, the wedding day didn’t quite turn out the way they had planned it. Yes, they doted over every detail, including the music which was to be played from a recorded tape. On the day of the wedding, every detail was once again checked and the tape was set to play the music, “O Perfect Love,” at the appropriate time in the ceremony. But, the couple made one big mistake. They left a nervous operator in charge of playing the tape. So, when the music began to play, the bride exclaimed, “O Lord, abide with me!” Of course her words were probably not a prayer, but a comment on the unexpected song which is often played at funerals and never at weddings.
Maybe that song was a mistake. Maybe our best laid plans don’t always turn out the way we expect. But God’s best laid plans have a way of sneaking into our lives. So, maybe that unexpected wedding song was a divine message after all. For, at all times and in all places, especially when we are making life-time commitments, we should ask the Lord to abide with us. The rest of the time, we should ask, “let us, O Lord, abide with you.”
We need an abiding relationship, a fruitful relationship with God – a relationship rooted in the Lord. We need a relationship that we can count on, one which will not wither or fade – a relationship which cannot be cut off with a divorce or a death or an unexpected calamity for it is secured by the promises of God and the cross of Christ. The Father will always keep his side of this relationship that he planned for us when he sent his son into the world. Jesus brought that relationship to fruition as he rose from the tomb. The Holy Spirit sealed that relationship when we were grafted onto the tree of life in baptism. It is this relationship which nurtures and supports us so that we can become the fruitful and productive people that God created us to be.
“I am the true vine – you are the branches,” says the Lord. Through this special connection to Jesus, we get what we need to sustain our life. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “God has designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
The beauty of the relationship we have in Christ is that God has given us what we need for a fruitful life. God has given us more than just information about himself and his plans for us. God has given us himself. He has given us more than rules to live by and outward appearances. God has given us a relationship to him which is to last forever. If we break away from the life-giving relationship, we will become unproductive branches. Part of us will wither and die.
Standard horticulture practices demand that deadwood be removed in order for the vine to remain healthy and fruit-bearing. So, being deadwood in a relationship with Christ is not a good thing. Those who break away from the life-sustaining relationship that God has given us by rooting us in Christ are cut off from the very stuff that is meant to nourish and sustain life. This is not good news for us, nor is it not good news for God because our God wants us all to remain part of that true vine forever. But, that will not be so. For, in caring for the vineyard, pruning is essential.
In pruning a vine, two principles are generally observed: first, all deadwood is ruthlessly removed; and second, the live is cut back drastically. Deadwood is removed because it harbors insects and diseases that can cause the entire vine to rot, in the same way a bad apple can cause a bushel of apples to decay. Live wood is trimmed back in order to enhance productivity. For if “sucker shoots” are allowed to continue to grow, they will choke productivity. Our farmer God knows this. So, he carefully prunes the branches as he tends to the vine, in order that it may flourish.
My friends, Christ is the life-sustaining vine. We are the branches which are to bear fruit. But, fruit bearing is not possible by our own power or will any more than a vine can grow without roots. The fruits of a Christian life only come through Jesus Christ abiding in us and us in him. Our fruitfulness begins with God’s nurture and it blossoms as we serve those in need.
As a servant people, we bear fruit as we bear witness to God’s grace by being gracious and charitable, helpful and understanding toward others. We bear fruit as we reflect, toward others, the forgiveness we have received from a God who allowed his own son to die for our sin. It is important for you and me to remain rooted in that God and maintain appropriate relationships with both our human and our spiritual roots. For a branch does not bear fruit as a dead branch. We only bear fruit if we remain alive in Christ.
It is our Father’s plan that we stay rooted in the vine. It is Jesus’ purpose to become the vine on which we find life. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to help us produce the fruit of the vine. To abide in the Lord is to be nourished and sustained in faith. May we pray that the Lord abide with us and us in Him. May we be the fruitful people that God plans for us to be as we remain united in Christ forever. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.