Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Text: John 15:4b,5
A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine. In the same way you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me. "I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.

Branches on the vine

A four engine jetliner is halfway to its destination when the pilot's voice comes across the loudspeaker (which are never all that loud), "Those of you on the left side of the plane have probably noticed that one of our engines has failed. Please, donít be alarmed. We can still fly on three engines, but we will probably arrive about 30 minutes late."
A few minutes later the pilot's calm voice was heard again: "Those of you on the right side of the plane are probably aware that a second engine has failed. Please donít be alarmed. We can make it on two engines, though we will probably be at least an hour late now."
A few minutes later the pilot spoke to the passengers: "It has just come to my attention that a third engine has failed. Please donít be alarmed. We can make it to the airport on one engine. However, we will arrive approximately 1 Ĺ hours late."
One passenger turned to another and said, "Boy, I hope that fourth engine doesn't fail, or we could be up here all night!"

When travelling on a plane, we are completely dependent on the mechanics who service the planeís engines and on the expertise of the pilot. I have to rely totally on a machine that is way too heavy to be flying through the air and will come down if there is a mechanical or electronic failure.

When we go out to eat we trust that the chef is providing good fresh food.

When we switch on an electrical appliance, we depend on the manufacturerís skill to make something that wonít blow up in our faces.
When you think about it, we are dependent on so many people. We trust them to do their job so that we can live safe and happy lives.

Mike, a helicopter pilot was home on leave from the navy and over dinner was telling his father all about the choppers he flew often in very dangerous conditions far out at sea. He concluded by saying that his life and that of the crew depended on one bolt Ė the bolt that held the huge whirling rotor in place. The mechanics had named this the Ďjesusí bolt. You can see why. Without the Ďjesusí bolt they would be doomed. Their safe return home depended entirely on this one bolt.

That is a modern parable of what Jesus is telling us in the reading from Johnís Gospel today when he says, "I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me" (John 15:5). You donít have to know too much about gardening and plants to realise that a tree, shrub or any plant as far as that goes, depends on the trunk and the root system for it to be happy and healthy. To use the imagery of the Ďjesusí bolt, you might say the trunk of the vine is the Ďjesusí trunk because without it the vine is dead.

A man once planted cucumbers in his backyard. He had made sure that the ground was well prepared. He bought the best cucumber seedlings and set to work with the skill of a man who had planted cucumbers for many seasons. To his delight, soon he had cucumber vines all across his back yard. The plants were green and healthy. One day, he noticed that some of the leaves didnít look as green as the others.

Not many days later, some of the leaves were as good as dead. He followed the vines with the dead leaves until he got back to the main plant. There at the base of the main stem he noticed that some kind of grub had almost eaten through the stem. The cucumber plant was dependent on the main stem for water and nourishment. Life giving juices flow from the main stem to the branches and enables high-quality delicious fruit to appear. It's not possible to produce fruit without being connected to the stem. Even though the man had cultivated the ground carefully and watered daily, the cucumber vines were unable to receive that goodness and so withered and died.

In a similar way, as Christians, we need our true vine, Jesus Christ. When Jesus says, "I am the vine, and you are the branches" he is talking about the very special relationship that exists between him and us. We are dependent on him for everything we need in our daily life -
from food, health, family and good friends
to love, forgiveness, hope, comfort and eternal life.
Apart from him we would be like the cucumber vine with its wilting leaves. Without being joined to the main stem and roots we would die. As Jesus said, "If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit. But you canít do anything without me" (John 15:5 CEV).

We were joined to Jesus at our baptism. You might say that when the water of baptism was poured over us we were grafted into the vine, Jesus. We were intimately connected to him, his death and resurrection, and received from him all that we need to sustain our lives.
We are connected to him when we come here to worship, and when we hear his Word. It doesnít matter how much we think we know about the Bible or how many times we have read it, we need the life-giving nourishment that Godís Word offers. As we read it and study it, Godís Word offers us strength in the face of new situations.
We are joined to Jesus when we receive his body and blood in Holy Communion. We are refreshed and freed from the guilt of our sin.
Our faith is strengthened as we are nourished through Godís Word and Sacrament. The Holy Spirit works through these and enables our life in Christ to grow, to be made stronger, and to keep us close to God when the chips are down.

If we donít eat and drink every day we become sick and maybe even die. Likewise as branches of the true vine, Jesus, we are kept healthy and alive because we are connected to the source of life. The translators of the New Testament have used various words to describe this connection. Whether we talk of Ďabidingí, Ďremainingí, or Ďbeing joinedí, one thing is clear being connected to Christ is crucial. It is the only way to a complete life.

When we plant a cucumber patch we expect to have a crop of cucumbers. From the grape vine we expect a crop of juicy grapes. And so it is with us. Jesus is the vine, we are branches and from the branches Jesus says he expects to find a lot of fruit. To be joined to Christ, to be a branch that is grafted into the vine Jesus means to "bear fruit". The kind of fruit that should be evident in our lives is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23). The fruit we bear shows itself in very practical ways.
If you are joined to Christ you cannot look the other way when someone is in need.
If you are joined to Christ you donít cross the street to avoid the person with whom you have had a disagreement.
As a branch attached to Christ we donít hold back our forgiveness, we try to be understanding and helpful, we want to be encouraging instead of being negative and critical.
Being connected to Jesus means that you will seek reconciliation instead of adding fuel to disharmony.
It means showing love and patience to those whom you think donít deserve it.

In other words, being joined to Jesus has practical implications for the way we live our every day lives. This nice picture of the vine, branches and fruit is not some theoretical thing.
It isnít a matter of having a nice warm feeling about being closely connected to Jesus.
It isnít something we nod our heads in agreement here in this church and then forget about it until next time. Bearing fruit isnít an optional extra.

To have a good crop of grapes it is necessary for the vines to be pruned. My dad grew up in the Barossa Valley and so we always had leafy healthy vines in our backyard. As a child I was amazed how ruthless he was when it came to pruning them. He cut off all the long branches leaving only the main trunk and a couple of thicker branches tied to the stringer. Pruning is essential for a good harvest. It isnít too long before the vine looks lovely and leafy with bunches of grapes hanging from the new growth.

Jesus is saying that all the useless foliage in our lives needs to be cut away. We may think this foliage makes us look attractive especially to the world, but will not in anyway help us to bear fruit that will bring glory to God.

In business greed, selfishness and disregard for the feelings of people or for their needs might be the way to get ahead, but must be pruned away to allow the fruit of generosity, kindness and humility to grow.
It might be acceptable to others to indulge in sex outside of marriage, run down people behind their backs, or participate in some harmful act that endangers our health and leads others astray but these must be pruned away if we are to show the fruit of care, understanding, and self-control.
You might think that itís okay to be unkind, grumpy and intolerant of your spouse or children, but these must be pruned away if you are to grow the fruit of love, peace, and patience.
To bear the kind of fruit that Jesus is looking for means to prune away all this foliage so that the Holy Spirit can cause real fruit to grow Ė the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience and self control.

None of this is easy. Our sinful nature prefers to be selfish and greedy. We find it easier to ignore people than to help them. It is so much easier to be hurtful and critical than to encourage and comfort someone. We canít do this kind of pruning by ourselves. We need our heavenly gardener, to give us the strength and the will to want to change. We need the Holy Spirit to help us cut out the dead wood of sin and to grow beautiful fruit. Thatís why it is ever so important that we are connected to the vine. From the vine, Jesus, we receive the nourishment we need to live as his disciples. We receive the forgiveness we need for our failures; we grow in our understanding of what it means to be a baptised person in everyday living.

We are still in the Easter season. Because the vine lives, so do the branches. The life of Christ flows to us though the Word and Sacraments. As Jesus said,"I am the vine you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruitÖ," - the fruit of faith and good deeds. May the life-giving sap of Christís love make us all fruit bearing branches.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
14th May, 2006

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