I am the true vine

Todays reading is John 15:1-17Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Gaby.

Apart from me you can do nothing.

Lincoln Harvey is a tutor at St Mellitus theological colleges and has a reputation for telling people training to be vicars that there is nothing that they have to say that he is interested in hearing. Nothing at all. He only wants to hear from God. So, it is when I hear this, all I hear ringing in my ears in this verse is in Lincoln’s East End accent, “Apart from me you can do NUffing”.

The thing is though that that’s not exactly true. We can do all sorts of things apart from God, preach a sermon, give money to the poor, pick a partner, buy a house etc but without the abiding in Jesus there will be no fruit.

Here is a vine. It’s a lovely vine growing in Bristol Zoo. The vine has gorgeous leaves, a thick trunk, branches everywhere and loads of fruit. However underneath it’s a mess. It needs a vinedresser.

No not that type.

Ah yes here we are.

Jesus claims to be the true vine in this passage. Why the true vine?

Jeremiah referred to Israel as a “noble vine” a right seed. This vine had been taken out of Egypt and planted in a goodly land. Isaiah says that God looked for good grapes but it brought wild grapes. Jesus is saying that as the true vine He is the fulfilment of the previously flawed vine of Israel. Jesus is what God called his people Israel to be but they messed up. Believers in Jesus are the branches, the limbs of the body and share in the life that was shared by the sacrifice of his body.

This is pretty hard hitting. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches and every branch that doesn’t bear fruit he takes away SNIP SNIP and every branch that bears fruit he prunes SNIP. So basically, according to the law of the vine we get taken out if we are not bearing fruit and pruned (ouch) if we do. The vinedresser at Bristol Zoo had left the vine looking nice but hadn’t chopped many of the branches underneath and they were dead wood. I’m guessing that is why the grapes didn’t look very tasty either!

Jesus tells his followers in v.3 “you are clean already because of the word he has spoken” and I think we can consider this. Are we already clean? If you have given your life to Jesus and seek to love him and others and follow his commands then I think you’re clean. If you haven’t then today could be the day of salvation for you. Accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. Let’s pray a prayer now.

Jesus, I confess that I don’t feel clean. I want to repent of my sins and turn to you. Please fill me with your Spirit and give me eternity in my heart for you. Amen.

Ok so now we are all clean if we want to be. We just have to be prepared for a bit of pruning. I find that having kids is a good way of pruning me. I make mistakes and am humbled by them on a regular basis because they are gracious and forgive me but also, I find that family can be really annoying and so my character gets pruned when I spend time with them. I’m probably the only one in the world that finds my family annoying though.

Jesus’ solution to staying clean and growing fruit is abiding in him. Phil May asked me which version I wanted read of the reading “remain in me” or “abide in me”. I instantly said abide because let’s face it remaining sounds like a lot of hard work (although as it turns out leaving was probably harder!)

Abide has echoes of the song Abide with me… it makes you think of Mary and Martha and just sitting at Jesus’ feet. Abide is an act of choice but it somehow gives the sense of resting. v.4 says “Abide in me and I in you.” This feels a bit more like holding hands with Jesus, hanging out with him, as we hang out with him, he hangs out with us. And he gives us this promise that as the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine neither can we unless we abide in him.

I long to abide in him. He is the vine and we are the branches. The vine is made up of branches. The branches are useless and ugly on their own when they are not bearing fruit.

You see apart from the vine we can do nothing.

This nothingness scares me a bit because it doesn’t look like nothing. All our labours, our busy lives, the things we do, the things we are involved in. It looks like a jumble of vine branches but none of them are fruitful. They are ugly and convoluted. Is that what our lives become like when we stop abiding? Perhaps you were fruitful in 1999 but somehow you didn’t let that pruning happen. You became comfortable. You remember the wonderful 1999 vintage but unless you’ve failed to notice it’s 2020 and the world has changed dramatically.

What does it mean to abide in the Lord for you? What fruit would you hope for? I’m constantly optimistic of grand things but sometimes God uses us to do small but significant things. I once was part of a church toddler group that had about 10 people. I muscled my way in and made two small changes, I changed the time the group ran from and I opened the doors and let early birds come and set up. The group grew whilst I was there and once when I went back it was about 75 people. God caused that group to grow and all I did was listen to what punters were saying. I worked in that church for 3 years. Was that the most significant thing I did? Maybe. It only took a few months to make that change. I’m sure if I look back on my journals etc. I would have prophetically prayed that the group would become a huge success and when I left there were about 40 people attending.

How do we rely on the vine?

Today it meant stopping for me. I was exhausted and had to take a break for a bit. What does it look like for you? For some of us it will be sitting and resting in God’s presence or going for a walk, perhaps listening to a favourite worship song or reminding yourself that God loves you and has plans and purposes for you. Perhaps it is also about keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus and not being afraid of the darkness that is trying to loo towards you. We often don’t know how God is going to rescue us but we need to trust that He will.

If we don’t rely on the vine then we become useless. All our strivings and our schedules and our good deeds are no good without remaining in the vine. Our branches will be thrown away.

BUT IF we remain in him then we have relationship with God and we can ask for what we want… I’m not talking about asking for a pony or a Porsche I’m talking about fruit. Ask the Lord for the fruit you want and he will be glorified giving it to you…

I have spent the last 20 years on a path towards ordination. I was certain God had called me but the Bishops Advisory Panel I went to didn’t agree. I have prayed and trusted God and keep persevering and finally I have got here. This is the fruit of change in my life. I am not seeking ordination to glorify myself but because I genuinely think this is God. I hope that we will see fruit at St Matthews because I am here where God has called me, doing what God has called me to. In v.8 it says “By this my Father is glorified that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” On Sunday a few of my friends that aren’t Christians watched my ordination. Hopefully that will plant a seed of some type in their heart even if it’s only a question about why am I doing this?

The passage goes on to exhort us to abide in god’s love and it comes from keeping the commands. IF we keep his commandments we will abide in his love just like Jesus did.

My 6-year-old Esther came home from school quite excited and said, “We are learning about the Christian faith and how to love our neighbour as ourselves which is basically just loving people.”

Loving words and actions so easy to talk about when you feel romantic but on a day to day basis much harder to do. Graham Tomlin talks about love in his latest book Why being yourself is a bad idea “Loving our neighbour is more difficult (than romantic love) largely because neighbours often are difficult… Becoming the kind of person who is capable of loving our neighbours is a stage beyond loving those who we like or who like us.”

But when we do this Jesus tells us that his joy will be in us and our joy may be full. Isn’t that a wonderful thought to be filled with joy? Hopefully as you love your neighbours you will be filled with joy. Our neighbours have been giving us Lego recently which has caused a lot of joy.

Our command is to love and the ultimate is to lay down our lives for others. Jesus fulfilled that ultimate love by dying for us and he told his disciples what he was up to. He also tells us that we didn’t choose him, he chose us and has appointed us to go and bear fruit. But it all comes back to love.

What is the take home today? What do we need to know? It’s a reminder that we need to remain in God’s love but also that he will bring us fruit when we do so. It’s a reminder that if we don’t do the work we do abiding in God then our work is wasted but when we do abide in God our fruit will abide too.

How is the world going to be different after this sermon? Some of you will go home and forget I ever spoke. Others will feel a slight guilt then have a cup of tea and think no more but what if you were the person who this sermon made a difference to. What if you decided to try and abide in God. What if you remembered that without Jesus your works are worthless and you spent a few minutes more in prayer before setting off on the next project/task. Then my words would bear fruit and for sure that’s what I am praying for.

Let’s pray.

Lord we don’t know how sometimes but we need to abide in you. Help us to remain in your love, keep us close, draw us in. Help us to know today that we are the apple of your eye and that it is you who chose us.

Come Holy Spirit. Fill us and help us to see the fruit you have grown in our lives and the fruit that is to come. Amen

There will be a video version of the service.

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