"Living Branches on the True Vine"

A Sermon based on John 15:1-12

It was during his Last Supper with his disciples, on the night before he was arrested and crucified, that Jesus said: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit, he takes away; and every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, so that it may bear more fruit."

(John 15, verses 1 & 2)

All through this season of Lent, we have been looking at the several metaphors Jesus used to describe himself. We call them the "I am" sayings in John’s Gospel. I am the Light of the world… I am the Door of the Sheep... I am the Bread of Life... On Good Friday at St. Paul Lutheran Church, we will consider: I am the Good Shepherd, I am Living Water, I am the Way, etc.

Tonight, we’re looking at how Jesus used the metaphor of a vine -- the winestock, rooted in the soil, its branches heavy with clusters of grapes. Inasmuch as the wine at that supper had come from crushed grapes, coming up with this particular metaphor in that specific setting made sense.

The disciples probably thought that it was going to be just another one of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of God. In fact, Jesus seemed to be going there at first, when he says that God (my Father) was the Vineyard Owner -- the vine-dresser, the wine-grower -- and that the goal of the whole endeavor was to produce good fruit -- specifically joy and love -- from a single, precious, original vine, the healthy core stock, which Jesus indicated was himself ("abide in me" – stay connected with me).

A branch cut off from its vine will wither. However limited my (or your) gardening experience might be, we know that to be true. Unless it is transplanted, a living branch cannot grow and thrive if it is cut away from the stem. Even cut flowers, for all their beauty, eventually wither and die because they have been cut off from the plant that nourishes them. A dried-up branch from an apple tree, for example, torn down in a storm, is not going to grow apples, even if it is lying on the ground right under its tree.

Just as every farmer (or gardener) loves to see a rich, full harvest growing in fields and orchards, God the Vinedresser, rejoices in the abundant fruit that grows in the lives of those who trust in Jesus his Son for salvation. Jesus said, "By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples."

If this metaphor is understood as an allegory -- in which each element of the story represents something else (as it appears to be in John’s telling of it) -- then, (1) God is the vinedresser, who prunes and tends the blossoming, burgeoning branches -- (2) Jesus is the core winestock, the living vine, rooted in the earth -- and (3) the disciples are the branches, who draw sap and sustenance from the vine, which in turn draws the elements of life up from the moist soil.

It seems to me that the metaphor is fairly straight-forward: Draw your nourishment from Jesus’ own life. Hang in there with him, hang onto him if you have to, do everything you can to keep connected! Because a branch that is broken off from the living vine -- even when leafy green, with sprouting tendrils & budding fruit -- will not grow to maturity. The busted-off branch will wilt and wither; the grapes will die. "Abide in me," seems to be the punchline.

"Abide in me as I abide in you." (John 15:4a) "Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me, and I in them, bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:4b-5)<