Abiding in the Vine

Adapted for First Presbyterian Church, Apopka.  Primary Text John 15:1-8

This sermon includes prompts to make notes and interact with materials to reinforce the connection of our prayers, our hopes, our selves to Jesus as the true vine. The resulting congregational vine remains in the sanctuary, as a reminder of our worship experience.  

Last week, I let slip that I’m not what one might consider a good shepherd of actual sheep. This week, we turn to John 15 and will go further into the depths of my agricultural incompetence. I am not great with plants. I have a thumb that is more grey than green. And here I stand, in a town filled with greenhouses in the middle of foliage festival weekend…  So this morning, I’m going to ask you to help out with the sermon a bit.

You’ve got a vine – the crocheted length of yarn, some leaves and a few small lengths of yarn. As we go along, I’ll ask you to use them and to take some notes in your bulletin for reflection during the week. I’ll leave some time to think and jot down words and phrases that come to mind. It might be something you hear spoken, or a word that God whispers to your heart.

Let’s get started with John 15:1-2   “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.   He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.  

God is the vine grower, the one who assures the health and fruitfulness of the vine.  Jesus is the vine, producing fruit that nourishes and refreshes the world. Like all believers, WE are that fruit. But we have also been grafted into the vine so that we might produce fruit.

Take a leaf, and write your name on it. On the other side, I want you to write these words: Child of God.

Take just a moment to give thanks for that truth.
Claim it.
Believe it.

And now I want you to tie that leaf to the crocheted vine. See yourself as part of the vine, connected as if you were never separate from God. You see, that IS God’s great love for us: God adopts us, cares for us, provides for our physical needs and attends to our spiritual health. We are grafted into the vine.

That same love requires that God must sometimes bring out the pruning shears.

When we moved into our first house in Orlando, we planted an orange tree out back and a Meyer lemon tree in the side yard. The blossoms on that lemon tree were lovely, but we never saw any fruit.  Three years later, it was a nice tall tree, and a friend asked if we’d made lemonade yet. We laughed and joked that maybe we’d bought a dud.

“Well, try pruning it back… It looks like it could use it,” said our wise friends.

Yep. That’s what it needed. That year, we had 6 of the biggest lemons I’d ever seen in my life. I am now a big believer in the value of pruning, even if it does make for some odd-looking trees and shrubs.

It makes sense with plants, but what does it look like for the church – God’s pruning?

How have you seen God trim and cut back areas of this congregation?  Have there been seasons in your own ministry when you were called to stop or pull back? Recent or in the past?  Take a moment to consider… write down what comes to mind, then write a 1-2 word prayer…  perhaps “thanks”, maybe “why” or “why not”

Tie one of the lengths of yarn to the vine as you pray.

—- PAUSE —

The truth is, it can be painful when the Holy Spirit causes you to take stock, reveals those things that are no longer building up the Kingdom of God. It can be harder still when God closes a door on a ministry or relationship that in your eyes is good and fruitful work… especially when you are invested in heart and soul.

But by diverting the energy to another branch, another outreach, another way of serving… new buds and new fruit can emerge.  New and deeper ways of trusting God can also blossom.

John 15:3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.  

Remember that this is Jesus speaking – the Word who was with God and is God – the One who has spoken grace and truth over our lives.  It is in his life, death and resurrection that we have been redeemed. By his wounds, we are healed. Do you trust that healing and forgiveness?

What word or words from Jesus do you cling to as cleansing water?

My peace I give to you…
Your sins are forgiven…
Get up and walk…
Your faith has healed you…
My yoke is easy, my burden is light…

—- PAUSE —

John 15: 4-6 Abide in me as I abide in you. 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.  Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.  

Now, this is where the metaphor of the vine got a little thin for me. It’s the word abide – Not because it shows up so many times in these three verses, that it’s easy to get lost. It’s just not a word I would use to describe the relationship between a vine and a branch. So I went back to see how John uses that word.

The first time he uses it is in Chapter 1.  John the baptist points Jesus out to some of his followers, calling out “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  The next day, he sees Jesus and says it again. Two of the men went to follow Jesus, literally walking with him. He turned around to ask, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”

“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.

Where are you staying?  

Now – the part of me that prefers an Embassy Suites to the KOA likes to think this a very logical question.  After all, these men had been followers of John. John the Baptist. Perhaps they were hoping for something a little less –  rustic? More likely, they were letting Jesus know that they wanted to hear more.

They way they asked the question reminded me of a colloquial question that some of my schoolmates would ask back in Texas….  Instead of asking “Where do you live?” they would ask “Where do you stay?” Or “Who do you stay with?” The connotation was that you might be staying someplace for a few hours or days, or maybe a year. If you live somewhere, well, that implies you aren’t planning on leaving soon.

It turns out the greek root John uses is MENO.  And like all the best words, it has many shades of meaning. In this passage about John’s disciples, it was translated as both staying and remaining.  A quick run through John’s gospel reveals several other uses of MENO.

In John 6:27, we read: Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.

And John 8:31 reads: Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples;

Or John 6:56 , where we see Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Which of course is how it is translated in our passage about the vines and the branches.

Now, when I stack all those meanings up, “Where are you staying?” is not a simple question about where they would sleep if they talked late into the night with this rabbi.  And when Jesus replied with “Come and you will see”, it was much more than an invitation to check out his accommodations.

Those same words were shouted by a Samaritan woman as she invited her village to meet the man who had known everything about her and spoke of living water that assures you will thirst no more… It was her invitation  – and Jesus’ – to eat of the bread that assures you will hunger no more…

Jesus was inviting for his  would-be followers  to “come and see what it means to abide in me.”  Jesus is inviting THESE would-be followers to come as well.  To Come and See… To Come and see what it means to abide in him.

Do you hear the depths of his call to be part of the vine?

Abide in me.
Remain in me.
Stay in me.
Endure in me.
Continue in me.

In some ways that should feel like a relief – you and I are not expected to produce fruit under our own steam.  The fruit comes only through our connection with Christ.  And yet…  It may feel like there is work to do.  At the very least the work of releasing the past, the work of being good enough, of being faithful enough to be fruitful…  of maintaining that connection with hum.

Perhaps the words of the old hymn resonate with you, too…
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love

And yet, if Christ abides in us… how can we wander?

As the psalmist wrote – Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?  Nowhere. Wherever we go, God is there. Especially when the risen Christ is IN us.

And so we can pray…
Abide in me, Jesus.
Remain in me.
Stay in me.
Endure in me.
Continue in me.

Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it… Seal it for thy courts above.

Remember this, God is the keeper of the vine, the one who removes the branches that do not bear fruit.  The one who prunes branches so they can bear sweeter more nourishing fruit.

Jesus is the vine – the true vine. We are the branches from that true vine.  The fruit that comes from the vine is not our works, but the work of Christ.  Our work is to abide, to remain in relationship with, in connection with the vine.

So that is the question… Where are you abiding?   Where is your heart putting down its roots?

As you share your gifts and talents…
As you spend your time…
As you dream for those who come behind you…

Make a few notes…

—-PAUSE —-

John 15: 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  

The heart of God abides within our hearts.  Not a god, but the God above all Gods. The God who is able to do more than anything we might ask or imagine…  abides in us, prompting us to pray for those things that are on God’s heart.

What does your heart long for?   What words has the Holy Spirit given you to pray?

for those who woke up hungry this morning and will go to bed famished…
for those whose loved ones have been lost to violence, war, and crime…
for those in the midst of conflict…
for those who have been rejected…
for those who have been hurt by your church, Lord…
and for those who long to abide in Christ, without even knowing what they need…

Tie your prayers to the vine as we reflect in silence

—- PAUSE —–

John 15: 8   My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Come and See, he said.
Come and see where I am abiding.
Come and see the wonders and miracles
Come and see the great and glorious love of God.
For I abide in the love of my father. I abide in God’s love for you. I abide in you. I am with you, always.

As long as we are abiding in Christ’s love, and sharing Christ’s love, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we reveal the beauty and glory of God to the world in which we remain until He returns. Come Lord Jesus, Amen.

While I join the choir for the Anthem, I invite you to add your prayers to the vine and to join your vines together.

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