It’s only been 5 years, but in my marriage with Olivia I’m learning what it means to share another’s joy, to share another’s sorrow… what it means for two lives to become one. An experience of mutual love. Shared, interwoven love.
Fun Fact: My wife and I were married at Wild Blackberry Farms (back before it was an official wedding venue). With goats and horses and chickens running around, along with acres and acres of blackberries, it was a perfect place for us to dream about the kind of Eden we wanted to create in our own lives someday!
I bring this up because I believe that this is the kind of relationship we are meant to develop with Jesus. Two individuals being interwoven to become one. Sharing joy, sharing sorrow, sharing passions, sharing purpose… We are invited to experience mutual love with Jesus
I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
Grapevines were a significant image for the Israelites. All throughout the Bible we see an ongoing metaphor of the people of God being a grapevine or vineyard.
Isaiah 5:1-2, 7
Now I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a rich and fertile hill.
He plowed the land, cleared its stones,
and planted it with the best vines.
In the middle he built a watchtower
and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks.
Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes,
but the grapes that grew were bitter…
The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.
The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.
He expected a crop of justice,
but instead he found oppression.
He expected to find righteousness,
but instead he heard cries of violence.
God created Israel to bear the sweet fruit of his intentions in the world: justice, righteousness, life, peace, abundance. But instead, the people spread injustice, evil, violence, pain… The vineyard of God was producing bitter grapes.
Jesus picks up this image. “I am the true vine, the genuine vine. The fruit you produce through me is sweet. It’s the fruit that God desires.”
Fun Fact: In Isaiah 5:7, there is an interesting play on words. The Hebrew word for “justice” (mišpāṭ) sounds like the Hebrew word for “oppression” (miśpāḥ). The word for “righteousness” (ṣᵉḏāqāh) sounds like the word for “cries of violence” (ṣᵉꜥāqāh). Sweet and bitter grapes may look a lot alike, but the result of each couldn’t be more different.
Our fruitfulness depends on one thing: remaining in him.
The purpose of a branch is not to just exist, it’s to bear fruit.
Fun Fact: If you want to check out a few other influential “vineyard” moments in the Old Testament, take a look at Psalm 80:8-18, Ezekiel 15:1-8, 17:5-8, 19:10-14, and Isaiah 27:2-6.
Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
Remaining in Jesus requires an act of the will. It’s something we choose to do. Continuously. It’s something we give ourselves over to.
But notice this. Even as Jesus is calling his followers to this active abiding in him, he makes it clear that it goes both ways. If we remain in him, he remains in us: Mutual indwelling.
He will remain in us. That’s a promise. But we’ve got to choose to remain in him for that relationship to grow.
Fun Fact: There is one other purpose for dead branches on my farm, actually. When I prune my apple or pear trees, my rabbits go crazy nibbling on the cuttings. It’s a highly anticipated treat each spring!
I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.
Self-giving love, setting ourselves aside… this is what Jesus expects of his followers. To love the way that he loves. That is how we remain and abide and dwell with him
We see the world through his eyes. We love the world with his heart. We serve the world with his hands. And guess what starts to happen? We bear fruit. Not to just exist, but to bear the sweet fruit of God’s intentions: justice, righteousness, mercy, peace, love… Not just in us, but through us. Healing the broken world around us.
Fun Fact: I’m not really going there in my message today, but the image of the Father “pruning” the branches in John 13:2 is important. I’ve learned in my own garden how important pruning can be to increase fruitfulness. For example, if I leave my tomato plants unpruned, I’ll get lots of spectacular tomato vines and leaves. But if I want ripe red tomatoes to eat, I need to prune so the plant puts its energy into producing fruit. It’s an interesting thing to think about: am I allowing God to prune me as I grow? To correct me? To change me? Or do I think I know better than he does how to bear the best fruit in my life?
God the Father is the gardener. He’s plowed the land and cleared the stones and built the watchtower. Jesus Christ is the true vine the Father planted in this fertile ground. You and I are the branches, and we get to bear the fruit.
REFLECTION – COMMUNAL
When our community remains grafted into the true vine, then of course he’s going to give us what we ask for, because we want what he wants. What we ask for will be exactly what he desires too.
Grace Church, let’s learn what it means to abide in Christ as a community. Let’s learn the way of self-giving love that he showed us. Let’s learn how to want what he wants so we can bear the fruit of his intentions in this world.
REFLECTION – INDIVIDUAL
Following Jesus is a relationship. A relationship with a real person. A real person with emotions and dreams and passions… A real person who wants to speak with you and weep with you and rejoice with you. Just like a lifelong friendship or a marriage.
Wherever you are on your faith journey, Jesus wants to dwell more deeply with you.
Speak to him. Tell him what you fear. Tell him what you love. Tell him what you’re dreaming of. And then listen. Listen for his voice. Listen for his correction. Listen for who he says you are. Abide in Christ and he will abide in you.