I AM … the Vine

I AM … the Vine

Sunday 21st July, 2019
Series: I AM
Theme: I AM the Vine and you are the Branches
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Bible Reading: John 15:1-17


I once stumbled across this written prayer which I found challenging, it went… “Lord, let me make a difference which is utterly disproportionate to who I am.”   What do you think of that?  “Lord, let me make a difference which is utterly disproportionate to who I am.”  Do you have that desire?  Do you want to make a difference in your life, in this church, in your circles of influence, in this world which will last long after you have gone? 

Over the past 5 weeks we have been looking at the seven “I AM” statements made by Jesus found in the gospel of John – seven statements where Jesus gives us an insight into who he is and what he can offer to us.

Today we reach the last of the I AM statements and I have been discovering that these 17 verses in which Jesus is speaking about vines and vineyards not only give us more insight into who Jesus is but also hold some amazing truths about God’s plan for our lives and his desire for us to make a real difference … to bear fruit that will last.

This passage from John comes in a critical point in Jesus life.

It is Maundy Thursday – the last supper has just finished, and he is walking with the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane where he will be betrayed and arrested.  The short walk would have taken them through the Kidron valley which at the time was covered in vineyards.  I can just image Jesus stopping, literally next to a vine and saying to his disciples … “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. (v2) I am the vine, you are the branches (v5).”  It is a powerful analogy but to get the full impact, you actually need to understand a little about viniculture.

You see, I always thought that the vine was the nice green branches that trail along the trellis, but its not.  The vine is the trunk of the plant that grows out of the ground.  It is about a metre high with a gnarled end from which grow the branches.  Hence, when Jesus said that he is the vine, he is the trunk and we are the branches that grow from that trunk and God is the Gardener.

Why, hours before his arrest and imminent death, is Jesus giving his disciples a horticulture lesson?  Because there is something profound in this imagery.

You see, if Jesus is the vine he cannot produce any fruit.  Vine’s don’t grow the grapes, the branches do!  Jesus needs us to produce the fruit.  He says as much in verse 16 when Jesus said these amazing words “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last.”

Did you hear that?  Jesus is not just saying this to his disciples.  As he stood there in the vineyard with his hand on a bunch of grapes, he was thinking about us too.  Jesus – the almighty, awesome son of God, can’t produce the fruit because he is the Vine.  Rather … Jesus has chosen YOU and appointed YOU to bear fruit … bear lasting fruit.

This fruit might be bringing others to Christ (Daniel 12:3) or doing good and just and life-giving actions (Titus 3:14) or it could be the fruits of the spirit in our own lives (Gal 5:22) – the fruit is the result of Jesus working through you.  That is our purpose in life.  We are the branch … we verse 8 remind us that we bring God glory when we produce fruit.

Jesus then goes on to explain that just like branches in a vineyard … different people produce different amounts of fruit.  The way that Jesus describes it:

•      Some branches bear no fruit.

•      Some branches bear some fruit

•      Some branches bear more fruit

•      And some branches bear much or abundant fruit.

And here is the key … God the Gardener wants to encourage us as branches to produce more fruit … so much so that God actively tends our lives so we will keep moving up – from barren to a productive branch.  From an empty basket of grapes to an overflowing basket.  And more is always possible because we were created to bear fruit, and more fruit, and much more fruit! 

So, how are we going?  How much fruit do you see in your life today?  We all want to bear fruit, so I guess the question we need to ask is … How do we bear more fruit for God?  The answers are in the passage, we just need to listen to the words of Jesus.

Jesus starts by looking at the Barren Branch.  Jesus said in verse 2, “God the gardener cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit”.

On the surface … that sounds really harsh.  Does this mean that if we are not producing fruit then God gives up? No … that seems to go against everything else we know about God.  BUT then… what does Jesus mean about being cut off and why does he say that the disciples are already clean by the words he has said?  What does it mean?

To answer this we need to understand a little Greek and a little about viniculture.  The greek word used in verse 2 for “cut off” is “airo”, but airo can also be translated, “lifts up.”  I actually think that lifts up is a better translation.  So the verse would read, “God the gardener lifts up every branch in me that bears no fruit”. 

You see, Grapes grow best when they get lots of sunlight and fresh air. That is why they get tied up on the trellis.  But vine branches have a tendency to grow downwards to the ground, but there they do not grow much fruit.  The branch gets covered in dust and when it rains, they get muddy and covered in mildew.  It becomes sick and useless.  But does the gardener cut it off and throw it away.  No, it is much too valuable for that.  Rather, he reaches down and “lifts it up”, cleans the dust of it with some water and ties it back to the trellis.  Then it has a better chance to bear fruit.

If we are honest, that sometimes sounds a bit like us … we have a tendency to be complacent, or distracted or even caught up in sin or things that are unhelpful for growing fruit.

But God wants us to produce fruit … so God intervenes, and encourages us to get us back on the right track.  God offers to forgive us, to lift us out of the place we find ourselves in and bring us back to a place in the sun/son which is best for us to bear fruit. 

If you are feeling like that you are not producing any fruit in your life at the moment, or that you are struggling to find air covered in the dust and mildew … call out to God the Gardener for help.  And God will lift you up, cleanse you and tie you back to the trellis again.  Why does God do this … because it is our purpose that we bear fruit and God wants us to bear fruit. 

So when we start bearing fruit for God, God doesn’t stop there.  In John 14 verse 2 Jesus said, “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful”

Bruce Wilkinson, who wrote this book, tells the story of the time that he and his family bought a house in the countryside.  One of the things that attracted them to this particular home was a huge grapevine that grew along the length of the side fence.  The fence was covered with a huge amount of thick green branches.

A few days after moving in, Bruce noticed his next-door neighbour at the vine with the hugest pair of shears possible.  He had obviously got up earlier because by the time Bruce noticed, he had already cut off heaps of branches.

Feeling a little disappointed, Bruce wandered up to him.

“I guess you don’t like grapes”, Bruce said.

“Love ‘em”, he replied.

“Really?”, Bruce continued, “I just thought that we would be sharing this crop and …”

The next-door neighbour interrupted, “You’re a city boy, aren’t you”
Bruce tried to answer, but he continued, “Do you like grapes?”

Bruce answered, “Yes, I like grapes … and I particularly liked the promising look of this vine.”

“Well son,” he said, “we can either have either grow ourselves a lot of beautiful leaves filling up a whole fence line, or we can have the biggest, juiciest, sweetest grapes you and your family have ever seen.  We just can’t have both.”

This is the key to growing more fruit.  We might be looking at our lives and see a beautiful branch full of green leaves.  But remember … God’s plan for our lives is to bear abundant fruit and his strategy is not the one you or I would prefer.  God’s plan is to prune, which mean to thin, to reduce, to cut off.  And as contradictory as it may seem … God does it so that we will have more, not less.

Bruce’s neighbour knew the secret.  He was right, that season the fence was full of grapes.  God knows the secret too … to produce more fruit, we must be pruned.

I’m not a gardener … but the gardening books explain:

“Because of the grape’s tendency to grow so vigorously, a lot of wood must be cut away each year.  Grapevines can become so dense that the sun cannot reach into the area where the fruit should form.  Let to itself, a branch will always favour new growth over more grapes.  The result … lot of impressive leaves but an under-whelming harvest.”

Couldn’t we say similar things about us.

“Because of the people’s tendency to get so busy, a lot of activities must be cut away each year.  People’s lives can become so dense that the son/Jesus cannot work into the area where the fruit should form.  Let to itself, a person will always favour busyness over spiritual growth/activities.  The result … worldly success but an under-whelming spiritual harvest.”

Is that too harsh?  I am not going to speak for you or judge you … but I will speak for myself and judge myself.  That is really true.  I find that left to myself I get all my priorities wrong and seem to become ineffective for God. 

I will admit, I need God to come along and prune some of my life so that I can produce the fruit that he wants.  If someone looked at me, they would say … gee Phil’s always busy, he doing so much for the church and for God … but am I producing lots of fruit?  Not necessarily.  Maybe I am too busy to be able to produce heaps of fruit.

In the Imagining Hope program that we are going to undertake in August, it has this challenge question… “what do we need to say NO to so that we can say YES to God”.  Pruning is hard, because sometimes it is not a choice between a bad thing and a good thing, but between a number of good things. 

God the gardener knows that for us to produce more fruit God must cut away parts of our lives that are dead or dying and prune activities that drain precious time and energy away from what is really important.   And unfortunately the textbook on viniculture tells us that while “a branch’s ability to produce fruit increases each year… mature branches must be pruned hard to achieve maximum yields.” 

That’s not what we mature Christians want to hear.  But it is bad news, good news.  If you are a mature branch connected to Jesus, yes, you can expect some harsh pruning, but also expect more fruit that you can imagine.

To be truthful, most Christian never get this far.  Most Christian are happy producing lots of green branches to show that they are busy and don’t really worry when they don’t bear much fruit.  They are happy doing ‘their little bit for God’.  But God is offering us the opportunity not to just a little bit, but he had chosen us to bear abundant lasting fruit.  God is offering us the opportunity to be used to make a real difference. 

In fact, if you are not interested in bearing much fruit for God, you might as well stop listening to this sermon.  Continue listening only if you are willing to say to God the gardener … “Yes, I am willing for you to prune my life so that I can produce more fruit.”

Our goal should be that we will finally be so surrendered to God that everything we now hold dearly – even worthy activities and goals – will be let go into God’s sovereign keeping.  What remains in our grip is one passion, one goal, one desire … to bear more fruit.

But even when we get to that point, and we are producing lots of fruit … God is not finished.  If we make it there, we are invited to consider the final step, to abide in Christ, so that we might produce abundant fruit … more fruit that we could ever imagine! 

Jesus said in verse 4, “Abide in Me”.  Abide mean to faithfully remain in relationship with.  When Jesus said, “Abide in Me” he is inviting us to be in a deep, significant, constant relationship with him.  And Jesus is very keen about abiding.  From verse 4 to 10, Jesus says the word abide or remain 10 times.  Can you sense his passion about abiding in him?

So why is Jesus so passionate about us abiding in him? Well, the alternative is terrible.  Jesus was very blunt on this point, so I will be as well.   If we do not abide in Jesus we are of no use to Jesus.  Note that I didn’t say worthless … we are worth everything to Jesus, but if we do not abide in him we are of no heavenly use.  Jesus said in verse 5, “Abide in me, … and you will bear abundant fruit; but apart from me you can do nothing!” 

We were created for one purpose, to produce fruit for God.  The only way we can do that is connected to Jesus, is abiding in Jesus.  If there is one message from the sermon today that I don’t want you to miss it is this:  It does not matter how much fruit you are bearing for Jesus, God the gardener has more in store for you.

If you are not producing any fruit, then allow God to lift you up, wash you off, tie you back on the trellis ready to bear fruit.

If you are bearing some fruit, then allow God to prune your life and activities so that you can produce more fruit.

And if you are producing good fruit, then take the challenge to abide in Jesus in a deeper, more intimate relationship and don’t just work for Jesus, work with Jesus.

God has chosen each one of us.  He chose us and appointed us with a task … to bear fruit.  Can you imagine what this church would be like if we all opened ourselves us a bit more God to produce more fruit in our lives and in this church!

One of the best images of abundance in the bible is a picture of grapes brought back from the promised land by Joshua and Caleb and the other spies in Number 13:23.  They cut down one cluster of grapes and it was so huge that they needed to carry it between two of them on a pole.” 

Now that is abundant fruit.   Remember that picture, because that is what God wants to do in your life and this church.