"The Father Prunes Us; the Son Abides in Us; the Spirit Leads Us"
Fifth Sunday of Easter
St. John 15:1-8
May 14, 2006
IN NOMINE JESU
Christ is risen! CHRIST IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!
Our Lord spoke the words of our text on Maundy Thursday evening, after He had instituted His Supper and before He was arrested in Gethsemane. He was speaking to His disciples before He left them to be crucified for the life of the world. He was their Master and Teacher. In a matter of hours He would be dead, but in a matter of days, on the third day, He would appear to them as their risen Lord. On that evening, in that upper room, they were the Lord's disciples, for they were learning from Him, albeit ever so slowly. After His resurrection and ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, these disciples would become His apostles, for He sent them into the world to tell the Good News about Jesus. But for them to preach about Him, they needed to be one with Him. They needed to abide in Him; they needed to be branches of the vine that is Christ Himself, that they would bear His fruit, fruit that will last. They would later be sent (The word apostle means "one who is sent.") to preach a message of repentance in His Name to all nations, making disciples of their hearers, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything He Himself has commanded be taught, that their hearers would also become branches of the divine Vine.
How does one become a branch in this Vine? We cannot simply hop over to the Vine and jump onto Him because, apart from Him, we are dead branches. We know this on the basis of Scripture, for our Lord says in the verses following our text, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My Name He may give you" (v. 16); and again, as St. Paul writes, "Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3); and again, as Paul once again writes, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:8-10). On the basis of Scripture, Martin Luther teaches us in his explanation to the Third Article of the Creed, "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith."
As we have heard from God's holy Word and from Luther's Small Catechism, we are completely unable to make ourselves branches of the Vine, who is Jesus Christ, the Lord. As we confessed this morning, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." This means that, if we deny our sinful nature even exists and, if we also deny that we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment and, if we yet deny that we need a Savior from our sins, Christ is not in us, for the truth is not in us, and Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Therefore, we are not branches of the Vine, and God the Father, the Vinedresser, takes us away, removing us from the Vine that is His Son. Unless we belong to the Vine, we will be dead branches, broken off and cast into the fire of hell, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Yet, in spite of ourselves, God does not give up on us. He loves us. God is love, and He sends His Holy Spirit into our hearts, that we would love one another. As St. John writes in our Epistle, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 Jn. 4:7-11). It is not a matter of having to love one another, but it is a matter of getting to love one another, loving with the love with which God has loved us, a love that is self-giving and self-sacrificing, a love that moved our heavenly Father to give His only begotten Son unto death for the forgiveness of our sins. This is the love of which we get to give of ourselves for the sake of Christ and for the sake of the Gospel.
St. John continues, "No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him" (1 Jn. 4:12-16). Whoever confesses that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God grafts him into the Vine that is Christ. We heard earlier that we cannot make the good confession alone, but the Holy Spirit works in us, that we would confess the Name of Jesus. This same Spirit was at work in our First Reading, as the Ethiopian eunuch confessed, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Ac. 8:37b). The Holy Spirit was working in him through the preaching of Philip the Deacon, who preached to him that the Suffering Servant passage from Isaiah 53 that the eunuch was reading was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who "was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth" (Ac. 8:32b [Is. 53:7]). God the Father grafted the Ethiopian into the Vine that is Christ, and He does the same for us, for we too have made the good confession:
"I believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end" (Nicene Creed).
And so it is that by grace through faith our Father in heaven has grafted us onto His Son, our Vine, making us His branches. He has watered us in Holy Baptism, and He prunes us, through Holy Absolution, that we would bear more fruit, that we would continue to live in the love He has shown us. He feeds us on the body and blood of His only-begotten Son. Here our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ bids us to drink of the fruit of the Vine that is Christ Himself, that we would grow and bear more fruit in keeping with repentance and faith, living as His forgiven and life-filled branches, reaching out to tell others the Good News about Jesus, for we preach Christ crucified and risen, for Christ says in our text, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples" (vv. 7-8). Christ says we will be His disciples, for we are His disciples, branches grafted into the Vine by divine grace and mercy. As we sing in the hymn: "Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me; Died that I might live on high, Lived that I might never die. As the branch is to the vine, I am His, and He is mine" (TLH 342:1).
As Christ our Vine calls us, His branches, to abide in Him, and as He has promised that our heavenly Father would hear our prayers for His sake, may our prayer be that of the disciples on the road to Emmaus that first Easter evening, and penned as a hymn written by Henry Lyte and composed by William Monk in the mid-nineteenth century: "Abide with me! Fast falls the eventide; The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me! …I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless; Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness. Where is death's sting? where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still if Thou abide with me. Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes, Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies. Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee; In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!" (TLH 552:1, 9-10).
Christ is risen! CHRIST IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Send Pastor Mark Schlamann an email.