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Fruit from Gnarled & Tangled Vines

John 15:1-8

Rev. Alan Taylor

Easter 5, series B
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, May 3, 2015 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“I am the true vine (Jesus says), and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”

To be uprooted and discarded...or, to be cut with pruning shears; I suppose, from the vine’s perspective, neither option would seem to be a good one.  Both the shovel and the pruning shear, after-all, inflict a wound.  The shovel kills the vine.  The pruning shear kills the dead wood so the vine can produce fruit at the proper time. 

The fruit of the vine is harvested in the mid to late summer.  The clusters are handled carefully so that the fruit isn’t crushed, or, even bruised.  The symmetry and fullness of a cluster of grapes is a work of art, God’s art, “for He opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing.” Indeed, looking at the beauty of God’s creation, we are moved to confess with the Psalmist, “there is none like You among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like Yours.  For you are great and do wondrous things.”

God causes fruit to grow on the vine.  He has ordained, however, to bring about the summer harvest through a process that takes place in the dead of winter.  At that particular time of the year, the vines look as if they should be cut down and burned.  They have no leaves and no fruit on them.  They’re gnarled and tangled.  If there is any beauty in them, any redeeming quality, it is only in the eyes of God and, perhaps in the discerning and hopeful eye of the wine maker.

On a cold winter’s day, pruners trample through the vineyard and they treat the vines rather savagely.  Everything to within a few feet of the main trunk is cut and ripped away.  Piles are made of the cut branches.  The piles are gathered up and put into bigger piles in order to be burned.  If vines could weep, would they not weep then!?  If they could cry out, would they not cry out then!?

You and I have all experienced what the vine experiences, although on a deeper and more profound level.  God created us and then when we became gnarled and tangled in sin, He recreated us in Christ that we might bear fruit.  He grafted us into His Son that connected to Him, we might be God’s work of art, a vine that produces fruit that serves and gladdens the heart of His creation while giving glory and honor to Him. 

There are two settled principles to be harvested, if you will, from Jesus’ words here in John 15 regarding the vine and the branch and the fruitfulness of the latter.  First, if the branch is cut off from the vine it can do nothing.  And second, unless the branch is pruned it cannot produce fruit.

The first point seems pretty self-evident.  If you cut a branch off from a vine the branch is going to die.  In fact, as to its relationship or its connection to the vine, it is already dead once it’s been cut off.  Oh, it can be re-rooted and replanted, but, in that state it will no longer be a part of the vine that bore it.  Thus, if it produces fruit it will be the fruit of its own making.  The fruit may appear to the world to be startling and glorious, but, it is rejected by God because it isn’t the fruit of the true vine. 

Jesus says, “cut off from Me you can do nothing.” Without faith, without being graphed into the vine, “it is impossible to please God.” The point of this analogy is that everything is our lives, apart from sin, of course, is considered good by God, full of fruit that supports and loves our neighbor and gives glory to God, because He makes our lives good.  Our faith is in Christ and Him crucified.  So, we get up in the morning to go off to work and God’s says, “It is good, well done!” We change our baby’s diaper and because that is what God has given us to do, He says, “It is good, well done!” We hold our grandchildren or great grandchildren in our arms and God says, “It is good, well done!”

The point is, you can’t make anything in your life good.  Remember, you’re the branch, not the vine.  But, because you are grafted into the vine, into Christ, it is all good! 

As you look out over the vineyard in January, you see the gnarled and tangled vines, void of leaves and fruit.  They are beautiful only to God and to the discerning and hopeful eye of the wine maker.  They are still connected to the vine, but, they won’t produce fruit in the summer unless they are pruned.  And so, the savage ritual begins. 

God puts the shears to us, cutting away what is gnarled and tangled, so that we will produce fruit to our neighbors good and to His glory.  This is the second of the principles harvested from this text in John 15.  Unless the branch is pruned it will not bear fruit.

What we often think of as God turning His back on us, of Him abandoning us, is actually His pruning us so that we might bear more fruit.  Again, it’s sometimes a painful process, but, quite necessary, nonetheless.  If the vines could cry out, would they not cry out then!?

“My son (says the Proverb), do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” If God didn’t love you He wouldn’t be active in your life.  If He didn’t love you He wouldn’t take the time to prune and nurture you.  If He didn’t love you, He’d cut you off and discard you.  The writer of the letter to the Hebrews quotes this very passage from Proverbs and then he concludes his comments regarding God’s discipline, saying, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Having come to see God’s tender hand in adversity and trial, we make the simple confession that “we don’t always understand His way but we do want to be part of it.” We cling to His word because He makes us sure and certain promises in it.  He assures us that “nothing will ever be able to separate us from His love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And then we kneel before the altar to be grafted again into the vine.  The fruit of the vine is laid upon our sin parched lips.  Christ’s broken body is given to us.  We are united with God, one with Him in purity and righteousness.  Buds of fruit blossom in our lives, beginning with the simple confession that Jesus did this, gave His body and blood, for me!  For me! 

As is true of several of you, I’ve harvested grapes and I’ve pruned the vines too.  The two activities couldn’t be more strikingly dissimilar.  The harvest is filled with joy because the vines have fulfilled their intended purpose.  They provide the fruit to lighten the hearts of men and to give glory to God. 

They suffered, however, the pruner’s shears earlier.  If they could have wept, they would have wept!  “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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