The vine or the fire.
Easter 5 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
April 29, 2018
Acts 8:26-40, 1 John 4:1-11, John 15:1-8
Text and Audio: immanuelhamiltonchurch.com click “sermons”
Full Service Audio: bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship
Last weekend I figured it is time. It has got to have finally stopped snowing. It is time. I should cut the grass. Before that first cutting of the season it takes some extra work. Before I can get the lawn mower out I need to pick up the sticks that have fallen off my trees over the winter. The sticks are dry and brittle and aren’t really good for anything except to burn. I used to not have a good place to burn a lot of sticks, but now I am prepared. Last Fall I bought myself a very simple new “tool” to use in the yard. Sometimes t-o-o-l is just a different spelling of t-o-y for grown up boys. I bought an empty 55 gallon steel drum and drilled some holes towards the bottom and now I have my own burn barrel. Once I get the fire going it burns like a furnace.
So I put some paper and cardboard in the bottom of the barrel and then picked up the sticks stuffed them in the top of the barrel, dropped in a lighted match and watched the fire burn. The dry, brittle sticks quickly burn with flames shooting up in the air. Now, don’t tell Jeannette that I kind of enjoy burning things in the barrel; she thinks I am working in the yard. Of course, once the fire died down I did have to start cutting the grass.
The branches attached to my trees are alive. The branches that fall to the ground are dead. The branches attached to the trees have the sap, the lifeblood of the tree, flowing through them bringing water from roots in the ground to the leaves on the branches. The leaves break down the water; the H2O into separate molecules. They combine the hydrogen and the oxygen with carbon from carbon dioxide in the air and produce sugar for energy for the tree. Extra oxygen is released into the air for us to breath. It’s a good system. God is good. The branch needs the water to live and grow; the sap is life. The branch attached to the tree is alive and part of the tree. The branch apart from the tree is dead.
In our Gospel lesson today Jesus says, “I am the true vine; you are the branches.” Grape vines bring life-giving sap to the branches. The life-giving sap enables the branches to produce leaves and grapes. Next time you are eating a grape or drinking wine think about how it started out as water and carbon dioxide. Only the branches attached to the vine can produce fruit. Branches lying on the ground will produce nothing.
Jesus is the vine. You are the branch. Jesus teaches in John 15:1-6 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 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. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
In your baptism you were grafted into the vine. You are a branch attached to Jesus who is the vine. God’s love and forgiveness flow into you and you are able to bear fruit. You are a branch, Jesus is the vine. You are attached to Jesus. You are devoted to Jesus. You are committed to Jesus. You are a part of Jesus. You are stuck with Jesus. And that is a good thing. There is no better place to be than to be a branch attached to Jesus. God nourishes you and prunes away the unfruitful things in your life to make you even more fruitful. Jesus is the vine and gives you eternal life; you and all your brothers and sisters in Christ. For it is not just you and Jesus; it is you and Jesus and all the other branches of the vine. There is no individual relationship with God. You are part of Jesus’ vine which goes throughout this community and nation and world, and there are branches of the vine all over the globe being nourished by the same love and forgiveness of God. Jesus is the vine and you are the branch and there is nothing better. What more could you want?
And yet…and yet there are times when you can find yourself feeling like being attached to Jesus is too confining. You can feel like this closeness to Jesus is stifling and suffocating. Life as a branch in the vine can get boring just doing what you are supposed to be doing, living life in the love and forgiveness of Jesus, loving and forgiving and serving those around you. Life as a branch of the vine can get sort of mundane. Kind of boring. Just the same thing day after day.
There are times when you find yourself looking at the branches lying on the ground and getting jealous. Those branches are free. They are not stuck with Jesus. They are not attached. They are not being pruned in order to produce more fruit. They are free to do whatever they like. No constraints. No attachments. They’re free.
You are not a dry, dead branch destined for the fire. You are a branch of the vine of Jesus. You are full of life. You are nourished with the love and forgiveness of Jesus.
You can look at those who are unattached to Jesus and His church and think, “How cool would it be to be one of them? No rules, no constraints, no guilt, no sin, just pure freedom to do whatever I want.” It is tempting to look at those apart from the church and think they have it better. And no wonder. No wonder sin is attractive because, like you say most Sundays, you are, by nature, sinful and unclean. Being a sinner is normal. Being a sinner and indulging every whim, every desire, every lust is how you are hardwired; passed down from your first father Adam. It is natural to want to sin and so you can find yourself very attracted to a life free from the constraints of being part of the vine of Jesus. But that freedom is an illusion. That freedom is a lie. That life is a life of being a slave to sin. That life is a life of being a dry, dead, stick destined to be burned. That is your natural state, but you have been called out of that natural state and, by baptism, have been grafted into the vine of Jesus.
You are not a dry, dead branch destined for the fire. You are a branch of the vine of Jesus. You are full of life. You are nourished with the love and forgiveness of Jesus. You are changed by being a part of Christ’s Church; by being a branch of the vine. You are changed because God loves you so much he grafted you into Himself. The love and forgiveness of God earned by the blood of Jesus flows into you and produces growth and fruit. The sap of love and forgiveness of God flows from the roots of the creation of the world through the cross of Calvary and into you, and you bear fruit in your life as you love and serve and forgive those around you. You have the water of life flowing into you from Jesus and you break it down to nourish yourself and to provide fruit in service to others. And you release extra love and forgiveness into the world around you.
Now loving others sounds so nice and easy, but loving those around you is messy because people are messy; they are mean, they are hurtful. Love them anyway. Forgive them even though they don’t deserve forgiveness. Do it not from your own strength and mercy but from the strength and mercy flowing into you from Jesus. Do it from the strength and mercy that loves and forgives you even though your life is messy; even though you can be mean and hurtful. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10 Jesus paid for your sins on the cross out of love for you. Jesus loves you. Let His love has its way with you. Cherish your place as a branch of the vine. Let God’s love wash over you as you live as a branch in the vine and remember that God’s love is for all people. God’s love is for all and yet so many choose to be separated from the love of God in Christ.
Remember that there are only two options in this life. Be a branch of the vine which is Jesus, or be a dry, dead, branch destined for the fire. We want to make things more complicated; more nuanced, but there are two options; the vine or the fire.
Rejoice that you are part of the vine; the Body of Christ; the Church. You have the opportunity to receive the gifts of the forgiveness of sins each week as we worship together. You are part of the Body; you are part of the Church; you are a branch of the vine. Do not fall for the temptation to remove yourself from the vine in order to pursue the illusion of freedom. You belong in Christ. You are a branch in the vine. You are together in the vine with Christians from all over world and you reach out to others with the Good News that Jesus is the vine. This vine extends all over the earth. From Israel to China and Kenya and India and Germany and Guatemala and Mexico and Ethiopia. Ethiopia, where the people first learned about Jesus from a single Ethiopian official who heard it from the disciple Phillip. The vine continues to grow in Ethiopia to this day and you support our missionary Pastor Mark Rabe at the Mekane Yesus Seminary in Addis Ababa.
Jesus is the vine. You are the branches. Abide in Jesus and He in you. Stay with Jesus. Stay a part of the vine. Amen.