03/15/2015 – John 15:1-8 – “It’s All About the Grapes”

Mark Wheeler
John 15:1-8
“It’s All About the Grapes”
March 15, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Dear God, thank You for bringing us all here to this place. Help us to open our eyes, our ears, our minds, our hearts, and our spirits to better understand who You are and to know You more. Please be with us as we draw near to You and closer to one another. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

I have discovered a strange new companion – he’s like my best friend, but he almost always annoys me to no end; we like all the same things, but he never agrees with me about what’s best; he listens to all kinds of new ideas about how to do ministry more effectively, and he never lets me try them out. When he speaks, it’s like I’m listening to my own voice, and then he interrupts me with loud nay-saying. When I think he is sprouting new life from fresh soil, I discover he is nothing more than an old stick in the mud.
That’s when I realize he is me. I need true nourishment to grow and stay alive!

Exactly one month ago we read from the Old Testament book of Exodus – and we listened as God told Moses who God is. Do you remember what God said when Moses asked Him, “Who do I tell people You are?” God said, “Tell them ‘I-AM has sent me to you.’”
Since then, and through the whole Season of Lent as we prepare ourselves for the Easter celebration we are in the New Testament Gospel according to John – because the Apostle John records some fascinating ways Jesus also answers Moses’ question.
Using a particular Greek grammar formula, Jesus identified Himself with God by the way He identified Himself by saying, “I-AM the Bread of Life – I-AM the Light of the World – I-AM the Good Shepherd – I-AM the True Vine.”
As we come to today’s Bible story in John 15, we recognize that Jesus has made His final trip to Jerusalem; He has ridden into the capital city on the donkey; He has washed His disciples’ feet and already celebrated the Passover feast – that which became Holy Communion; and while He is still at the Passover Supper Table Jesus is teaching His disciples and the opening lines of John 15 are …. —-
1 “I-AM the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already (pruned) clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I-AM the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.…”
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

Today’s message will be different from our usual mode of “being fed” by God’s Word – it will be a little feel quicker, at first, and then it might feel intensely longer. But that’s OK.

This week was “Founder’s Week” at Moody Bible Institute, so local pastors were invited to participate in some special gatherings and then to sit in on some general sessions. On Friday I had breakfast with a brand new Chicago-based Moody Bible Institute professor, and then attended a worship service where a well-seasoned professor from the Chicago campus preached.
He preached from Luke 10, the story about Jesus and His disciples gathering at the home of Mary and Martha. His emphasis was so inspiring, that I immediately went back to my office and re-wrote most of my message for today. So, thank you Lee Eclov for allowing me to sit at Jesus’ feet for a bit.

My sermon is not from Luke’s Gospel, nor is it about Mary or Martha. I am preaching from John 15, in the Upper Room, probably after the meal, but just before the Garden of Gethsemane.
Your Sermon Notes Page asks some questions about what it means to “be pruned” – institutionally as the Church, and personally, as a follower of Christ.
And then it asks about the relationship between a healthy branch and its vine.
That’s where we are investing just a few minutes this morning.

As the Church, and as Church Members, we are often about the task of being obedient to God and God’s Word. Our Thursday Bible Class just finished the New Testament letter from James, which emphasizes being “doers of God’s Word and not hearers only”. That letter emphasizes how our faith can really only be demonstrated by the “works”, the “deeds”, of our living.
And while all of that is true – it is correct; it is right. Jesus told Mary and Martha, and you and me – and John records today’s words where Jesus identifies Himself with God and invites His followers – to stop.

Doing service, serving (the Greek word in the New Testament is the word from which we get “Deacon”) is a good thing – it is right to be of good works – yesterday we had a group of servants who worked here for nearly 6 hours on our Church Clean-Up Day – Proverbs 9 equates wisdom and being a righteous woman with preparing a table and serving our guests – Ephesians says that God’s people are made for works of service – Colossians says that when we serve others we are serving the Lord – Jesus says to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit the sick and release the oppressed (all involving good works of service) is to feed and clothe and visit and release Himself! This is a good thing!
But He tells Martha that Mary, who left the kitchen and didn’t set the table but sat on the floor with her arms around her knees and just listened to Jesus – Jesus says that Mary chose the better thing.
Here, in John 15, Jesus says, “I-AM the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me (KJV says ‘If you abide in me’, I think a better interpretation), you will bear much fruit!”

Recently I found this branch underneath a tree. I guess it had been broken off by the wind. As you can see, there are no leaves at all. It is completely dead. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a branch, I would call it a stick.
Do you think that if I took this branch out into the yard and planted it in the ground and watered it it would come back to life? No, that wouldn’t work, because the branch gets the nutrients that it needs to live from the tree. Branches cannot live or grow without the tree. Without the tree, there will never be leaves on this branch. If the branch comes from a fruit tree, there will never be fruit on the branch if it is separated from the tree. If I take this dead branch and plant it in the ground and water it, it won’t come back to life, it will just be an old stick in the mud.

That same thing is true about our life with Jesus. Listen again to what Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
If we keep our life connected to Jesus, we will grow. Our life will produce beautiful leaves and delicious fruit. But if we are separated from Jesus, our leaves will wither and die and we will never put forth any fruit.

Jesus does finally agree with James. He says, “It’s all about the Grapes!” Producing fruit will ultimately define our faith. But we cannot show good, faithful, works, healthy grapes, unless we remain/abide in Him.

What will your life be? Will you be a beautiful branch on the tree … or will you just be a stick in the mud?

Dear Jesus, help us to remember that apart from You, we can do nothing. Amen.

Here comes the part of the message which might feel like it’s a little longer – I invite you, for a bit, to join me in quiet prayer – just sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His voice – for a bit, just abide in Him – in prayer, together ….

Dear God, show us how to “abide in You”. Free us from trying to produce our own fruit, and help us to trust that You are at work and will work through us and in us. Prune from our lives the tasks and activities that steal our time and keep us from growing as You want us to grow. We ask all this in the name of Jesus, the true vine. Amen.

Resources:
Eclov, Lee; sermon at Moody Bible Institute-Spokane on 03/13/2015.

Fuquay, Rob; The God We Can Know: Exploring the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus (Adult Group Guide); Upper Room Books; Nashville, TN; 2014; Pp. 28-33.

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