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Abiding in the Vineyard April 29, 2018

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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John 15:1-8

Fifth Sunday After Easter

April 29, 2018

 

Focus:  God cleans (baptism) and prunes (Lord’s Supper) His people.

Function:  That the hearers abide in Christ by keeping His commandments.

Structure:  Textual Illustration.

 

Abiding in the Vineyard

 

Last week, we had an image from Jesus that we could relate to.  An illustration, that we are sheep, and He is our shepherd.  For many of us, that is so relatable because we’ve heard it over and over again.  Even if we’ve never been shepherds and we’ve never watched them care for their flock.

Here today, Christ gives us another illustration, and this time, it’s one we can even more fully understand.  Even if you’ve never seen a vineyard, grapes growing on the vine, we are all familiar with fruit growing in a garden.  It could be an apple tree.  It could be a berry bush.  In the sermon today, I’ll stick specifically with the words Jesus picked, but we get the idea.

We have the roots and the trunk.  And then we have branches.  And from those branches, we see fruit.  And we know that there is a time to prune, so that the branches will bear fruit again.  And we also know, what happens if a branch falls off the vine? It withers, dies, and no longer produces fruit.

And so today we learn that Jesus is the vine.  He is the root, He is the trunk, He is the whole plant.  He is the grape vine that spans across the vineyard.  Jesus once again declares Himself with this parable to be God.  His I AM statements throughout the gospel according to John are declarations that He is God.  When God reveals His name in the Old Testament, this is it.  The divine name is the Hebrew phrase, I AM.  Ehweh/hwha.  We know Jesus is making this connection to the Old Testament, because the Pharisees try to kill Him for it.

One of my favorite things about this text is verse 3.  “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.”  Already you are clean!  Not tomorrow, or next week.  There isn’t a plan to add you in next year.  You are already clean!

This weekend we ourselves are witnesses of this very act.  God washes us clean.  Right here, Eden is washed clean.  Right here, Walter was washed clean last weekend.  Right here, you were washed clean.  Your sins are gone, removed from you by the washing of water and the Word.  You are His.  You are His child, you are His branch.  God grafted you onto the vine.

Another wonderful thing about this parable from Jesus is that it’s not just me.  It’s not just you.  All the “you’s” in the text are plural.  God’s got Himself a whole vineyard.  Everywhere you look around you, that’s what you see!  You see Christ the vine.  You see His Church the branches.  You’re surrounded by Christ Himself.  We’re in this fruit-bearing thing together.

And so, what is it then that Jesus instructs us to do?  Abide.  Eleven times in the chapter, ten times in just the first ten verses.  Abide in Me.  Abide in the vine.  Abide in My love.  That’s the work that’s called of us.  That we remain in Christ.

And Christ defines this for us.  That’s our gospel reading for next weekend.  But I won’t leave you in suspense.  We have to keep it together to see what all Christ is teaching us in the parable of the Vine and the branches.  And so we read in verses 9-13:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

And so abiding in Christ in the vine is the Ten Commandments.  It’s the first table of the Law, that we would trust in God above all things and that we would enjoy the gifts that He gives through regular use of His Word and Sacraments.  And it’s also the second table of the Law, that we would love one another.  That we would give of ourselves to care for one another.  Even to the point of death.

This is the Law.  To abide in Christ is to keep it.  And I’m terrible at it.  As the storms buffet against the vine, branches can fall off.  As we’re tempted in the midst of the difficulties of this life, we can fall off.  We’re tempted to idolatry. We’re tempted to chase after other gods, even if we don’t call them such.  We can put our trust and our hope in things that cannot save us.  And so as the rains come and the winds howl, we cling to false hopes, to worldly ideals and dreams.

As the hail pounds down upon us, we find ourselves neglecting and hurting our neighbor.  It won’t be so bad if I tell people what she did last week.  It’s not really gossip if it’s true.  We have no problem bad mouthing our authorities and ignoring their voice, whether that’s our parents, our boss, or our government.  We convince ourselves that divorce isn’t adultery.  Or that lingering stare doesn’t really hurt anyone.

Indeed, even as the devil’s tornado roars, we jump right off the vine, abandoning the things God provides to keep us safe and in the faith, only to be sucked up into a whirlwind of death and destruction.

If you’ve ever seen a vineyard, the vinedresser goes to great lengths to keep His branches safe, strong, and healthy.  He’ll put posts for the vine to attach itself to.  He’ll run fencing and wire for the branches to be wrapped around.  It isn’t the branches that are doing this.  We are given work to do, and we often don’t do it well.

Jesus says in verse seven that “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  At all times, the Word of God dwells in you.  The words “you are My child,” through your baptism.  The words, “Your sins are forgiven” through Christ’s Absolution and His supper.  God has built a vineyard for you.  He’s grafted you into His own Son the vine.  And He’s surrounded you with all the support and help that you need in the midst of sin and death.  We cling to His promises.  We abide in His vine.

And it isn’t just in the times that we fail, it’s not just when we sin that we see God pumping life into us through the vine of Christ by forgiving us of our sins.  God regularly is pruning us.  Working on us that we might bear fruit.  He is constantly edifying His bride the Church.

He builds us up each and every week through Word and Sacrament.  You can gather together, branches in the vineyard, right here at St. Matthew.  Here you can hear the Word of God both read in the readings and professed in the sermon.  Here you can receive the forgiveness of all yours sins through Christ’s very own body and blood shed for you.

God builds up His Church even in the midst of suffering and persecution.  For when the branches are being pruned, they’re being strengthened.  The pains of this life, although not part of God’s plan, are still a way by which we are strengthened in our faith.  God can work through our suffering to teach us to cling all the more to His promises, to trust in Him, to abide in the vine.

God builds us up with His daily provisions.  It is through the gifts that He provides each and every day that we see all the more clearly who He is and what He does for us.  We see the provisions of my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members.  We see the provisions of food, shelter, and clothing.  We see the provisions of family, friends, and neighbors.  We see the provisions of safety, forgiveness, and life.

It’s like the advice that you receive about stray cats.  Don’t ever feed ‘em, because if you do, they’ll stay.  Even the simple cat, another of God’s marvelous creatures, shows this to us.  That as the cat received provision, it began to trust that that food would be there again.  As we receive our daily bread, we begin to trust that it will be there again.

The parable concludes with verses sixteen and seventeen.

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

 

You are part of God’s kingdom, a branch of the vine.  It’s not your doing.  He chose you.  He washed you clean and He grafted you in in your baptism.  He gave you His Law, and then laid down His own life for your failure to keep it.  And so you remain, you abide, because whatever you ask of the Father, He gives you.  And so you ask for your daily bread, you ask for forgiveness and life, and you ask for the strength to love your neighbor in the hope that they too may be grafted in.  And God, our Fatherly vinedresser, provides.

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