“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 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.
Spring is a beautiful time of year. The days are getting warmer and longer. The trees and bushes are budding. Some of the early flowers are coming up. Nature is coming alive.
But as much as the signs of life are all around us, there is the other, darker part of Spring. What about all the decay? Sure, there is grass that is popping up green, but that seems to ignore all the dead grass that needs to be raked up, bagged up and taken away. Sure, the trees and bushes are budding, but I also had my kids gather up bunches of twigs and branches that are not. They have broken off the tress. And do you know what those twigs and branches are good for? Fire!
That darker part of Spring is not just evident in nature. There is clearly decay and death in humanity. This world isn’t a very fruitful place, because there are connectivity issues. What I mean is people are separated from the One who gives life; branches are broken off all over the place.
Do you know why there is this problem? Has God lost that loving feeling? Is he trying to destroy everything he sent Jesus to build? Is Jesus simply less effective in this world now? Is God’s law and gospel not powerful enough to reach people as it once did? Is the resurrection less amazing 2000 years later? No! Nonsense! The problem is not in God. The problem is with branches who just aren’t connected to the vine.
Statistics show that it’s happening a lot. One of the fastest growing religious groups is the “nones” – those that have no church affiliation. They make up 1/5 of the US population and 1/3 of those under 30, and the numbers are rising. That’s a whole lot of separation from the vine.
How do you react to those kinds of statistics? What do you think when you see a whole lot of fallen branches out there that are gathered for the firepit? “I’ll bring the lighter fluid. If there are people who want to be separated from God, if they want to ignore the life God gives, if they want to serve only themselves, then let them!” Maybe some of you aren’t as harsh. “I would try to help some of those broken branches that I know, but I’m not sure I know what to do. I don’t think I know enough, or I might say the wrong thing.” Or maybe some of you can’t add that to the list of your concerns. “I have too much of my own problems to think about the connection my friends and family has with the vine.”
As much as we can look around and shake our heads in disgust at all the broken branches around us, what does that accomplish? Not much. In fact, it kind of proves that maybe we don’t have to look so far to see the separation that sin causes. I don’t need to look around at those other people at work, at school, and around the neighborhood to know that the connection to the vine is not where it needs to be, that there are some pretty battered and bad-looking branches that are heading for the burn pile. I can look at my own life for that. So can you.
And what do we see when we look at our branch? You probably are like me and see someone who doesn’t always value just how important the vine is. You’re too busy admiring your branch to look at the vine that much. You probably see some little buds that withered up or broke off. Good works that you didn’t do, because whatever the excuse was at the time. You probably see some scarring to the bark, where you got hurt by someone and you still hold a grudge.
That’s not the connected life. That’s the kind of branch that is heading to the firepit. And you know, trying harder to produce more is not going to fix the connection to the vine. Trying to fill your branch with more fruit will not get rid of all the places that are broken, scarred, and unproductive.
The only way a branch stays attached and healthy is from what the vine provides. That’s why Jesus says today, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” Christ makes you who you are. Jesus cleans up the scarring, the withered buds, and the snapped off edges. Jesus connects you to God’s eternal family. Jesus makes that connection strong and secure, your branch is healthy and nourished. This is the cleansing we have in Christ through Baptism. This is the cleansing he gives us through faith in him.
You have his Word as the one who conquered death. Christ Is Risen. He Is Risen Indeed! You have his living and endure Word as the God who left heaven to save you from hell. You have his Word as the spotless Lamb of God who made the perfect sacrifice for your sins and mine. You have his Word as the light of the world that removes our darkness. You have his Word as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep only to take it up again. You have his Word as the vine who always supports and sustains. Jesus gives you his word and it makes us clean.
Now, the vine is not going to change what he provides. Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” Jesus doesn’t tell us today, “I was the vine for your branch back when you were trying really hard to stay connected.” He doesn’t say, “I will be the vine for your branch again when you start making some changes in your life, when you adjust your attitude.” And Jesus doesn’t say, “I am a vine, but there are other options. You can choose what you like.” Jesus doesn’t say, “I’m a vine, and I’m totally cool with it if your branch isn’t too connected or very fruitful. I can tolerate and ignore pretty much anything. NBD.”
You won’t hear those things from Jesus….EVER! But you do hear him say, “I am the true vine…” “If you are struggling with addiction or some past mistakes, if you have some scarring that hurts, if you are worried and afraid, bitter and angry, if you have some jagged broken parts, if you are letting some other things get in the way of what’s most important for your life, if you have been admiring your own branch a little too much,” then Jesus says, “I am the provider of forgiveness and compassion, and my supply will never run out. I am the nourishment that keeps you alive forever. I am the support and stability that you need. I am the foundation of your faith. I am the source of your salvation.”
If Jesus is the true vine, you hear what he calls you, right? “…You are the branches.” The vine is absolutely, 100% the reason for the branches and the support and feeding of the branches. And when branches are connected to the vine, then there is life. Branches will show the signs of life, won’t they? That’s just part of the connected life.
Jesus says, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” God has done the work so that you are connected. Part of the connected life is the fruit. Jesus is living in us and gives us the power and strength to do what he says joyfully and naturally. He is working on us to prune away certain things that are damaging to our branch.
The connected life means doing what God calls productive: (keeping the 10 Commandments) proper priorities where everything is lines up behind our relationship with Jesus; prayer, praise, and thanksgiving to God in all circumstances; gladly studying the Scriptures and attending worship often; showing honor and respect to parents and other authorities God has placed over us; valuing the lives of others the way our Creator does; using the gift of marriage and sex the way God made it; helping others with their possessions; defending and encouraging our friends and neighbors; being content with what God has given us. The connected life is going to be connected to God’s commands bearing fruit.
The connected life is also going to look for opportunities to reach some of those are not a part of the vine. See, we know who the vine is and what he does. We know that there is life, fruitful, abundant, and eternal life being connected to the vine. But there are some who do not know or care.
God has brought us in. He has made us branches of the vine. So each one of us personally knows the kind of power the gospel has to destroy death and bring life. Each one of us personally knows the kind of power his gospel has to build and strengthen, to produce fruit.
The connected life is going to give us a new way at looking for separated branches. Rather than looking for the lighter fluid, rather than looking for excuses to avoid them, we look for ways to show how great our vine is. We look for ways to show that life connected to him is not wasteful or suffocating, but fruitful for eternity.
That’s the kind of ministry we have here. We are connected to the vine by the power and grace of his Word. We are connected to the vine, which means we will bear fruit. And that certainly doesn’t mean that we will start admiring how good of branch we are. Instead, it always goes back to the vine who makes us who we are and gives us the joy of the connected life. Jesus says, “This is to my Father’s glory. That you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
Brothers and sisters, now is not the time for fewer branches connected to the vine, but more. Now is not the time for fewer Christians built off of Jesus, but more. Now is not the time for fewer students in Sunday Schools, our Lutheran elementary schools, and our ministerial education schools (MLS, LPS, MLC, WLS) but more. Now is not the time for fewer teachers and pastors, but more. Now is not the time for fewer people in our churches. Now is the time for more. Now is the time for the connected life where we get to glorify our living and enduring vine, Jesus Christ, and we bear his fruit.
God grant it. Amen.