Vines, vines, everywhere – but what do they mean? When Jesus spoke to his followers in images of grape vines they knew what he was talking about. For many of us, Marvin Gaye’s 1968 hit, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” is as close as we come to knowing what a grapevine is and that has more to do with gossip than grapes. So what are we 21st Century urban-dwellers to make of these images of growing and pruning and fruit-bearing? Now I am sure that there are those among us this morning who get this image and understand how the process of planting, tending, and training works with plants. But some of us black-thumb-inclined folks aren’t as familiar…And there is still the matter of trying to apply this metaphor to our situation.
We need to understand something about metaphor – its power is not that it DEFINES a thing, but that it POINTS TO something else. The beauty of this metaphor is found when we recognize that it points us toward relationships – with God, with Jesus, and with each other…This is another affirmation of what we have talked about so often…to be a Christian is to be in relationship; Christianity is connected and relational by definition. This story points us toward understanding that God gave us Jesus as the Vine and we are attached to this Vine as the Body of Christ – we are the branches and our relationship with the Vine is critical.
There are a couple things I want us to think about this morning as we look at this familiar story…
- What exactly is the fruit we are supposed to bear?
- What does it mean for Jesus to “abide” in us – as individuals? As the church?
I think we can all agree that when planting a garden you generally know what to expect in terms of what will grow…Apple trees bear apples; grapevines yield grapes. But Jesus is talking about people here…what do we yield? Very often preachers use this text to preach about evangelism and witnessing in terms of winning souls as the fruit we bear…This is not a bad or incorrect way to interpret this text…I would simply like to take a different look at this image and think about what other kinds of fruit we might be called to bear. Is there more to this image than evangelism implies?
I can’t help but read this entire text in light of its final verse: “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” I believe that Jesus offers us this story to help us become better disciples – better learners, better followers…The message rings clear to me in these verses and I wonder what fruit I am called to bear. Recall Jesus’ words in John 13:34-35…“A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Certainly, evangelism is one way of showing someone that you love them…You care enough about them to share the Good News of Jesus with them and guide them into eternity…And, in a very real sense, guiding someone to know Jesus is bearing the fruit of your faith. I want us to go beyond this image today and think about other ways that we might bear fruit…Is it living a life dedicated to teaching children that they are valued and loved? Is it taking time to visit people living in nursing homes or confined to hospitals? Is it setting up and leading a Bible study group for prisoners in the County jail? We can all come up with questions that might lead us to better understand the fruit God is calling US to bear…The hard part is asking ourselves those questions and responding with real answers…Are you called to work on a mission team? Maybe you are simply challenged to be more Christ-like in everything you do so that non-Christians will notice how your daily life glorifies God. The idea is that everything we say and do; every reaction to another person; every thought formed about another should be formed in response to God’s love for us…Does our word, our action, our thought really display the love for one another that Christ commands?
The task this Scripture calls us to is one of honest self- reflection to determine what the Lord requires of each one of us in terms of bearing fruit. Every branch connected to the vine is pruned and trained for a purpose…Your purpose – your fruit-bearing – is something you must determine through careful prayer and discernment…Branches that fail to produce fruit are cut off and thrown away.
The hope of this text lies in the concept of “abiding” in Christ as Christ abides in us…The Greek root for this word “abide” includes several meanings – “staying in place,” “enduring,” “holding out,” – the idea is steadfastness and reliability. It brings to mind the notion of Jesus making his home within us and living so closely with us that we are as attuned to him as he is to us…Therein lies the hope – If we allow Jesus to become that close to us and we become that close to him then our will and his will can grow closer together. The result will be that what we want will be the same as what God wants and the promise will be fulfilled: “if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” God is not a vending machine to answer our every whim and wish; but – when our prayers are the same as God’s will the promise is clear.
What I want us to take away this morning is this…Bearing fruit does not create disciples, bearing fruit reveals disciples…As we look at ourselves, as individuals and as a congregation, where do we see that we are connected or disconnected from the true Vine that is Jesus Christ? In what ways are we abiding in Christ and allowing him to abide in us? What fruit are we bearing and what are we avoiding? What more do we need to do to produce a bountiful harvest for our God? We are chosen to bear the fruit of heaven and Jesus empowers us to make that possible. How do I know this, you may ask…I heard it through the grapevine.
In the name of the God who carefully tends the vineyard that is us…Amen