“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. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8 (ESV)
“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.”
Abide in me, Jesus says. Abide in me and I will abide in you. This is much more than just having a living memory of a person, as people will often have of loved ones who have passed on, that their memories survive for a generation or two in a family before being relinquished into the dust bin of history. This is different because Jesus lives, because Jesus is the author of life, the creator of life, and he abides. It is Jesus who lives, who has the words of eternal life, and thereby it is Jesus in whom we live if we live at all. To abide in him is to live, not on bread but on every word that falls from the mouth of God, to live in Christ is to cling to his life giving words.
This isn’t biological life, the life of existence in this world we all know ends in death, but life eternal, the newness of life given in baptism our incorporation into his death and resurrection. This life is the life of faith that bears the fruit of joy and love, as it lives on grace and mercy. It is eternal life worked by his Holy Spirit in and through his word, his sacraments, and it bears fruit.
You have already been cleaned, Jesus says, because of the words I have spoken to you. Cleaned, it is the same word used above in the text for pruned. This is the corrective action of God’s word. It sometimes hurts, this living word of God that cuts into your soul, confronts you with your sin, exposes it to the light of Christ who consumes it like a fire consuming the dry and withered branches pruned from a grape vine after the autumn harvest. It’s this word that comes at you with the pruning clippers and disabuses you of all sorts of false notions of love with which we are daily bombarded in the world that slowly gets you to see that you cannot love apart from God’s word.
See there are the notions of love that we have today that are at odds with God’s word, and therefore love itself. Worldly notions where tolerance of sin isn’t enough, but nowadays we are pressured to also endorse it, perhaps even bless it in the name of God. Tolerate we could probably learn to do a little more of from the examples of Jesus who was never without compassion, except for when Pharisees would try to apply God’s word without mercy to everyone around them except for themselves, making up laws and weighing the people down with them. It never went well. Jesus tells them to go and learn what it means that: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. This is the sort of thing that is often lacking as many Christians today confront the sins of homosexuality, fornication and adultery, abortion and a host of other issues. The Pharisees were worried the kingdom of God might never come if the people of Israel didn’t learn to walk perfectly in the law of God. How often do we not hear Christians with the same concerns today, worried God will remove his blessing from our nation if we don’t eradicate this sin or that sin from our nation. Do we forget that God gives all people their daily bread, even all evil people? And this is what people tend to mean when they talk of God’s blessing, the daily bread the mammon and riches with which we stuff our stomachs that are never full, the glittering gold that never satisfies the greediness of our eyes. There is a problem there too, when we think of the blessing of God in these terms. The Pharisees were afraid that the kingdom of God, his blessing would be withheld or wouldn’t come amidst all the sin they saw in their day. And yet it came with Christ in the midst of this sinful world, in fact it came precisely because of sin in the world, precisely to the very sinners themselves. The Pharisees failed to see it because his kingdom came in mercy, in the good news preached to the poor. It came in the forgiveness of sins, in love and compassion. And when we the branches of the vine bear fruit ourselves, the fruit will be forgiveness of sins, love, mercy and compassion. These flow forth from a genuine love for life itself and those we share this life with even if they do not share our life in Christ, but perhaps shared in such a way that they will begin to share this life we have in Christ with us.
It’s a tough thing, and rarely easy. You will be known by your love, Jesus tells the disciples. But what the world calls love and what God calls love are often two very different things. The world looks at the law of God by which we try to live and sees it as judgmental, uncaring, unloving. The Christian looks at the law of God and wishes that he could only be filled with such love as to truly manage it, for it is love that fulfills the law. The law really can’t be fulfilled without the love of God, for it is a complete manifestation of what it means to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself that we find codified in the Ten Commandments. Even as to love yourself is to love God’s law. But this is where we so often fail. And it is precisely because we don’t love ourselves that we so often sin against ourselves, and against our neighbors.
And this is why we need to abide in Christ, why we can’t bear fruit outside of him. For He is the love of God that fulfills God’s law, shown in that he laid down his life for his friends, the love of which greater no man has. His love is forgiveness for sins. Outside of him, yes we can find law, but the law, even the law of God will fail to bring us life, to allow us to bear fruit that is not dead. Oh, yes faith without works, if there ever was such a thing would be dead. But the reverse is even more true, works without faith are also dead. But in Christ and his love, the forgiveness of sins in which we abide by hearing his word, well these are the words of eternal life, living words that give life, and these words are the mercy and grace of God that declare you forgiven.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.