“The Vine and the Branches”

                                                                    May 3, 2015

 

Isaiah 27:2-6

John 15:1-11

 


These weeks after Easter give us the chance to discover again what it means to join in the proclamation: “Christ is risen!” Seeking out the significance of that ancient phrase for our modern lives, we hear once more those words of Jesus on the night of his arrest.

 

“I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus says.

 

This is a living relationship:

When you are so distant, so removed from another person that there is no contact—there is no relationship.

When you are so close to another that there is no separation and your identity blurs—there is no relationship.

            Jesus speaks of contact instead of cut off.

            Jesus speaks of interaction instead of fusion.

 

The branch is not cut away.

 

The branch is not absorbed into the vine.

 

If we are to encounter the risen Christ it will be as individuals, each with our own identity;

 

If we are to "grow in Christ" it will be as individuals, each bearing our own fruit, the unique produce of a relationship with the divine.

 

This is a living relationship.

 

Raymond Brown, who probably spent as much time studying the Gospel of John as anybody wrote: "There is only one personal relationship between Jesus and his disciples: if they remain in Jesus through faith he remains in them through love and faithfulness. There is a total dependence of the Christian upon Jesus."

 

This is a living relationship.

 

            But a dependent one?

            That bothers me.

 

Sometimes it helps to think theologically. Remember who we are, what we are.

 

Human beings belong to the created order.

            We didn't bring ourselves into being.

            We are dependent—dependent for our very existence

                        on God's willing and creating

                        on human volition and creativity

 

But we have freedom—or independence—created and given by God

            to act, to invent, to fulfill God's purposes

            to enter into relationships with others that seek justice, love, peace

 

God does not ask for our servile submission.

 

But in our freedom we can choose to actively continue God's purposes of life and love in the human sphere.

 

Sin—and I know you hate to hear the word,

            and I hate to use it,

            but it's still one of the best words we have.

 

Sin—being cut off from God,

            and all the big and little things we do to keep it that way,

            being separated from other human beings,

            being separated even from the best in ourselves

 

Sin deprives us of our independence

            makes us dependent on all kinds of impairments

 

The paradox is this:

Being cut off—distance from God and others—leads to a lack of freedom rather than the freedom that so many people expect to find once they've ditched God at the last corner and set out on their own.

 

Christ makes contact with us

            makes a relationship possible again

            gives the renewed gift of freedom

            strengthens and enables our human capacity to act and create.

 

It may be that our dependence upon God

            gives birth to a strong and capable human independence.

 

It's like a vine and its branches. It is a living relationship.

 

This is a life-giving relationship:

            Branches are tended by the living God.

            Branches are pruned, cut back so that they might flourish and produce.

 

I imagine you know about that:

            times in which it seemed like the very knife of God had been put to your life

 

Being pruned must feel an awful lot like being entirely cut away to a branch.

 

There are various phrases to describe it:

            the dark night of the soul,

            a time in the wilderness,

            carrying a cross.

 

This is not pointless suffering. It bears fruit.

 

Maybe your experience whispers to you of resurrection,

            that death gives way to life

            that the God who tends the vine is the one who spoke through Isaiah:

                        "I have no wrath

                        let them make peace with me,

                        let them make peace with me."

 

Maybe your experience whispers to you of resurrection.

 

If it does, maybe you will speak—or at least whisper—that word to a neighbor

            one who still wonders if the last word is death or life,

            one who still hopes for healing,

            one who still waits to hear the good news that you could tell.

 

Branches are tended by the living God

            and pruned to bear fruit.

 

Have you seen a grape vine? I remember the one at my parents’ home:

            Every year in the fall it got cut back. That's about all the tending it received.

            Every year in the spring it grew and sent out little tendrils that wrapped themselves around the grape arbor.

            Big grape leaves appeared.    

            Then clusters of small green grapes.

            Slowly they ripened and turned the dark purple of Concord grapes.

 

Healthy branches bear fruit without effort

            as a natural outcome of being attached to the vine.

 

To say Christ is risen is to say something about God

            that God raised Jesus from death;

that through that death and resurrection God has started something new;

that God wants us to be a part of that new creation.

 

But to say Christ is risen is also to say

            that Jesus is not simply a good teacher

                        nor an inspiration

                                    nor a holy figure from ancient times.

 

He is the resurrection and the life

            the way, the truth and the life

            Christ is the vine in which all branches find health and sustenance

            Christ is the vine from which all branches shoot forth and produce.

 

Abide in Christ and you will bear much fruit. Let us stay connected and discover all that we might do.