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Dear Fellow Branches of the True Vine, Jesus
How many projects have you started that are waiting to be finished? If you are like most people there are probably quite a few. The reasons that we start projects and don’t finish them are many. We get busy with other things. We get bored with the project. It’s taking longer than we thought it would. It’s more difficult than we thought it would be. The list could go on.
As I heard Jesus say repeatedly, “Remain in me”, I thought of those unfinished projects. I thought about how those same reasons for not finishing a project we started tempt us to become unfruitful branches on the vine of Jesus. We might fail to remain in Jesus and become unfruitful because we get busy with other things. We get bored, tired of hearing the same thing over and over again- You have sinned and Jesus is your Savior. We might think that we shouldn’t have to worry about remaining in Jesus after all these years of coming to church. As we face forms of persecution, as we recognize the power of Satan and feel the pull of worldly temptations, we might realize that it’s harder to remain in Jesus than we thought and be tempted to give up.
Did you notice where the problem is in every reason for not remaining in Jesus, the true vine? It’s the same problem Elijah faced as he fled from Queen Jezebel and asked God to take him to heaven. The great prophet had become unfruitful because his focus was on himself and his circumstances instead of on God and his promises.
When Jesus says “Remain in me” let’s not overlook what those words imply. If we are to remain in him then we must already be in him. We are already branches on the true vine of Jesus.
How did that happen?
It wasn’t because of anything we did. A branch can’t make itself grow.
Paul says that the descendants of Abraham were the natural branches produced by the vine, but that God has grafted in other branches. He has taken branches from a wild vine and grafted them in to the true vine. We are those other branches. We were attached to a wild vine that could never give us life or enable us to produce any fruit that was pleasing to God. We were among those whom God considered dead in sin. We were destined to be cut down and thrown into the fire of eternal punishment. But for no other reason than his grace God cut us off of the useless vine and grafted us into the true vine, Jesus. We needed a rebirth, a spiritual resurrection, and God provided it for us. We were born again of water and the spirit at our baptism. By the power of God’s word which said, let there be light, God has caused the light of faith to shine in our hearts thereby grafting us into Jesus, the one true vine.
Jesus told the disciples, and he tells us, you are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Through the powerful, living and enduring word of God, the Holy Spirit has convicted you of your sin and pointed you to Jesus as your savior from sin. Through the word God has declared you to be NOT Guilty because of Jesus. Through the faith he has created in your hearts you have received the cleansing of the blood of Jesus that washes away every stain of sin. He has made you holy, cleansing you by the washing with water through the word, to present you to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. By the grace of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel in the word and sacraments, you are a branch on the true vine.
I talked earlier about some things that might cause us to fail to stay connected to the true vine and become unfruitful. The primary sin in all these things is pride. It is pride that moves us to think that we don’t really need the life-giving sap of the vine. It moves us to think that we can produce fruit on our own, that we really don’t need the vine. And it might seem to be true for a while. We might be thinking to ourselves, “look at me. Everyone sees that I’m a very religious person. They see how much I do for the church and the community.” Moses warned Israel that when everything was going well in the Promised Land, when they had nice homes and bountiful harvests they would be tempted to say, look at me, my power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.
Thankfully, when the gardener, the father, sees the sin of pride sprouting in our hearts, he is ready and willing to prune it. That sounds painful, doesn’t it? Pruning is cutting something off. But the reason for pruning is so that the branch might remain in the vine and become even more fruitful.
Think of the Apostle Paul. He says that he realized that God gave him his “thorn in the flesh” and refused to take it away to keep him from becoming prideful. It was God’s way of pruning Paul’s pride, reminding him that he was saved only by grace, and that he could do nothing by his own strength, so that all the glory for his salvation and for anything he did had to go to God alone.
God prunes you. When you start thinking that whatever good there is in your life is all the result of your wisdom and your hard work and God suddenly lets things start to fall apart, thank God he loves you enough to prune you. His pruning might take the form of illness – as the saying goes, “when you are flat on your back in the hospital bed the only place you can look is up.” His pruning might take the form of a job loss, or vehicle troubles; anything that brings you to your senses, cuts away your pride, and reminds you of the truth that Jesus spoke, without me you can do nothing. In fact, if you keep thinking you have done something without Jesus, by your own strength, your branch will wither, become fruitless. Unless God’s pruning brings you to your senses your branch will be cut off and, on the last day, the angels will gather all those dead branches and throw them into the fire of Hell.
What a gracious Go we have that he loves us enough to prune us, to discipline us, so that sinful pride doesn’t make us wither and become unfruitful and finally be cut off from the only source of life, Jesus the true vine.
The whole purpose God has in grafting us to the vine of Jesus, and then pruning us so that we don’t take pride in ourselves but realize that it is only by remaining in Jesus and receiving the power he provides that we can do anything, is so that the Father is glorified. That’s our whole purpose in life, to bring glory to God. Jesus said it this way, let your light so shine that people may see your good deeds and glorify you Father in heaven. God has called us out of the darkness of sin and unbelief into the wonderful light of forgiveness and faith in Jesus so that we might declare his praises. In fact, Jesus can promise that if we remain in him and his words remain in us, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. Because if we remain in him and his words fill our hearts and minds we will only ask for things that will bring God glory.
How often, instead of thinking about bringing glory to God, we think only of our own glory. We want to say, “hey everyone, look at me, look at what I have accomplished.” How easy it is to look around us in the world and pat ourselves on the back and say, “I thank God I’m not like them.” How easy it is to think that we are such good Christians because of how often we attend worship, but then, when we leave worship, we live just like the sinful world around us and no one can tell if we are branches on the true vine because they don’t see any fruit. Even at our best we are withering, unfruitful vines that should not just be pruned, but completely cut off and thrown into the fire.
But thanks be to God that Jesus was not unfruitful. He proved himself to be the true vine the Father was looking for. He always did what was right in the Father’s eyes. Yet he didn’t give in to pride. He always gave credit and glory to God. And God accepted his perfection as if it were ours.
Then, Jesus went to the cross and suffered the punishment we deserve for all the times when we have become prideful and have wanted to take at least some credit for things we have done. He paid for all the times when we have taken the glory instead of giving all the glory to God. He rose on the third day giving glory to God for his marvelous plan of salvation which was now complete.
Through the constant, daily use of the words Jesus has spoken to us, and through the frequent use of the Sacrament, we receive the life giving sap of the true vine so that we become more and more fruitful. God is glorified as people see the fruit of the spirit in our lives, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. God is glorified as we share our faith. As we proclaim to all who will listen that Jesus is the Son of God, the one and only Savior, the true vine; and as we show one another the kind of unselfish, forgiving love that he has shown us. God is glorified when, by the power of Jesus living in us, we love not just in words or tongue but with actions and in truth
We all have projects we have started but never finished. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big a deal if we never finish them. But it is a big deal if we fail to remain in Jesus, the true vine. By grace he has made us branches on the vine. By grace he prunes us so that we never forget that without him we can do nothing. By grace he provides us with everything we need to be fruitful branches, giving glory to God in everything we do, showing ourselves to be his disciples.