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The Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 6, 2012
The Gospel: John 15:1-8
Sermon: "Now Connecting"

The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles

Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel

The Gospel:

Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."

John 15:1-8

Now Connecting

Being connected is very necessary these days. In this, “the information age,” being able to connect with the source of any information is more important all the time. No wonder, then, that any of us who have gotten through the passwords and codes in order to connect to a bulletin board or secured web site feel a sense of relief when we see those wonderful words, “now connecting.”

Jesus considered connecting to the source to be vital too. In fact, in our Gospel lesson from the 15th chapter of the Gospel according to John this morning, Jesus tells us that we are to be “now connecting” when it comes to the source of life. Using the analogy of a grapevine, he tells us what it means to be connected. “I am the vine, my father is the vine dresser,” he says. “I am the vine and you are the branches.”

Now, when Jesus takes up this analogy of the grapevine, he picks one that is particularly suited to the awareness of his hearers. There were vines growing all over the place in Palestine in those days, even as they seem to be sprouting all over North Carolina now. When Jesus said that he was the “true vine,” people knew right away what he was talking about. But besides being familiar with vines in the everyday sense, the people of Israel had also been taught to think of themselves as God’s vineyard. As the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel.” (5:7) They knew immediately that Jesus was speaking of them. He’s also speaking of you and me as well. So what does Jesus mean about you and me, when he says, “I am the true vine, and you are the branches”? He has three particular meanings for us this morning.

The first meaning is this: WE ARE TO BE CONNECTED WITH THE SOURCE OF LIFE. Verse 5: “I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who abide in me, and I in them, bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” Life begins with the vine. Branches cannot grow by themselves.

In Hampton Court, near London, there is a grapevine that is around 1,000 years old. Some of its branches are 200 feet long, and its single root is at least two feet thick. Because of skillful cutting and pruning, that one vine produces several tons of grapes every year. Even though some of the smaller branches are as much as 200 feet from the main stem, they bear plenty of fruit because they are joined to the vine and allow the life of the vine to flow through them. The great truth which Jesus is trying to tell us is that if we want life in all its fullness, then we are to be always connected to him, the “true vine,” the very source of life. “Abide in me as I abide in you,” Jesus said. We draw our life from him. Once we are connected with him we have life. Just as the branch takes its life from the vine, so we find abundant life in Christ. That is the first meaning Jesus has about you and me, here.

Here’s the second: THE LIFE WE GAIN FROM THE VINE IS TO BEAR FRUIT. Verse 2: “…Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” And again from verse 5: “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” The closer we are to Jesus the more we will want to do those things that please him. But bearing such fruit does take some effort.

D’aun, and Chris, and I were working to plant a garden yesterday, and I got to thinking about how there is a lot of work involved in planting and caring for a garden. There’s much more to a garden than throwing a few seeds on the ground and waiting for them to grow. Careful attention to the preparation of the soil must be given even before anything is planted. The seeds must be watered on a regular basis. Weeds must be pulled.

Then, once the plants are growing, careful attention must be given to the plants themselves if they are going to produce a crop. In order to produce as much as possible the plants have to be pruned, which involves more than just trimming around the branches. If you’ve ever watched a gardener prune a plant, you might think that the gardener has cut too much off the plant and killed it. But the next growing season the plant is thriving once again. On the other hand, if a plant is never pruned it seldom produces as much fruit as it could.

Like the branches, we too are to be pruned. We are to take stock of ourselves and ask, what needs to be pruned in my life? What is preventing me from bearing the fruit I could produce? We are to allow the Master Gardener to prune away our excess baggage of useless things and meaningless pursuits. Then we will be ready to fulfill our purpose in life: we will be ready to bear much fruit with our lives. 

When we connect our lives to Christ we will naturally bear fruit. Not just internal fruit, such as joy and patience and peace, the fruit of the Spirit; but also external fruit through the seeds of faith we plant in other’s lives, and in our daily living of good works. A lot of effort goes into a garden, but the end result is worth it. The life we gain from the vine will bear fruit in us. That is the second meaning Jesus has about us in his words this morning.

Here is the third: BEARING FRUIT BRINGS GLORY TO GOD. Verse 8: “My father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” That’s an essential idea for our time. Our tendency today is to place ourselves first in all things, to glorify not God, but ourselves, and then to wonder why we are so unfulfilled and lacking in joy in life. There is an old saying that a man wrapped up in himself makes a pretty small package. Most of you know that I was, in a former life, a Presbyterian pastor for some twenty years. I’m often asked what made me become an Anglican, and my most common answer is that I finally saw the light. Now, I am no closet Presbyterian, but there is one thing that stays with me from those years. It is the first article from the Westminster Shorter catechism. This is one thing that nearly everybody accepts that the Presbyterians got right; Anglicans included, though grudgingly. It’s very first question is, “What is the chief end of man?” That is, what is our main purpose in life. The answer is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” The glorify part we get, but the enjoy part is a real surprise from those old Puritans. The enjoying comes from being connected to God in a loving relationship, back and forth, give and take. The Glorifying comes naturally from the fruit we bear as a result of being connected. If our world does not always seem to be a cheerful place, it may be because most people do not understand this as their main purpose in life.

The world desperately needs men and women whose great purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him through the fruit born in their lives. God is the gardener, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Being connected to him gives us life, it gives us joy, and the fruit of that life, in turn, brings glory to him. Jesus said, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” Connect your life to his; study his words so that you may know his mind and heart, talk with him and listen in prayer so that you may know his spirit. It is time to be “now connecting…”

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