+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 15:2
Theme: Always Bearing Fruit
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Vital truth can never be relative. Many things have shades, degrees, and layers of truth but the most fundamental realities are absolute. “God is love” and “God is life” are among them. How long will you wait for the branch severed from the tree to spring to life? Life is not self-existing or self-sustaining. And to say that is fundamentally a statement of belief. Observation would seem to suggest otherwise. The biologist or the philosopher may contend that Mother Nature has cleverly and marvelously worked out how to keep life rolling along. Life seems to propagate itself and adapt as necessary to its environment. But what lies behind this power? God Himself!
To attribute the complexity and resilience of life to a random, mindless force is, in fact, an act of faith too. It’s a big leap of faith, at that. Of course, this has nothing to do with biblical faith and is actually unbelief. To believe that life is just a collection of physical components functioning without any other purpose than to propagate the next generation is to abandon all hope in immortality and drain life of its deepest meaning and purpose.
Today Jesus calls Himself the true vine. It was a readily accessible comparison for those familiar with agriculture. “I am the vine; you are the branches, if a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.”1 But what He says about Himself isn’t intended to be simplistic. In other words, there is more than just a convenient analogy going on here. Christ is the origin of life. Apart from the sustaining power of God all life would collapse in an instant. Apart from the life-giving Spirit who connects us to Christ all would remain in spiritual death. Jesus says “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself.”2 “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”3
The promise of eternal life stands in stark contrast to the alternative. “If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”4 There is little doubt about the message here. It is a stern warning about the consequences of rejecting Christ and His work. It leads inevitably to death and judgment, temporal and eternal. The fruitless branches are lopped off and eventually burned in the fire. Sin isn’t simply moral infringement on God’s will; unforgiven and unresolved it eventually severs one permanently from the life of God. Such knowledge sobers our repentance.
Notice, too, that the branches which are bearing fruit are pruned. Believers, too, are in need of God’s chastisement. Repentance is not a once-off activity. We can be, and indeed, are completely justified in God’s sight by grace, through faith in Christ and at the very same time we are “overgrown”, shooting off in our own directions like an untrained vine. Grace covers us, but our unrighteous tendencies still need to be curbed. Just as pruning a plant makes it more vigorous, our being purified makes our faith more robust. Bearing the cross and living as God’s baptized necessitates this continual dynamic.
The bearing of fruit for the kingdom is always the effect of being grafted to the vine and never the cause. And fruit, good deeds done for the neighbour, are never leverage against God. God’s favour cannot be bought. The very moment you get the idea in your head that because of your devotion, because of your loyalty, because of your effort to support the church, you deserve to be spared from the hardships that will test your faith; at that very moment you have made God indebted to you. You have placed God in obligation to you for your services. And that, dear friends, is a completely fabricated circumstances that does not exist and can never exist. There is no bargaining with God. This is no scope for bartering, haggling, or negotiating even under the façade of piety. To believe otherwise is to grossly misunderstand the gospel.
What does the Scripture say? “Does the ax raise itself above him who swings it, or does the saw boast against him who uses it?”5 “Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’”6 The prophet Daniel has it right when he says, “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.”7 Rather than being exempted from trial, we can expect not only to experience the difficulties common to humanity, but also persecution because of the word. In this way we are truly witnesses. We can only reflect God’s love through the parameters He has set. These are often rejected by the world.
But Christ tells us He has overcome the world. His death and resurrection supersede all other powers. His love conquers all evil. God is love; but not in a generic way. God is not merely the concept of love; an idealized theoretical virtue. God is incarnated love. He is love in flesh and blood with veins and arteries. He was conceived in the Virgin’s womb yet born into the darkness of the world. He came to dwell among sinners. His love is a condescending love; a love that stoops down in mercy.
Today’s illustration of a living vine connects well with the nature of faith. Faith is not an inanimate gift like a material possession. It lives and breathes the truth, the words, and the love of Christ. Like our bodies it must be fed or it atrophies and dies. Plants have xylem and phloem tubes. People and animals have arteries and veins. Souls have God’s word and sacraments. All are conduits of life. Xylem and phloem transport water and nutrients. Arteries and veins transport blood. God’s means of grace transport forgiveness. Baptism incorporates us into the life to the triune God. Absolution assures us we are reconciled to the heavenly Father. Holy Communion contains the substance of life. Through these means we remain connected to the Vine and receive His life.
Jesus says today, “You are already clean.”8 Why are we clean? Because of the word Christ speaks to us. Because of the word with which the Spirit washes us. Because of the word with which the Father cajoles us. We are cleansed through the water-drenched word of baptism. We are purified through the blood-empowered word of the cross. We are made new by the creative word of the Unbegotten. God’s words are truth and they are life. It is no coincidence that St. John’s description of heaven makes reference to the tree of life. “Also on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”9 Christ is our tree of life. He is our true Vine. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Fifth Sunday of Easter
3 May, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 15:5
2 John 5:25-26
3 John 11:25-26
4 John 15:6
5 Isaiah 10:15
6 Isaiah 45:9
7 Daniel 9:18