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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

I Am the Vine, You Are the Branches - 05/02/2021

“I am the vine, you are the branches.” (John 15.5)

It’s a familiar verse to many of us, I dare say. The Gospel of John is known and loved for its “I Am” statements … I am the bread of life, the resurrection, the light of the world, the Good Shepherd, as we heard last week. This is the last of the “I Am” statements. “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

Even with the familiarity of the verse though, I would guess its imagery is not so familiar to us as it was to those first communities of Christians who heard this gospel. There are few of us who have tended anything like a vineyard, or produced harvests of any kind, perhaps.

So, let’s pause here for just a moment and think about this vineyard imagery. Grapes, particularly in the form of wine, were part of everyday life and had a lot of cultural and economic importance in the time and place of this story. In addition to larger vineyards in most regions, many people had household vineyards. Grapes were eaten fresh and dried, and mostly made into wine, which could be stored longer and was important for basic things like adding to stale and lifeless cistern water to make it drinkable. There would often be communal wine presses in these places where the grapes were taken after harvest each year.

Those early Christians would have understood that the vine is where the lifeblood of the plant – of the whole vineyard, really . Without it, there can be no branches, no fruit, no wine. And that is why Jesus is the vine.

These early Jesus-followers would know what it is to tend to the vines throughout the year; to have a knack for pruning and training the vine branches to produce abundant and sustainable harvests. They would have deep appreciation and respect for one who knows when to prune drastically, even when to destroy and burn, and when to trim lightly and selectively. And that is why God is the vinegrower.

This lush and lavish vineyard imagery is what Jesus uses to explain how he abides in God and God in him. Jesus uses this word “abide” in John to explain his relationship to God. Just before this, he foretold his betrayal and then told his followers not to worry … “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who (abides) in me does his works. Believe me that I (abide) in the Father and the Father (abides) in me.” (14:10-11)e

Now Jesus is repeating that idea of abiding again. He and God are like the vine and the vinegrower, intimately and inextricably tied. And because the vineyard is of God, because the vine and the relationship between the vine and the vinegrower is of Divine origin and purpose, it is constant and eternal.

The vine is something we can depend on for its lifegiving and abundant possibilities always.

That is the heartbeat of this teaching. Like the vinegrower and the vine abide in and of each other, God and Jesus also abide in each other. They are intimately and inextricably tied, of Divine origin and purpose, constant and eternal.

What Jesus is trying to impress upon his followers is that in him, in the re-creation he was bringing into the world, the steadfast and trustworthy abiding between him and God, that image of a Divine vineyard included them too. And it includes us today.

The vine is still here, the vinegrower still expertly and wisely tends the vine …. And we are the fruit bearing branches.

Friends, let that sink into your hearts and minds deeply. Let it frame everything you see. Let it harmonize with everything you hear and complement what you smell. Let it be present in all you taste and touch. Because this is astounding. And it’s part of who we claim to be as Christian people because Jesus first claimed it for us. “Those who abide in me and … I in them …bear much fruit.” (15.5)

In the death of Jesus on that terrible cross and in the resurrection that followed so certainly, we have been grafted onto this vine that is Jesus and we too are tended tended by God. Astounding. It changes everything.

This teaching of the vine and branches takes place in Jesus’ final night of ministry to his followers. He is about to be arrested, and he knew. This is part of the last teaching he wanted to share, which says something, I think. It clues us into how critical Jesus thinks this is and how important he believes it is for his followers to understand that he abides in God and God in him, and when we abide in Jesus, he, and therefore God, abide in us too.

I know there’s a lot more we could delve into in this Gospel text today, too much for one day, but I would like to address one more thing.

We’ve established that God is the vinegrower, Jesus the vine, and we are the branches. So, what about this fruit? What does it look like? How do we know if our fruit is good fruit? How do we know if God is pleased with the fruit we produce?

Well, Jesus has taught us the answer to those questions in word and action through his ministry too. To bear good fruit is to keep Jesus’ commandment to do acts of love. Our acts of love are the fruits of our branches, they are God-pleasing, they are good for us and those we encounter. They are tangible signs of our discipleship.

Welcome to the vineyard, friends. Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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