The Vine John 15:1-8
We are used to the image of the vine in our lives as Christians – our beautiful pulpit reminds us each week that we celebrate Jesus in the fruit of the vine. In our gospel reading today Jesus tells his followers that he is the vine & they are the branches. So what does it mean to be part of the vine?
In my last manse I had a vine growing against the wall – it was South-facing and in the spring and summer it grew like mad – if I didn’t prune it back it would have covered up all the windows. So I learnt quite a lot about vines as I went and did battle with my secateurs.
The first thing is that a vine isn’t like a tree – if Jesus had said ‘I am the trunk, you are the branches’ that would have meant one thing, but saying ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’ says another things altogether. The branches aren’t just one part of the vine – the whole vine itself is made up of branches – if there were no branches there would be no vine. It’s very like St Paul’s picture of the followers of Jesus as parts of the body; the branches of the vine are all a part of the vine, and no one branch is more important than any other branch.
The second thing is that the vine can only continue to grow and thrive if all the branches are joined together. The minute you cut off a branch of the vine, it starts to wither and die – unless it is joined to the rest of the vine, the entire branch has had it. The branches need to remain part of the vine to live and to grow.
But the third thing I learnt was that you couldn’t just let the vine grow wherever it wanted to – it would soon reach the roof of the house and just keep growing all over the guttering if I let it. But if you wanted any chance of grapes at all (let alone keep looking out of the windows) you had to prune back the vine. In fact someone once explained to me that if you really wanted the fruit to grow well you had to get right in there with your secateurs and make sure there weren’t too many fruits trying to grow in any one bunch.
So what do all these facts about vines mean for Jesus picture of his followers as parts of the vine?
Jesus is the vine – we are the branches – and therefore together we are the vine, we are one with Jesus. It doesn’t matter what each branch looks like, what its position is, as long as it’s part of the whole vine, joined to God in Christ. Being the vine means recognising how we belong together, how we need each other as a church and as different churches.
We must be joined to one another and we must be joined to Christ. We must talk to Jesus in prayer, read God’s word, gather together in worship. These are the things which join us to Christ. Being fruitful then means showing God’s love in the world, showing in our lives the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy , peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness & self-control).
There must be union with each other and union with Christ – but there will still be pruning – we cannot expect all growth, all success, all positive things in life.
Even joined to Christ, we will not be immune from any difficulty in life. Jesus says that the unfruitful branches of the vine are cut off : but that the fruitful branches are still pruned. Whatever difficulty comes, we must remain part of God’s life in Christ, even if have been severely pruned back.
Steve Chalke, who is a Baptist minister from a fairly evangelical background, has written that he used to talk to people about their short-comings and try to convince them that they needed Jesus to sort their lives out. Then he realised that Jesus ‘never nagged people’ but tried to inspire them to live God’s way. So now Steve Chalke’s approach is to ask people he meets ‘If you could know what God is doing and be part of it, would you want to?’ – and he says he gets a much more positive response.
Being part of the vine is about being part of what God is doing in the world, continuing to be joined to Jesus Christ by seeking to follow Jesus, and accepting that. Like Jesus we will know difficulties as well as successes.
We gather as part of the vine to celebrate the gift of Jesus, the true vine. Eating bread & drinking wine is a way of saying we are prepared to be part of the kingdom, part of the on-going life of God in the world in the living Christ, part of the vine.
And so may the life of Christ fill us & bless us & make us fruitful. Amen.