Reading: John 15:1-17
We reach the last of the ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus this morning. Most of you will be able to recognise the reading and probably associate the second half of it with Remembrance Day Services. This morning we will concentrate our thoughts on the first half and the true vine. It really is quite amazing that this is our reading this morning as it speaks of us being the branches of the vine that is Jesus. The baptismal family and I have been communicating through email since the beginning of January and today’s date was set for Isla’s baptism. At that time, we in St Michael’s were just beginning our journey through John’s Gospel none of us knew at that point where we would be on that journey. When I started to map out how I was going to lead us through the Gospel I did not know at the outset we would have this series on the ‘I am’ sayings. Then this morning Isla through her baptism is grafted into Christ and into the family of faith.
As is the case so many times, God is at work in our situations long before we know it, and his plan becomes evident as he reveals his goodness to us. To have that sense that God knew this family would be with us here today from Canada and better still he knew what reading would be the most apt for this service. All of this ahead of me/us knowing how, where and when God had it all under control and was putting his plan into place through us. A week ago would have been too early and next week would have been too late. God had the timing in place all along. It reminds me so much of that beautiful reading from Ecclesiastes chapter three when it speaks of God setting a time for everything. And to our reading today. As I said last week, all of these ‘I am’ sayings strike home with the Jewish leaders. This reference to a vine is common language used by Old Testament prophets as they spoke of the people being God’s vine or vineyard.
There is much written about bearing fruit and Jesus told parables of good fruit and bad fruit of yielding a crop or being barren. As any horticulturist will tell you a plant needs to be firmly rooted, it has to be watered and fed for growth to flourish in it. Here in our lives as the branches of the vine our roots are firmly placed with God, Jesus becomes the living water through whom we will never be thirsty again and the Holy Spirit is our feeding as it flows in us and through us. As we prayed at Isla’s baptism that the Holy Spirit would be upon us and the water in the baptismal font. Jesus says to remain in him and he will remain in us. Our journey through life is spent in relationship with him. As we continue to love him, obeying his ways and walking within them, we speak with and listen to him in our prayer time and we gather in times such as this to worship him and offer our thanksgiving to him. All of that really meaning, in simple, but not simplistic terms, that when remaining in Christ, we remain joined to him spiritually. We become one with him and part of him. Just as he continually tells the crowds who gather round him. Just as he tells those religious leaders who cannot understand him. He is one with the father, we are one with him. All of this speaks to me of the importance of regular gathering together as a community of faith. It speaks to me very powerfully of the importance of church and having a healthy church connected life. When we are baptised as an infant or adult, or when we come to faith in later years we become part of that believing community and part of the vine.
Now like any branch that becomes disjointed from the plant it will wither and it will eventually die off. Our faith runs the same risk if we remove ourselves from regular contact with the worshipping community. Yes, sure it might last for a while but I think it has limited life time. Like beautiful cut flowers in a vase. When attached to the plant root these flowers will bloom for their full life cycle, when cut they must be watered for them to survive anytime at all but to sever them from their source and simply stand them in a dry vase is surely the worst thing for them. I think that is what is being said in verse five when Jesus says apart from him we can do nothing. When we cut ourselves off, when we become apart from him, then no more growth is possible. Thankfully that is not where this ends as Jesus also says that if we remain in him then all things are possible, life will continue.
There is a common thread that runs through scripture when promises are made there are often conditions as well. In Matthew’s gospel, if we forgive others is the condition God will in turn forgive us is the promise. And in our reading just as in last week’s reading whatever we ask of the Father in the name of the Son it will be given to us. Remain in Christ is the condition, you will receive whatever you ask is the promise. All of this is to the Father’s glory when we show ourselves to be disciples of Christ. When Jesus says ‘remain in me’ we are to have the same spirit of Christ. Our mind and our will must at one with that of Jesus. As he lived for others, so too we live not for ourselves but for others. We are, as Isla was earlier, baptised into Christ and from that moment we belong to him, this is not a fear filled belonging to some oppressing, overpowering force, but rather a submission by us into the love and gentleness of God.