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I AM the True Vine

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. -John 15:1-7

So we're concluding our series on the I am statements that Jesus makes in the Gospel of John, this is the seventh and final of the statements that we'll be looking at, and when I began this series, I reminded you of how God was the one who, Moses asked, Who should I say sent me. God's response was, I am who I am. And so we're reminded of the theological significance and weight of Jesus making these statements in this gospel by saying, I am... And so we've looked at these statements, I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the gate to the sheep pen, I am the good shepherd, I am the resurrection and the life. I am the way, the truth, and the life. And today we look at Jesus' statement where he says, I am the true vine. Now, in all of these statements, there's something that we learn about who Jesus is, there's something that we learn about his nature, but more importantly about how we... As God's people relate to God through Jesus.

Now, the statements aren't exhaustive, these do not cover everything that we know or understand about Jesus, but these were seven high points that Jesus touched on. There's a song out on Christian radio right now, and this is a bit of a confession on part because... Well, I can't always speak for myself, but I think pastors are somewhat judgy and critical of the theology that we hear in books and music and other things, but the song is titled, let me tell you about my Jesus send. The artist's name is Jennie Ross, and there's a part of me that bristles a little bit.

It's a good song, and she makes some good points talking about the characteristics and qualities of Jesus, but when I hear that reframe... Say, Let me tell you about my Jesus. I always wanna say, but he's my Jesus too. But there's a truth to what He says in this song, because this understanding of who Jesus is, while there is a strong corporate element to it, that this is all of our Jesus, this is the one in whom we all find hope, this is the one in whom all of us turn to for salvation, and the one who has made life eternal possible for all who believe, there is still an element of taking these statements that Jesus makes and internalizing them and making this Jesus, our Jesus. And in turn, the Jesus that we represent and share with others, you see, the idea of knowing who Jesus is, of knowing about Jesus is not the same as knowing of being in a relationship. And so through these statements, we begin to learn more about who Jesus is on a personal and an intimate level. Many of you have met my wife, many of you know things about her, even if you haven't… You could go to her Facebook page and you can learn things about her, but there are things that when you sit down and talk to someone and spend time with them, that you truly then begin to know them.

I feel like I know my wife well and better than most, and many of you could say that about the people that you are closest to in your lives as well. So it's one thing to read a book about Jesus or to hear someone else talk about who Jesus is, but it's a very different thing to know Jesus in that intimate and personal way that only comes through spending time with someone. And so, while I'm a bristle at that song, there is some trust that it has to be a personal connectedness that each of us have with Jesus, and I think that it's no coincidence that in the sequential order, through John, this statement where Jesus says, I am the vine is the last one we encounter, because in many ways, I think that the other aspects, while all good hinge on this one.

Where Jesus says, I am the vine and you are the branches. Now, in this metaphor, and all Metaphors do have some weaknesses, and we could pick them apart and say, Well, it falls short here or there, but this one really gives us a strong picture of this relationship. Jesus says, I am the vine, you are the branches. But he also tells us that my father is the gardener. My father is the one who planted the fine and tended the vine, my Father is the one that does the pruning and the work on the vine.

But for us, our connectedness to the vine is the part that really matters the most when we think about how a vine grows, whether you've had any experience with gardening or growing or tending grape vines, or just seeing pictures of vineyards and things like that, you know that there's kind of a main stem or a trunk of the vine that comes up, and then the other vines begin to branch out and shoot off of that and wrap around one another and around the trellis or whatever other support is holding it up. Now, in many ways, there is a lot of equality really among those branches, because they become so entangled with one another that sometimes trying to trace and find where one begins and the other ends isn't easy. But Jesus says the purpose, the intent, the reason that the branches are there is to bear fruit. Now, for someone that has a vineyard and is growing those vines, they want the harvest to be as abundant as possible, and Jesus talks about this and says, Look, the gardener is gonna come through and if there are branches that are not bearing fruit, he’s gonna get those pruning shares out and lop them off and get rid of them, because if they're not bearing fruit, they don't need to be there. But the thing also is that there is no exemption from pruning, so whether you're bearing no fruit or a lot of fruit, pruning is going to happen. Because he says even those branches that bear fruit get pruned so that they can bear more. Now, this idea of pruning doesn't seem like a pleasant prospect does it, it's one thing to go and get our haircut or to trim our finger nails, but pruning sounds a little more aggressive, a little more ouchy. To have something lopped off, and yet Jesus says, this is for our benefit, that we might bear more fruit, so what might it look like if God is going to prune our lives that we might bear more fruit?

We all invest ourselves in many things, some things we might say, Yeah, that's not a good use of my time, but there's an intentionality to the things that we do in our lives, and many of them we would probably put in the category of good things, but are they the right thing, or even more importantly, are they the best thing that we can be doing? You see, we're creatures of habit and we like doing the things that we do, we like that routine, we like the continuity, we like the predictability of things, but sometimes God may step into our life and say, Wait a minute, it's time to put this activity to rest.

It's time to let go of this because I've got something else that is gonna be of greater value that I want you to begin doing, and so sometimes we have things pruned out of our lives that we might invest ourselves more fully in something else that God is bringing us to... We could use this analogy, not just as individuals, but even in the life of a church that sometimes we wanna keep pressing on doing the same thing that we've always done, maybe long after the value or the need for that has ended, but when we get stuck in that mode of doing the same thing again and again and again, and in some ways puts blinders before us that we may miss out on other opportunities to connect with new people, to make a new difference in the lives of others. And so the pruning comes out of necessity for those of us who are connected to the vine, that connectedness is the key point to everything else that we do.

Jesus even says. Apart from me, you can do nothing. That's a pretty direct statement that he makes, apart from me, you can do nothing. Well, we could probably qualify that if we wanted to, because there are a lot of things that people go about doing in their lives and in this world that aren't connected to Christ, but if we're gonna do anything of value and meaning and purpose for the kingdom of God, we have to be connected to Christ. In this image and the metaphor of the plant, the vines don't make a choice to abide, or the branches don't make a choice to abide in the vine, they spring forth from the vine, some bear fruit, some don't, but if it's a vine that's being cultivated, it will be pruned. But here's where we differ a little bit, because like I talked about what the kids, our abiding and remaining in Christ requires some intentionality on our part, it's something that we need to invest ourselves in, it's something that we have to put some effort into. Are connected to whiteness with Christ comes through worship and prayer and studying God's word and engaging in service and being part of a community of faith, our connectedness with Christ is something that when we do it, we discover the blessings of it, but as Jesus said, apart from him, we're gonna do nothing.

You see, what determines that the fruit that a branch produces only has anything to do with the branch with regard to if and how well that branch is connected to the vine. Apart from Christ, you and I can do nothing. I can't pat myself on the back and say, time, you're a good person. You can do this, you can bear that fruit just fine, you don't need any help. It doesn't work that way. Just like Jesus talked about with those branches that get pruned off of the vine, they're not good for anything except going to the burn fire pile. But for us, when we remain connected with Christ, the connectedness with Christ is the most important part. Just like those branches, when they are connected with the Vine, they will bear fruit. Likewise, we make a choice to follow Jesus, to seek him out, to abide in Him, we don't do that thinking, Okay, if I do this, then there will be fruit in my life, because at that point we'd have an ulterior motive, our first and highest and really only calling is to abide or remain in Christ. And guess what? The fruit automatically happens at that point.

The fruit doesn't happen because we chose to abide in Christ, the fruit happens because we are abiding in Christ, that when we are in Christ, the fruit will flow from our lives, and as one of the many branches connected to that vine-bearing fruit is what God desires, the bearing of the fruit, while we participate in that, is directed by God, the gardener, who had planted the vine, who tends the branches, who prunes them when necessary, so that they will bear the fruit that God the gardener is desiring. We don't get to pick and choose. If you've ever grown anything in a garden and a vine or an orchard, you know that the harvest... Well, it can fluctuate. Some years might be better than others, some branches might produce better than another branch, but at the end of the day, what God desires is that we bear fruit. That we bear the fruit that God desires for the sake of the world. And what is that fruit that he looks for it.

Well, Jesus spends a lot of time talking about relationships in the remainder of this chapter, relationships between human beings, relationships that are built on and found and rooted in love, that fruit that God desires is that his love would flow in and through and among His people. And so God tends and prunes and guides the branches, so that fruit would be evident and abundant. Make no mistake. We don't get to decide that. We don't get to decide what the fruit will look like, in fact, Jesus goes so far as to say a little bit later in this chapter, in Verse 16, Jesus says, You didn't choose me. I chose you. You did not choose me, I chose you. And I appointed you to go and to bear fruit, fruit that will last. Friends, it begins with God, it's directed by God, it's rooted in Jesus. Who has called us, chosen us to be his people. Jesus has reached out to and latched on to us, and we respond...

I believe I've shared this before, but one of my favorite quotes from a systematic theologian, which was not a fun class in seminary, from Paul Tillich, who is not a fun person to spend a lot of time reading, said that our role as Christians is to accept that we've been accepted. So often we think that it is our job to go out and find Jesus for ourselves and latch on to him and claim faith for ourselves. Because we like to be in the driver's seat. We like to think that we had a choice and that we somehow were in control of this situation, that would be like the branch is saying this vine only is here because I make it possible. In our faith, sometimes we try to turn the tables on that as well, but that's not how it works. Jesus says, I chose you. You didn't choose me, I chose you and I have appointed you and made it possible through this connection that we have... For you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

This passage, this idea of this relationship that we have runs counter to so much of this American ideal of being a self-made person in this image that Jesus has talked about between the vine and the branches, not one of those branches can claim itself to be self-made. It's not possible, whether it's a plant or whether it's us as branches off of the vine, that is Christ, none are self-made, but rather they are made by the vine, they are supported by the vine, they are sustained by the vine. And the role that we have in this is remaining in Christ, that is the choice that we make, that is our effort, that is the intentionality that we have, that after discovering that Christ has already lay claim to our lives, we choose to remain, To abide, to foster, to nurture, and to grow in that relationship with Christ and friends, when we do that, we will bear much fruit. Fruit that will last. Fruit that will make a difference, fruit that will help others to know and to see of this great love that God has for us through Jesus.

There are a lot of other things that we could say about who Jesus is, these I am statements have highlighted seven of them. There are maybe other things that you have learned and discovered about who Jesus is that are important to you, and that's okay, because Jesus said other things about himself, they may not have been specific or connected to an I am statement. But he declared that he was God's son. He declared that he came to be the life of the world, and so much more. And there may be some of these statements that you find that resonate more with you, that help fill a gap and help you to better understand who this Jesus is, and who you are in relation to him. Claim that because no one else is connectedness to Jesus will give you that relationship, you need to choose to abide in Christ, to be connected to him. May we be the people that God has called us to be. May we surrender His love. May we accept that we've been accepted, and when that happens. We will bear fruit.

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