Vine Abiding and Church Purpose

Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on May 3, 2015, the Fifth Sunday of Easter.  The sermon text is John 15:5,  “I am the vine, you are the branches”.


Dear Friends in Christ,


What do you say to people you love when you are about to leave them?  It is the night of the Last Supper and Jesus knows that he has only hours before his arrest.  He seizes the opportunity to tell his disciples what is most important for them to know about the future when he will return to heaven.  Bible scholars call these words in John 14-17 the “farewell discourse”.  Today we zero in on just 8 verses in chapter 15.  May I suggest to you that these words are for us today here at Resurrection?  If we really listen and take them to heart,  I know the future of Resurrection can be amazing.


Jesus paints a word picture.  “I am the vine, you are the branches”.  The disciples instantly knew what he meant.  There were vineyards all over and people could see how much dedication and hard work it took to grow rich and delicious grapes.  The vine or the trunk is the vital link to the branches and then to the grapes.  All the nutrients for healthy grapes come through the vine. 


The branches can never say “We don’t need the vine; we can do this on our own”.  They would wither and die.  So it is with Christ and the Church.  So it is with Resurrection.  All credit, all honor and glory, all our future is vitally tied up in our relationship and trust in Jesus Christ.  Any time we forget that and start acting as if it all depends on us, we will wither and die.


There is a word used today in both our gospel reading and in the epistle reading from I John.  The word is “abide”.  Jesus says “just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”  I John says “If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.  By this we know that we abide in him and he in us…”


Now we’re getting to the heart of what Jesus wants his Church to be.  He wants us to be so connected to him that we derive our purpose, our energy, our resources, and our future from him alone.  I don’t think I’m telling you anything new.  Perhaps this is new thinking:  this abiding is a two-way street.  Our abiding means we give purpose and fulfillment to Jesus and the mission God has entrusted to him for nurturing us.  Did you ever consider how much Jesus depends on us?


The reading today from I John is a good warning for us.  It talks about the implications of not abiding and not producing a healthy crop of grapes in the vineyard.  “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”  There were so times in the history of this church when it was feared that the end was near, that this congregation would not survive.  What has made the difference and why is this congregation continuing to do healthy and vital ministry in the name of Jesus in this part of God’s world?


The answer may come in these questions:  what is the evidence of a healthy church, one which bears healthy fruit, in the eyes of God?  Is it lots of people at worship?  Is it lots of money in the offering plates?  Is it fantastic facilities?  Is it being influential in the community?  Is it being theologically correct?


Listen to what I John says, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them…We love because he first loved us.  Those who say ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.  The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”


How do you tell a vital, healthy, practicing Christian?  You look at the evidence in their lives of love for other people.  How do you tell a vital, healthy, practicing congregation?  You look at the evidence in their ministry of love for people.


Someone has pointed out that branches don’t live off of their fruit.  The fruit that grows is for someone else.  The whole sake of the church is for the sake of others, not for itself. 


There is a wonderful story that comes from the 20th century.  Marian Anderson, perhaps the greatest soprano who ever lived had a wonderful relationship with her mother.  It was said of Mrs. Anderson life: her music could bring one to tears; her life could bring one to their knees.  She was being interviewed and asked about the most wonderful moment in her very impressive career.  She could have mentioned the time when Arturo Toscanini told her that hers was the greatest voice of the century.  She could have mentioned the time when she sang before the Roosevelts and the King and Queen of England.  She could have said it was the time she sang before a crowd of 75,000 on Easter beneath the  Lincoln statue.  Which of these moments did she choose?  None of them.  “My greatest moment,” she said, “is when I went home to my mother and said, ‘Mom, you’ll never have to take in washing again.”


Here’s the point for us:  If this kind of relationship can exist between a mother and a daughter, then how much more can be our relationship with Jesus Christ?  It is a 2-way street.  It is abiding in each other.  It is a vital and loving and life-giving relationship.  I am the true vine, Jesus says.  As the father has loved me, so I love you.  And that happens when we abide in him and he abides in us.  May that always be true at Resurrection.