Staying Connected by Bradley Boydston
10 April 2005
Cornerstone Covenant Church
[Biblical text from the TNIV. Some of the illustrations are gratefully ripped off from your sermons on SermonCentral.com]
Last year I tore out the grapevines I had planted 6 or 7 years ago. I was tired of fighting them. I’m convinced that grapevines have one mission in life and that is to take over the world. If I turned my back for even a day they were into the trees and intertwined in the tomatoes. And so it was with heavy heart but gleeful relief that I tore them out.
Of course, grapevines are phenomenal plants. In Hampton Court near London, there is a grapevine which is about 1,000 years old. This grapevine has one root which is at least two feet thick, and some of the branches are 200 feet long. And it still produces several tons of grapes each year. Even though some of the smaller branches are 200 feet from the main trunk they still bear fruit because they are connected to the vine.
It’s all about connection -- and that is Jesus’ point here in John 15 -- one of everyone’s favorite passages in the gospel.
Now, the passage itself sprawls in a vining fashion. It weaves a complex but rich lesson. So, for the sake of time I’ve put together a rather extensive outline on the message guide hopefully this will allow us to cover a lot of vine in a short amount of time.
There are four things you need to know about viticulture as Jesus sees it. These are the things that Jesus charges his followers to do in John 15.
The first is that he charges them -- he charges us to REMAIN CONNECTED TO HIM.
Vs. 1 -- and this is another one of the great I AM statements in John where Jesus uses the ancient name of God revealed to Moses, applies it to himself, and adds a metaphor. "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener."
Vs. 4 -- "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."
Some of your translations use the word abide -- "abide in me" --and that picks up a slightly different nuance here -- to remain is to stay connected -- to abide is to live -- and Jesus is talking about a living connection.
There is a mystical sense in which we by faith are connected to Christ and we find our life in Christ his sap oozes through our cells and we produce leaves, and new shoots, and fruit -- only because of our connection with Christ.
You can’t live out the Jesus life if you are not connected with him. If you have a bunch of pruned branches they are not going to produce leaves and fruit and growth -- no matter how much you water them or give them sunlight.
In other words, you can’t live out the things that the Bible talks about -- faithfulness, holiness... if you’re not truly connected to Christ. It is frustrating and futile to try to fulfill the imperatives of Jesus if his sap isn’t flowing through us. It is impossible to live the Christian life if you are not connected to Christ. But if we remain in him -- abide in him -- continue to keep our faith or trust in him -- then his juices flow through us.
There are some other implications to Jesus’ words here. Remember that in the OT the vine was a metaphor or symbol for Israel itself. The Hebrew people saw their connection to God being their connection to Israel -- the vine.
For example, Isaiah 5:7 -- "The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in."
When Jesus says, "I am the vine" he is saying I am the new Israel -- the new Judah -- the new connection. If you’re going to relate to God you need to relate to me -- for I am the vine.
Also, there are some sacramental overtones to this passage. Early Christians had a very high view of the Lord’s Supper and when they heard Jesus say "I am the vine", as they were reading John’s gospel, they would immediately connect the dots and realize that Jesus is talking about the wine in communion. I am the wine. When the faithful receive the wine they are receiving me -- strengthening the connection -- the abiding -- that’s how the juices flow into the branches -- through the wine which is Jesus.
John does not push on this aspect of the metaphor here in the 15th chapter, but it is fairly clear from reading the early church fathers that they read Jesus’ saying here within the context of the other things he said at the Last Supper. So there are some sacramental overtones to this passage.
Then, I want to revisit what I said when we were looking at chapter 14. Look, for example, at 14:20 -- "On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you."
Jesus is saying, because I’m connected with the Father so are you, because I’m connected with you. And he’ll go on to talk about the Holy Spirit.
We now in reflection realize that the connection talked about here in John 14 and then 15 is our connection into the very life of God in the fullness of the Trinity. And this will come up in 15:9-10, too.
There is a perfect loving relationship within the Godhead -- and when we connect with Christ -- when we place our faith in him, and trust in his life, and his sacrificial death, and victorious new life -- we, through that connection become participants. It’s similar to what happens when you marry someone -- you don’t just marry that person but you marry into that person’s family.
When I married Cheryl I didn’t just marry her but I married her family as well. And suddenly the door flung open for me and I was invited to Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas. Her brothers and their families became my friends and I got a whole lot more than I realized I was getting when we got married. (It was a good thing in this situation!)
When we, by faith are married to Jesus, we become participants in the family life of God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There is a lot of nuance in this connectional language when it is read within the context of the other things that Jesus and his apostles said.
Let’s move on. #2 -- JESUS CHARGES HIS FOLLOWERS TO REMAIN CONNECTED TO HIM SO, THEY/WE CAN BEAR FRUIT.
Vs. 4 -- "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."
No attachment -- no fruit.
I was late in pruning our apricot tree -- and I got it done just days before it went into blossom. As a matter of fact a lot of the pruned branches laying on the ground blossomed -- not a good thing because the bees were wasting their time pollinating the detached branches rather than the tree itself.
But even if I had left those branches there and let the bees do their thing -- in spite of initial appearances -- there was no way that there was enough sap in those severed branches to actually produce fruit. The only way to produce fruit is to remain attached to the tree -- the vine.
And our mission is to produce fruit. Look at vs. 16 -- "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last"
You’ve been commissioned to GO and bear fruit. There is a strong missional aspect of this passage that we often overlook Go -- get out of here -- get out there where you’re needed -- and start bearing fruit. You see, abiding in Christ -- remaining in him isn’t just a Jesus and me thing -- but there is an additional purpose -- that we become fruit distributors out there to the rest of the world. Go and bear fruit.
If you’re truly connected to Jesus you’ll be out there serving meals at the Modesto Gospel Mission or loving foster children or up in Alaska caring for college students who have grown up in abusive families. Being connected to God through Christ has fruitful implications.
Thirdly, AND THE FRUIT IS OF THE LOVE VARIETY.
Vs. 12 "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you."
This is a reprise of 13:34 -- "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
Again, we run into this command language. How can you mandate love? Isn’t love something that happens bonds that magically form between two like-minded people?
Not really, at least as love is understood in the biblical sense. Yes, there is that kind of love but the biblical emphasis is on the action side of love. You love someone when you show kindness to them regardless of how you feel about them. Perhaps feelings will follow the actions but when Jesus is commanding love he is commanding loving activity. Act lovingly.
When a guy tells me that he doesn’t feel love for his wife anymore I’m inclined to say "So what -- the reason that you don’t feel love is because you aren’t acting lovingly toward her."
Now, I realize that life and relationships are complicated -- and that there are issues which make this difficult. But after we’ve spent 45 minutes talking about all the complications we pretty much end up at the same point -- go act lovingly toward you wife -- and see what happens. So love can be mandated.
Now, of course, there is more to it -- and we see that in vss. 9-10 where we see that the love which flows out of the Jesus connection is a reflection of the love that the Father has for Jesus and Jesus has for us.
We’re attached to a vine -- we don’t have to generate this love on our own.
Vs. 9 -- "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands," (that is if you are obedient not to your own self-defined inner voice but to Jesus’ instructions) "you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love."
It’s something that comes from outside yourself and if you want to know what it looks like -- well, look at Jesus’ own self-sacrifice.
Vs. 13 "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command."
Is love -- or what you are calling love -- characterized by self-sacrifice Or is it more of a self-fulfillment thing for you? Are you laying down your life for anyone? Figuratively -- perhaps literally. Is your love really about you? Or is your love driven by a desire to serve?
Ironically -- and this is the paradox of it -- Jesus says that such love ends up creating friendship rather than bondage or servitude.
Vs. 14 -- "You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because servants do not know their master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."
We could spend more time there but let’s jump down to the next idea that is connected with remaining in Jesus -- #4 -- AND BEARING THIS FRUIT RESULTS IN JOY.
In John 3:29-30 John the Baptist talks about how his ministry has to diminish so that Jesus’ can thrive how he is going to fade into the background so that Jesus can be in the limelight -- and he says that it is a joy for this to happen.
In chapter 15, vs. 11 -- Jesus says: "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."
Notice that it is an infused joy -- "my joy may be in you" -- something that travels from the vine to the connected branches. This is the kind of joy that finds contentment -- even in suffering and difficulty -- not necessarily the giddiness we often equate with joy -- but a deep sense of satisfaction in knowing that you’re connected with Christ.
We’ll come back to this in chapter 16 where Jesus promises joy to his disciples. But the point being here in chapter 15 is that as long as we’re connected to the vine the benefits of that vine will flow to and through us -- divine fruit -- divine love -- divine joy.
The story is told of a native from a remote mountain village who had the opportunity to visit a large modern city for the first time. He could not bring much home with him, and he had little money. But he was amazed at the electric lights which he saw everywhere. So he bought a sack full of electric lights bulbs and sockets with switches so he could turn them off and on.
Arriving home he hung the light bulbs in front of his home and on his and his neighbor’s trees. Everyone watched him with curiosity and asked him what he was doing, but he just smiled and said, "Just wait until dark--you’ll see."
When night came he turned on the switches -- -- but nothing happened. No one had bothered to tell him about electricity.
You’ve got to be connected if anything of significance is going to happen. Perhaps you’ve been flipping switches but nothing has been happening. To change Jesus’ metaphor slightly, are you plugged in? Are you actually connected? Are you drawing on the juice from the vine?
"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."
Come Holy Spirit -- flow through the vine and into us, the branches. We desperately want to bear fruit sometimes we’re so desperate to see things happen that we attempt to make it so apart from the timing of the vine. That’s just plain wrong and we admit it. Keep us connected to Christ so that his life might flow through us and that we might know the joy of communion with you one God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Amen.