Sunday – March 18, 2018
Scripture: John 15:1-8
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 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. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 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.
5 “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. 6 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.7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Kudzu was introduced to the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Countries were invited to build exhibits to celebrate the 100th birthday of the U.S. The Japanese government constructed a beautiful garden filled with plants from their country. The large leaves and sweet-smelling blooms of kudzu captured the imagination of American gardeners who used the plant for ornamental purposes.
Florida nursery operators, Charles and Lillie Pleas, discovered that animals would eat the plant and promoted its use for forage in the 1920s. Their Glen Arden Nursery in Chipley sold kudzu plants through the mail. A historical marker there proudly proclaims “Kudzu Developed Here.”
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Soil Conservation Service promoted kudzu for erosion control. Hundreds of young men were given work planting kudzu through the Civilian Conservation Corps. Farmers were paid as much as eight dollars an acre as incentive to plant fields of the vines in the 1940s.
The problem is that it just grows too well! The climate of the Southeastern U.S. is perfect for kudzu. The vines grow as much as a foot per day during summer months, climbing trees, power poles, and anything else they contact. Under ideal conditions kudzu vines can grow sixty feet each year. There are all kinds of creeping vine weeds out there, most of which also inhabit my garden. The USDA didn’t declare kudzu to be a weed in 1972! If I was alive before then, I’m sure I could have made that determination without their help. For Jesus the truth of the vine was that yield (fruit) was everything.
Let’s contrast kudzu with the kind of vine Jesus was likely referring to in John 15. The Food and Agriculture Organization tells us that 75,866 square kilometers (that’s just about 47, 141 square miles) of this green earth is dedicated to growing grapes. I suppose that’s insignificant when you realize the earth contains 57.5 million square miles of land but it’s still a lot of space for grapes. 71% of this space is used for making wine with the top five wine-grape producing countries being Spain, France, Italy, Turkey and the United States. When cared for properly, the vines can live over 100 years and continue to produce grapes during that time. When everything is right, the grapevines will produce a healthy crop of grapes every year. The making of wine was very important throughout biblical times and is referenced repeatedly.
Our passage in John 15 comes right after Jesus, and the disciples, leave the Last Supper and head towards the Mount of Olives where he will be arrested and handed over to be crucified. On the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, he gets in a few last teachings before he leaves his disciples. Jesus is preparing the disciples to go on without him. His teachings could be summarized like this: I’m the vine and you are the branches. Stay attached to me, the Vine, and you will bear fruit. Leave the Vine and you will wither and die. If you remain in my teachings, I will remain in you, and you will connect with God in a way you can only imagine. And, as you do so, you will bear the fruit that comes from being branch attached to the vine. And when you bear fruit, you will bring glory and honor to the Father who tends the Vine and prunes the branches in order that it might bear fruit.
Hosea 10:1 says, “Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself.” The remainder of the tenth chapter of Hosea talks about how the Israel, God’s vineyard, went astray – eventually leading to her destruction. Jesus brings this out, in Matthew 21:33-46, through the Parable of the Tenants. In this parable, the landowner plants a vineyard and rents it out to some farmers. At harvest, he sends his servants to collect his fruit but they are beaten, killed and stoned. He sends more servants and they get the same treatment. Finally, he sends his own son, assuming they would have more respect for him. They didn’t; they killed him instead. Naturally, the end for those tenants wasn’t going to be kind when the owner came back to deal with them. In verse 43, Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” Verse 45 says, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.” This story in Matthew is in the same time frame as the one that appears in John and it’s not a stretch to consider Jesus is referring back to this parable when making his point to his disciples. He is the “true vine” and his Father is the “gardener.”
What Jesus gives us, in John 15, is an excellent metaphor for the Christian life. God, the farmer, comes along and plants a vineyard. The purpose of the vineyard is to produce grapes. Grapes grow on a branch and that branch grows on the vine. This vine is sunk into the richest and finest soil there every will be and it receives all the life-giving moisture and nutrients it will ever need, in perfect proportion. Branches, however, are not so predictable. Some grow off the vine and produce fruit like crazy; others produce only a little fruit and, some, do not produce fruit at all. So the farmer must tend the vine by pruning and cutting the branches. When he finds a branch not producing at all, He is patient but, eventually, the branch is cut off and left to be used as kindling for the fire. When he comes across branches that are producing a little fruit, he looks to see what can be done to help the branch do better. He prunes the branch so it is clear of hindrances to growing its fruit. His desire is that every branch on the vine bears full and perfect fruit.
We often find those things in our lives which hinder our relationship with God. My garden is excellent for cultivating strong weeds that return year after year. I have a real talent for it. It’s a good thing God isn’t particularly concerned about the weeds in my garden. He is concerned, however, about the weeds in my life – those things which strangle the good things and mess up my relationship with Him. In your regular prayer time, do you take time to ask God to show you those things in your life that have come between you and Him? Pruning can be a painful thing in our lives and we are most often reluctant to let go of things that have come to be important to us. Yet, we must live with tenderness toward the Spirit of God as, sometimes, even good things in our lives often come between us. Ask God to help you cultivate this tenderness to His heart and offer up everything in your life to Him. Some things will need to be removed and other things will need to be re-prioritized in order for you to bear the spiritual fruit He desires in your life.
In contrast to the branches that are removed from the vine, Jesus offers a promise for remaining in Him: “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Jesus doesn’t make this statement to offer the fulfillment of our earthly desires, but rather our heavenly desires. He says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you.” God seeks a spiritually intimate relationship with us. When we accept and follow His teachings, we are changed – we bear fruit. God’s heart becomes our heart and God’s will becomes our will. When we ask our wishes of God, we will find that we are asking for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). We will move in step with God (Galatians 5:25). God will give us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4).
This Lenten season we’ve been talking about the Great Co-Mission as we discover what it means to be The Church on a mission for Jesus. We explored that Great Commission in the first week, the two Greatest Commandments (love God and love your fellow Man) in the second week, how Jesus has overcome the World on our behalf in week 3, and God’s desire that we be a Praying Church in Week 4. This week we’ve discovered Jesus’ desire that we bear fruit for the glory of the Father. What does he mean by bearing fruit? Paul says in Galatians 5:22-25: “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” We find more fruitful characteristics in other passages with one of the most important being the good works we do in serving God by loving and serving those around us.
When we walk in the ways of the Jesus, believing in Him, we will bear fruit that glorifies the Father and proves that we are disciples of Jesus. This is what Jesus tells us in verse 8. In my life, others can see how the power of the blood of Jesus has overcome my selfishness and pride. They can see a life changed by Him and they can thirst for the same waters I drink from the True Vine. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” In just a few verses, in John 15:16, Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”
This is something the Church is meant to facilitate. The Christian life is one that is attached to the True Vine and is pruned by the Father. Our relationship with God is vital and we must be fully committed to Him in order to bear the fruit He desires us to bear. I am a Christian, rooted and Jesus and pruned by the Father. He is at work reprioritizing my life and removing all that which hinders my relationship with Him.
A friend and fellow Wesleyan pastor said it like this: Hindrances – These are those things that the Bible doesn’t necessarily call sin, but that can get in the way. Let me give you an example: It’s not illegal to run the 100-yard dash wearing snow-mobile suit and snow boots. But you’re not going to win. In fact, you’ll probably pass out half-way into the race. So you actually wear clothes that are conducive to running the race well. In the context of what we’re talking about here, these hindrances are anything that might get in the way of you living for Christ fully. It might be a relationship, it might be what you allow into your life in terms of entertainment, it might be the scramble for money, it might be any number of things. But you know that you can probably live for Christ better without these things. And the counsel from Scripture is to get rid of them for the sake of running well.
Do you have any non-negotiables in your life? Those parts that when God points to it and says it’s in the way, you will refuse to remove it? What hinders your relationship with God? Go deeper. Go further. Go and bear fruit for God. Let nothing stand in the way of you growing the way God wants you to grow.