The Jesus Connection
A newspaper reporter went to interview a successful entrepreneur. “How did you do it?” he asked. “How did you make all this money?”
“I’m glad you asked,” the entrepreneur replied. “Actually, it’s a rather wonderful story. You see, when my wife and I married, we started out with a roof over our heads, some food in our pantry, and 25 cents between us. I took that quarter, went down to the grocery store, bought an apple, and shined it up. Then I sold it for 50 cents.”
“What did you do then?” the reporter asked.
“Well,” he said, “then I bought two more apples, shined them up, and sold them for $1.” The reporter thought this would be a great human-interest story.
“Then what?” the reporter asked excitedly. And the business man replied, “Then my father-in-law died and left us $20 million.”
That man prospered not because of his own ingenuity, but because he was connected.
- – King Duncan
Being connected is what our Gospel text for this morning is all about. But before I go on, I share with you another story.
A clever preacher once compared the life of faith to a garden. He said that in his garden he would plant three rows of squash: squash gossip, squash criticism, squash indifference. Then he would put in three rows of lettuce: let us be faithful, let us be unselfish, let us love one another.
Finally, he would add turnips: turn up for church, turn up with a smile, turn up to serve others. That may sound a little “corny”, but it does have a point!
Jesus would also take everyday things, like flowers and gardens, and turn them into eternal truths! In today’s Gospel text Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.”
Now, there were vines growing all over in Palestine. And when Jesus said that he was the “true vine,” people knew right away what he was talking about. Besides being familiar with vines in the everyday sense, the people of Palestine thought of themselves as God’s vineyard. As the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel.” (5:7). And, today Jesus says: “I am the true vine.”
By that I believe he meant that our strength comes from our connection with him. Life begins with the vine. Branches cannot grow by themselves.
What a graphic picture of our relationship with Christ! Just as the branch takes its life from the vine, so we find abundant life in Christ. But our text tells us even more than this.
It also says that our lives are about bearing fruit. And the closer we are to Jesus, the more we will want to do those things that are pleasing in his sight. The closer we are to him, the more the power of the Holy Spirit can and does work through us.
Now, experienced gardeners know that there is a lot of work involved in planting and caring for a garden. There is much more to a garden than throwing a few seeds on the ground and waiting for them to grow. Careful attention and preparation must be given to the soil, even before anything is planted. After the seeds are planted, they must be watered on a regular basis. Weeds must be pulled.
And, once the plant is growing, careful attention must be given to the branches if the vine is going to produce fruit. And then, to produce as much fruit as possible the branches must be pruned. This involves more than just trimming around the branches. My family and I used to own a small vineyard. The first year that we owned it, we had a local farmer come in and prune our tiny vineyard. If you have ever watched a gardener prune, or done it yourself, you might think that the gardener has cut too much off the plant and killed it. That is what I thought that first year, but soon the vines were thriving once again. You see, if a vine is never pruned, it will never produce much fruit at all.
Now, remember, that God is the gardener. And, like the vine and the branches, we too need to be pruned. We take stock of ourselves and ask, what needs to be pruned in our lives? What is preventing us from bearing fruit by the power of the Holy Spirit? When we allow the Master Gardener to prune away our excess baggage of things and meaningless pursuits, then we are ready to fulfill our very reason for existence. Then we are ready to bear fruit – and I repeat, to bear fruit by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now, understand what I am saying. We are not called to produce the fruit – we are called to dwell in Christ – and to be filled with this spirit, the Holy Spirit, which produces the fruit.
One of the ways that we dwell in Christ is by coming to worship, another is by reading, studying, and discussing God’s Word, another is by serving others in his name. Dwelling in Christ does not mean waiting until we have all our “ducks in a row”, so-to-speak. It does not mean doing everything perfectly in our own understanding. It means being open to the Holy Spirit.
One of my peers once demonstrated in this way:
One Sunday morning he said to his congregation, “Tell me, how can I get the air out of this glass that I have in my hand?” One man said, “Suck it out with a pump.” But the pastor replied, “That would create a vacuum and shatter it.”
Finally, after many other suggestions, he picked up a pitcher and quietly filled the glass with water. “There,” he said, “all of that air is now removed.” He then explained that victory for the Child of God does not come by working hard to eliminate sinful habits, but rather by allowing the Holy Spirit to take full possession.
Using this illustration reminds us of our baptism for in using water, we are demonstrating that we are “being filled by the spirit,” that we might glorify God.
Yet, our tendency these days, despite our own baptisms, is often to place ourselves in the limelight; to glorify not God, but ourselves. There is an old saying that a person wrapped up in himself or herself makes a small package. Well, our chief end is not to be wrapped up in ourselves, but to glorify God as we hear repeatedly in the catechism that we teach.
Jesus says, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” Folks, when you and I live a fruit-filled life we bear witness to God’s presence in our world.
And the world desperately needs men and women whose sole purpose is to glorify God. It is a sad commentary on the state of the church that many people do not perceive much difference in the way church folk live and the way the rest of the world lives.
Perhaps that would not be true if the following story were true for us.
It is a story about a French lighthouse keeper. As he was showing his lighthouse to some guests one day, one of them asked what would happen if one of the lights went out. His response was an emphatic “Never!” He said that if he permitted that to happen, he might be responsible for a ship crashing into some unseen rocks along the coast. And then he went on to say, “Sometimes I feel as if the whole world is looking at my light.” Would that the whole world would be looking at our light – a light that glorifies God.
Yes, God is the gardener, Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, and the Holy Spirit produces the fruit. We stay strong by being connected with him through our faith life and our family of faith, the church. And our purpose? To be the means by which the Holy Spirit brings the fruits of love, and hope, and joy into this world. We glorify God by being that branch through which the Holy Spirit works.
Remember that Jesus said, “Those who abide in me, and I in them, bear much fruit.” May the people you and I meet come to know and to love God, through the fruit we bear by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. Put another way, may they see in us the beacon of light that will lead them to glorify God, also.
Our Gospel text for today begins with the words of Jesus when he says: I am the vine, and my Father is the vine grower. And in the middle of our text, he says: I am the vine, you are the branches. May you and I always remember to live as his branches.