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Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

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. This is to my Fathers glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

Once again Jesus uses a picture from everyday life as a metaphor for His life and our life in Him … that is the invitation of the gospel, for us to enter into Him and He into us … an invitation into His life. When we looked at “I Am the Good Shepherd” we saw Jesus’ mission statement:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

That is your birth right as a Christian … abundant life … in this life. And you don’t have to live another moment from this one without the abundant life of Christ overflowing from you. This life flows from the very well-springs Christ Himself and Jesus tells us in this reading how that works, how that life flows to us and what we need to do to “go with the flow”.

What do we need to do?

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. This is to my Fathers glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

What do we need to do in order to receive from the Father every good thing that he longs to pour into us? What do the branches of the vine do in order to receive everything the vine wants to pour into them?

They     remain     in    the    vine.

We     must     remain     in     Christ.

Hear this, because this is where so many of us stumble …. This remaining does not come naturally or easily. From the moment you decide that you want to be a branch in this life-giving vine … forces are unleashed to try and separate you from this vine. Family, friends, schoolmates, workmates, society will question your decision, perhaps mock you for your decision, sometimes even find ways to persecute you for your decision … and if you persist in your decision to be in Christ you will find yourself told “Well, you’re not allowed to share your faith in this family, school, workplace.” This remaining in Him does not come naturally or easily. It is a daily process, as someone far wiser than me has put it:

And so Jesus, because He knew that this Way and this Truth and this Life would face terrible opposition in every age … because He knew this, because He knows this, He implores us, begs us:
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. This is to my Fathers glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

Remain in me … Remain in me … Remain in me … Remain in me …      Which begs the question:

How? How do I remain in Him?

Now, our reading doesn’t answer that question because Jesus has taught the answer previously … so we have to go elsewhere to answer the How do I make sure I remain in Him and we will, but we must finish with our reading first.
You see, the question arising from this I AM statement isn’t just How do I remain in Him, it is also:

Why should I remain in Him … and in this reading, why does Jesus want us to remain in Him? Why must the branches remain in the vine? What does the vine want from the branches? We should more accurately ask what does the gardener want, actually demand, from the branches in this reading?

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. This is to my Fathers glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

Why does Jesus say we must remain in Him? …  to bear fruit. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is very big on fruit … not on vegetables, mind you … big on fruit. In a lived out parable He once cursed a fig tree to death because it had no fruit; later in John’s gospel he 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  Jn 15:16.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that if you want to know who the Christians are: “By their fruit you will recognise them” … in other words, “What do their lives produce?” Jesus is big on fruit, so near the end of His ministry He gives more good news: “Remain in me and you will bear much fruit.” Still it begs the question: “So, how do I remain in Him?” “How can I be sure I am remaining in Him?”

You and I are invited into the abundant life of Christ … this is what is implied in the different words Scripture uses: eg we are invited to “follow Jesus” …  “to be born again” … “to be saved” … “to put on Christ” to become Christians … these are all invitations into His abundant, full life … and in the picture before us today Jesus says that is like being a branch in a vine … you become connected … you become united … you become one … with the vine … with Christ. Now, this is really the message of evangelism and this particular reading isn’t really about evangelism … it doesn’t tell us “how to become a branch” … This reading is about discipleship, it assumes you are already a branch, you are saved, you are born again, you are a Christian. This reading is all about why, out of His deep love, Jesus saves you, why He calls you, why you are made part of His body, which here is called a vine, why He wants to fill you with His abundant life … it is so that His life flows into and then from your life, His fruit from your life … that’s discipleship

This is to my Fathers glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

So, in this reading the language changes to and fro between the literal and the metaphorical in a way which would be bewildering, if we, the readers are not conscious all the way through that all the statements made really refer to Christ and his disciples, under the symbol of a vine and its branches. These verses are not about the keeping of vines.

Now I said earlier that we have to go to the rest of Scripture to answer the question: How do I remain in the vine? As I said earlier, this is an ongoing decision, which is why Jesus repeats it and repeats it and repeats it. An ongoing decision to remain in Jesus, otherwise, the branch withers, becomes fruitless and is cast away. Remember, these are branches, disciples, that are being spoken of. How do we remain in Christ?

If we study the Scriptures, we will see that through the Old and New Testaments we can identify some common features of the life that remains in God. I could give you 3, I could give you 5, I could give you 12 features of how folk have remained in God … all of them manifested in the life of Christ.

I’ll give you 5 … one for each finger. PSSFF

People who remain in Christ are people who PRAY
People who remain in Christ are people who read and study SCRIPTURE
People who remain in Christ are people who receive the SACRAMENT of Holy Communion
People who remain in Christ are people who FELLOWSHIP with fellow believers
People who remain in Christ are people who FAST



People committed to these disciplines (which comes from the same word as disciple) seem to remain in Him more than people who aren’t committed to these disciplines. Do not see this as a legalistic list to tick off so that you can say: Right, well I’m in Him.
Let me take you to the extreme: “Cedric, I want to remain in Him, I want to be a Christian, but I will not pray, read the Scriptures, receive Communion, I won’t fellowship, if that means going to church and mixing with other Christians, and as for fasting, if you mean denying myself …. Really.”
The chances are that such a person might well become a Christian, but will struggle to remain in Christ … I’m not saying will not remain in Christ, but I would be very surprised if this person was experiencing an abundant life which was laden with good fruit.
I hope you appreciate there is much, much more to say on this subject … and I don’t doubt that there are people who perhaps embrace all of these disciplines but who are not as close to Christ as others who embrace only some of these disciplines. You have a chance to discuss this more in the home-group material.

Jesus is offering you life in His vine this morning. It is life as you’ve never known, best described as full and abundant. I haven’t had a chance to talk about the Cross where Jesus died and the tomb from which He rose again … but I invite you to believe by faith that Jesus dealt with your and my life of sin and disobedience which leads to a life that is anything but full and abundant … He dealt with those things, forgave those things and in taking them into Himself now wants to pour into you His amazing life. To take the metaphor further, He wants to graft you into the vine this morning … if you want to respond to that invitation you just need to confess your need for His forgiveness, decide to turn from life without Christ to life with Christ and ask Him into yourself. He responds by taking you with open arms into Himself. That’s His offer of salvation.
To all of us this morning, Jesus is saying “Remain in me” but you might hear that as “Return to me, my dear child” or “Draw even closer to me, my beloved” …. You might even hear it as the sound of pruning shears approaching (you know what needs removing from your life right now and casting into the fire, don’t you)

And in a few moments now, I invite you to talk to Him about what it means for you today to "Remain in Him."

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