God In the Every Day: The Vine
John 12:12-19; 15:1-11
April 14, 2019
I love the story of the newspaper reporter who was interviewing a thriving local business leader one day. The businessman was admired by lots of folks, had been amazingly successful over the years and often presented himself as having one of those rags to riches, pulled myself up by my own boot straps stories. The man didn’t give a lot of interviews and the reporter hoped to write an article about him offering some of his hidden secrets to success that everyone would enjoy learning about and could learn from.
As they started the interview, the newspaper writer said, “So, tell me about your early years?” “Oh yes,” the businessman replied, “when my wife and I first married, we barely had two nickels between us. We were just thankful to have a roof over our head, food to put on the table and the love of each other.” “I see,” said the reporter, “so what happened?”
“Well,” came the reply, “I learned about this little orchard that was sort of off the beaten path. They had a product that I thought I could market better than they did. So, I took fifty dollars, purchased all the apples I could, shined them up, set up a nice display and doubled my money.”
“Wow,” said the journalist, “ what happened next?” “Well, next I took my earnings, risked it all, bought even more apples, extended my advertising and again nearly doubled my money. Yet truthfully, it was what happened after that, something that I have never shared with anyone, that really set us on the path to success.”
“Do tell,” said the reporter who was licking his chops thinking he was about to hear an inside part of the story, something that everyone could learn from and grow from and that would be that nugget that could lead to anyone’s becoming successful, “well, what happened next was that just before I bought a third shipment of apples, my wife’s distant uncle died.” “What?” said the writer. “I don’t get it. What does that have to do with anything?” “You see,” the man continued, “no one knew it but he was worth a fortune. He died and left us twenty million bucks. And that my friend, is the secret of my success!?!” (Expanded from a story first seen in a sermon by Craig Condon, Anglican Parish of South Queens, Liverpool, England, entitled I Am The Vine, You Are the Branches, Feb 12, 2015)
In the end, what the writer learned in exasperation was that in this man’s case the only real lesson he could offer was that despite all of our efforts and intelligence, at the end of the day, it sure is good to be connected!
In essence, that is the point that Jesus makes with the last of these I Am statements that we will focus on during this Lenten season. In John 15:5, Jesus says this, “I am the vine, you are the branches, those who remain in me (or connected to me) and I in them, will bear much fruit; apart from me, you will do nothing.”
Like all of the other I Am images, the vine was one that the Jewish people were familiar with. Vineyards were abundant in that part of the world. And, from the Old Testament days until the time of Jesus, Israel was often viewed as God’s vineyard with the question often being, what kind of fruit were they producing? In fact, even the Jerusalem Temple itself featured a grape vine over the doorway as a reminder of this image and its way of describing God’s relationship with the people.
Here Jesus takes that familiar image and talks about the importance of connectivity- branches and vines must stayed tethered or joined together. It is a basic fact of life. If a branch becomes disconnected from or is severed from the vine or the trunk, it will wither and die as will its fruit. In the same manner, our success, our well being as individuals and our productivity and usefulness as followers of Christ depends on our remaining connected.
Cell phones are a great example of this. Our phones, in many ways, have become our most prized possession. I am not saying they should hold this place, I am just saying that they often do. In turn, one of the worst things that can happen to many of us during the day is to have our cellular battery die. In truth, because this is so important to us, have you ever noticed that we obsess over and our world has evolved and adapted into helping us to prevent this from happening. Our cars have ports to charge our phones and hospitals, schools, and churches have charging stations. I mean even our new church buses here at FBC have them too. Why? Again, our world realizes that we cannot go very long without reconnecting them.
We can all see this in cellphones. Yet, why do we struggle with it so mightily as it relates to faith and to God. Jesus says, “I am the vine and you are the branches…those who remain in me will bear much fruit.” Truth be told, just like our cellular world, God has constantly adapted this world so that remaining in Him isn’t all that hard – reading scripture, worship, listing to Christian music, praying, reading devotionally, opportunities to serve, being a part of a small group or Sunday School class are constantly available. In turn, loosing our spiritual charge, if you will, certainly isn’t for lack of options. It really is a discipline that we keep or that we ignore based on our recognition of its incredible importance in our lives..
But, there is another side of this and I don’t want us to miss it. Yes, when Jesus says “I am the vine and you are the branches…apart from me you can do nothing” he is reminding us of our responsibility to remain connected to him. Yet, at the same time, he is promising us that he will remain connected to us.
Again, notice the phrasing of verse 5, “those who remain in me and I in them…” Let me say it this way, the question here is whether or not we will remain connected to our Lord. The promise is that he will remain connected to us.
As I said last week, these I AM statements are Jesus being very pastoral in that they are supportive, encouraging, affirming by nature. But, they are also Jesus making promises that he will keep – I will be there, I will be enough, I will guide you, I will get you through, I am the right path and today I will remain connected to you.
In essence, Palm Sunday begins the most horrific week in Jesus’ life yet it also begins in many ways the best week for you and I as his followers. Beyond, the horror of how Jesus was treated by outsiders, there is the horror of how Jesus was treated by his followers and friends. They cheered him one moment and said he should be crucified the next. They fell asleep when he needed them to remain awake. They hid when he needed them to be present. They betrayed him when he needed faithfulness. In essence, they did not remain connected. In the imagery of branches, they detached themselves. Yet, through it all, Jesus remained connected to them. No matter what they did, it did not change his faithfulness.
Again, the question is always “will we remain connected as the branches?” it is never “will our Lord remain connected as the vine?”
Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson founded the group that we know today as AA or Alcoholics Anonymous. One of their early potential clients was a local attorney who had tried eight different detox programs only to remain an alcoholic. One day Smith and Wilson went to see the attorney who was again in the hospital overwhelmed by his addiction. As the two stood in his hospital room and talked with him, they shared about God’s role in his potential recovery. The attorney stopped them with these painful words, “no, no…It’s too late for me. I still believe in God but I know mighty well he doesn’t believe in me anymore.” (As told by Philip Yancey in What’s So Amazing About Grace, pg. 60, Harper Collins, 1997).
There are numbers of people who believe this and I suspect there are several of us in this room who believe it. In our heart, we think that God has given up on us.
But on this Palm Sunday, hear me say that the promise of Jesus is this – he will remain connected to us. The question is never the faithfulness of God to us. The question is always our faithfulness to God.
I am the vine, Jesus says. I will remain connected. That is a promise. Amen.