Shawna Boren teaches through Jesus’ words about the vine and the branches from John 15, explaining how God works with us so that we might abide in Jesus and have the fullness of his life in us. She helps us identify issues that hinder our abiding in Jesus and how we can move into the life of the vine.
The teaching of the vine and the branches is found in the midst of what is called the Farewell Discourse (John 14-17), which is an extended teaching that acts as Jesus’ parting words to his disciples before his death. These words are like a brief instruction guide for what it will look like for the disciples to continue to follow Jesus’ ways after he departs. It’s as if he is saying, “You have been with me and seen me live for three years in a particular way. Let me explain to you what I did so you can go and do likewise.”
We see in these verses that Jesus is the vine, the Father is the vine-grower, and we are the branches. This sermon walks through three aspects of the relationship between these three elements of the metaphor. The first is what most translations refer to as “removing” every branch that bears no fruit. This teaching raises some questions, as many have taught that those who do not produce fruit are cut off by God. However, the word that is often translated as “remove” or “cut off” actually means “to take up; to lift up.” This presents a vastly different picture of what the Father is doing as the vine grower. This interpretation is actually confirmed by the experience of those who are vineyard workers. New branches tend to grow downward and get caught up in the dirt where they cannot grow. Those who work with these vines lift up the vines, cleanse them off, and tie them up so that they can grow and thrive.
Following this idea of lifting up is the work of pruning the vines. This is the second element. Without pruning, there is no growth. Expert pruners thin out any growth that is dead or dying to ensure sunlight can get to branches in an effort to increase the size and quality of fruit, and to encourage new fruit to develop. This is not about punishment or arbitrary removal, but rather is a picture of how God is faithfully at work in our lives to make room so that we can flourish. The vine-grower actively tends to our lives to move us and grow us from empty to overflowing.
The rest of the sermon focuses on abiding. Jesus speaks to the act of abiding in him, a word that is used over ten times in this passage. Abide means to remain, to stay closely connected to, or to settle in. Jesus is telling his disciples to remain in him, to settle in to him.
Abiding does not necessarily come naturally to us. We must make a conscious effort to abide. To help us move into this settling into Jesus, we must identify what hinders us from doing so. For some, there is a disbelief that the Father wants this type of connected relationship with them. For some, hurts and/or disappointments keep us disconnected. We each must search our hearts to see what in our lives could potentially keep us from abiding in him.
Another question that is helpful to ask is, ‘What else do we abide in or live into instead of Christ?’ Things like busyness, the pursuit of power and position, the focus on success and money, and even the worries of all of the horrible occurrences we see in the news can serve as things that we lean into and get consumed by. Unfortunately, leaning into each of these can keep us from abiding in the true source of life and love.
Jesus knew how vital it was for him to abide in the Father, as this was the way that he walked as the Son through the day-to-day struggles he faced. Jesus was telling the disciples that this too would be vital to their lives and it is so for us now. Abiding is how we live into our friendship with God. This is about seeking, longing for, thirsting for, knowing, loving, hearing and responding to a person. That person, is our God.
Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth century lay Christian who worked in a monastery kitchen, described his practice of abiding in God like this: “I do nothing else but abide in his holy presence, and I do this by simple attentiveness and an habitual, loving turning of my eyes on him. This I call a wordless and secret conversation between the soul and God which no longer ends.”
We abide not only as individuals but with one another as a community. The branches are intertwined with each other, each being connected to the vine. We grow together and the Father works with us all while we are being lifted up together. We belong to one another as we are all shaped by the love of Jesus. Jesus said that he gave these commandments so that we may love one another. Let us, together, be the branches that bear the abundant fruit of love as a bountiful harvest that has been perfectly tended to by our Father.
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