The Vine and the Branches
First of all, I'd like to thank Pastor Alan Harris for the inspiration for this sermon, and hope he will forgive any plagurising I may have done.
I am really tired right now. As I write this sermon, I have just completed a great deal of work on the garden. A friend brought over his tiller, but he needed it back soon, so I had no choice but to plow the garden today. After I did that, I laid down plastic sheeting to prevent weed growth. Then I planted some seeds in containers, did some maintanance on the fish pond, watered the gooseberries and cleaned the old, dead weeds from the top of my burrow.
Getting the garden ready for planting involved a lot of work. One of the things I had to do was prune all of the bushes and trees next to the garden, then collect the branches and place them next to the compost pile. I also stopped to look at my many fruit trees and admire them. Many of them are producing flowers right now. Before long, they will be producing fruit. When they begin producing fruit, I will prune them once more, removing every branch that is not producing, allowing more nutrients to go to the branches which are.
The sticks that I pick up aren't good for a whole lot. I can't build with them. They aren't going to grow. They certainly won't produce fruit. They don't compost well. They can take the place of charcoal in a pinch, but they produce a lot of ash. About the only thing a dead stick is good for is providing entertainment to a 5-year old.
I was a quiet child, myself, so I didn't often go outside and play with sticks. I'm sure a few of you have, though, or at least have watched children play with sticks. They make terrific swords, or sometimes machine guns, or even magic wands. Even to a natural otter, a stick can be a marvelous toy. In the mind of the user, a stick can be anything. It has limitless potential.
But what would happen if I were playing with a stick sword and someone pulled a real sword on me? That stick would be no protection for me. A real sword would snap it in two. If some muslim extremist tried to shoot me, my stick gun would not take him out. The potential of the severed branch is purely imaginary. It is good only to be destroyed.
Jesus tells us in John 15 that He is the vine and we are the branches. Without Him, we can do nothing. The first reaction of a nonchristian might be "I'm seperate from Jesus and I can do plenty of things!" That's true. But you can't do what you were meant to do. A severed stick cannot do what it was meant to do. It does not produce oxygen. It does not release water into the air. It does not produce fruit. It does not provide shelter for birds and squirrels. It makes a nice toy, but ultimately, this is vain.
King Solomon wrote the book on vanity. I mean he literally wrote the book. Ecclesiastes (literally "the Preacher") is Solomon's book of philosophy and contains his reports on his attempts to find the meaning of life. Solomon tried nearly everything there was to be done under the sun. He pursued pleasures of every kind. He built many great things. He devoted himself to learning. All of this, he found, was vanity, for if a man dies apart from the Lord, he is dead, and nothing he has done is of any benefit to him any longer. Pleasure, hard work, learning, all of it comes to nothing and is soon forgotten. Even some of the greatest names in history have left little behind but a few words in a history book and some dusty monuments which serve as little more than tourist attractions. Some scholars, such as pythagoris, for example, left behind some useful findings, but of what use is the Pythagorean theorem to its discoverer? Not a whole lot.
A dead branch has no life in it, and will never create new life. But a living branch that is still attached to the vine or tree has life, and has the power to create new life. As it produces fruit, in the center of that fruit is one or more seeds. If we exist apart from Jesus, we have no life flowing into us. As a severed branch will live for only a little while before it dries and whithers, so one who is apart from Christ will live a short while, then die. But a branch that is attached has life flowing into it all the time. So one who is living in Christ not only has the nutrients flowing into him that will enable him to produce fruit, but he has the assurance that he is not going to wither away tomorrow. I know that when I leave this body behind, when I shed this layer of dead bark, the branch that is me will continue to live as long as the vine to which it is attached. That vine, Jesus, has been raised to life eternal.
I know some of you will read this and think "I get it. Oren is telling me to produce fruit." No, I'm not. A severed branch can produce no fruit. But one that is attached doesn't even need to try. It just does so as a natural consequence of being part of the plant. Yes, I know I am oversimplifying, but for us, that is the way it works. It is true that sometimes branches do not produce fruit. Sometimes, they aren't getting enough nutrients because there is some restriction. So, too, can a Christian be short on fruit when there is something blocking the flow of life from Christ. So what I am saying is not to worry about producing fruit. Just worry about remaining in Christ and having a right relationship with Him. The fruit, to quote one of my favorite cartoon characters, "will like as itself."
That's pretty much it. My instruction to you is not be connected to Christ. If You aren't connected,get connected. If you are, then work on strengthening that connection. If you are united with Christ, everything else, including love, joy, peace, meekness and so on, will take care of itself. Love and goodness are the very nature of Christ and if we are united with Him, they will become our nature as well.
Today's Reading: John 15:1-8
1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.