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Sermon – Abiding in the Vine

Abiding in the Vine

Sermon Preached by Reverend Stuart Langshaw on Sunday, 5 May 2024.

John 15:1-8 Gospel for Fifth Sunday of Easter Year B

There’s a great deal of “culture” in Jesus’ teaching. He immersed his words in Jewish culture – he was a critic of the religious culture of his day; he used references to agriculture and horticulture, pisciculture and viticulture. There is a whole slab of St John’s gospel given over to references about the growing of grapes – or rather, the health of the vines on which grapes grow. And you can understand why it was so – vineyards were common in Jesus’ country, and the growing of grapes was as important to Judea then as it is now to the Barossa or the Coonawarra or the Riverland here in South Australia. This slab of teaching is found in John’s gospel chapter 15. It is a part of the extended teaching that Jesus gave his disciples in the Upper Room. It contains one of the seven “I am” statement of Jesus. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” – or the viticulturist in our terms.

Between our home and our daughter and grandchildren’s home is the Penfolds vineyard at Magill on St Bernard’s Road. Throughout the year as we drive back and forth, we see what the viticulturist does to the vine in the various seasons. There is budburst to flowering when he ties the branches to the trellises; then flowering to fruit-set; then he thins out the bunches of fruit so that those that remain grow as large and as full of juice as they can; then he harvests; then there is leaf-fall. Then he prunes. And spraying, and weeding, and irrigating, and so it goes on all year, this year, and next year, and all the years.

It was just so in Jesus’ day too. The viticulturist did everything he could to maintain the health and vigour of the main vine, so that the spurs and canes were in top-notch condition.

In John 15, Jesus uses a strange, and not very horticultural term, to describe the relationship between the grape vine trunk and the branches or canes. He called it “abiding.” John 15 verse 4 has Jesus saying, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me … those who abide in me, and I in them, they are those who bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

In order to be fruitful, the grapevine canes or branches must be intimately and closely and naturally connected to the trunk of the vine. They must “abide in” the vine. To be fruitful in our Christian lives, we must be intimately, closely and naturally connected to Jesus Christ. We must “abide in” Jesus. If you look at a grapevine, you will see that the canes are a natural product of the healthy trunk. They grow from within the main trunk, as it were. They are not artificially attached from the outside, but emerge from the very life and vitality of the main trunk. As the branches grow, so they derive their nutrition from the soil through the main trunk. And so it is with the followers of Jesus – we derive our nutrition from God through our attachment to Jesus and through the Holy Spirit.

What does it mean to be “fruitful” in our Christian lives? Once we can see what it means then we can investigate how we go about being fruitful.

Being fruitful means that we are producing within ourselves the outward evidence that we are connected to the life and vitality of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. St Paul wrote about this to the Galatians. He wrote about the fruit of the Spirit that will be seen in the lives of those who are “abiding in Christ.” What are those fruit? There are 9 them. Love … joy … peace … patience … kindness … goodness … gentleness… faithfulness … self control. (Galatians chapter 5)

If you look at those 9 fruit, we see them in the life and ministry of Jesus. I have no trouble with identifying 8 of them in Jesus’ life – but what about self-control? Jesus threw over the tables of the money-changers in the temple, and drove out of the temple courtyard the people who were selling animals and birds for various kinds of offerings – at a very high rate of profit! Was Jesus under self-control there?

The production of the fruit of the Spirit within us is a cooperative effort between the Holy Spirit and us. Maybe we can put it this way … The sap that carries nourishment through the main trunk of the grape vine is the same sap that carries nourishment into the branches and canes, and ultimately produce the grapes … the fruit. The Holy Spirit was at work in Jesus. In the Lord’s words and deeds the Holy Spirit was the nourishing and empowering influence within him … the sap, as it were. That same Holy Spirit is the nourishing and empowering influence within us – the spiritual sap, as it were – ultimately producing the fruit of the spirit . As we grow older and older in the Christian faith, people should be able to see these fruit in us. As we give more and more of ourselves to God, we will experience the fruit of the Spirit, so that we can see them within ourselves “from the inside,” as well as others seeing them in us “from the outside” as it were.

I suspect that it is fruit #4 that most of us have trouble with … patience. There’s a good deal about patience mentioned in the Bible. Proverbs 19:11 says “A person’s wisdom yields patience. It is their glory to overlook an offence.” According to Ecclesiastes 7:13, “The patient in sprit are better than the proud in spirit.” In the Old Testament the patience of Job was quite legendary. In the New Testament we read, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2). In the parallel passage in Colossians, St Paul counsels, “… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

There’s a couple of sayings about patience that are helpful:- “Patience is when you’re supposed to get mad, but you choose to understand.” And this – “Patience is power. With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes silk.” And one that I really like – “Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you, not in the driver ahead of you.”

Patience is one of those 9 fruits of the Spirit. The Old Testament and the New Testament sing its praises. Patience comes to us as we spend more and more time with God. But the production of patience is a cooperative effort between the Holy Spirit and us. Our part is to be determinedly choosing patience … consciously choosing patience … and putting patience into practice whenever we can. Have you ever waited on the phone for someone to help you with an enquiry? Once you’ve heard the recorded music four times you wish for another tune. The often-repeated message that “Your call is important to us” wears decidedly thin. This is an acid test of patience! We can choose to wait patiently, or hang up in anger or frustration. That only means that we won’t get the help we hope, and we’ll simply inconvenience ourselves due to our frustration and lack of patience.

Abiding in Christ … nourished by the Holy Spirit … working with the Holy Spirit … producing the fruit of the Spirit … growing in patience.

In our Christian lives we need to abide in Christ as the branches abide in the vine. For as Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4)

Let’s continue abiding!