Friends, Fruit, and Faithfulness, John 15: 9-17, May 17, 2009
There are three themes that stand out in today's reading cleverly included in the sermon title Friends, Fruit, and Faithfulness. We will take a look at each one in turn.
Today's gospel reading comes from the middle of what is called Jesus' "Farewell Discourse," which is the section running from chapters 14 to chapter 17. Today's verses are actually part of a larger unit which begins at verse 1 of chapter 15, where Jesus explains the parable of the vine and the branches. In the second half of this unit (the verses read today), Jesus elaborates on what that parable means for his disciples. Since "fruit" is the basis for today's lectionary reading, we begin there.
When you think of fine wine your mind and palate might wander to a particular region of France. The French have a long history of vintage winemaking and have provided the names for most of the well-known varieties. Champagne, Bordeaux, Chardonnay, Burgundy, just to name a few, are all regions that give names to certain types of French wine that, in order to be authentic, must have originated in that region.
Wine is judged much the same in California's wine country. Particular wineries around Napa Valley have reputations based on their particular expertise and reliability of consistent quality.
One foundational principle that applies to both Old World and New World wine is that great wine is always a reflection of a particular vineyard.Jesus' point in the preceding vineyard parable. This is
In other words, if you want to pick a good wine, you have to know the source. Jesus knew that the best way to tell what kind of product you were getting would be to look at the label and see from where in the world it came. In this case, the source isn’t a place but a person — Jesus himself.
Jesus is the Vine. Jesus begins by saying that he is the “true vine,” the source of growth and fruit-bearing, in a vineyard that is tended by the “Father.”
God is the Winemaker:Israel. In Isaiah 5:1-7, for example, God plants and tends a vineyard but it yields “wild grapes” or inferior fruit — a metaphor for the apostasy of Israel and Judah. The Creator God is thus the real winemaker, the one who tends the vineyard and assures its quality.
The Vineyard has a history: The metaphor of the vineyard is used several times in the Old Testament to describe God’s relationship with
The same vineyard imagery is used in Jeremiah 2:21, Ezekiel 19:10-14, and Hosea 10:1. In each of these cases, however, Israel is the “vine” and the ultimate source of poor “fruit.” In the Old Testament, “fruitfulness” was another way of saying “faithfulness,” thus a lack of good fruit meant that God’s people had failed to be the true, nourishing vine that would boost God’s reputation in the world as the ultimate fine winemaker.
That being the case, it was the winemaker’s job to do some pruning and replacing, which is what the prophets saw the exile as being all about. Later, God would replant the vineyard with a new stock and that new vine, the “true vine,” would be Jesus himself. Jesus embodied the new Israel, God’s Chosen One, the One through whom the whole world would be saved and blessed.
Jesus is the Vine.God is the Winemaker but the Branches are the focus. The “branches” are the focus of Jesus’ teaching with his disciples. “I am the vine,” says Jesus to his followers, “you are the branches” (v. 5). While the vine is the source for good fruit, there is a vital link between the vine and its fruit.
Remember that branches are fruit-bearing, not fruit-making. “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me … Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (vv. 4-5).
The quality of the fruit, therefore, depends on the branches’ connection to the vine itself. What Jesus is describing here is the necessary interrelationship between himself and his disciples — a relationship characterized by mutuality and indwelling: "abide in me and I will abide in you."
If you look closely at a grapevine, one of the first things you notice about its branches is that it’s very difficult to tell them apart individually.Jesus’ use of branch imagery is therefore a way of expressing that it’s not the achievement of an individual branch that matters. All the branches twist and curl around one another to the point that you can’t tell where one starts and another stops.
When it comes to discipleship, each “branch” or individual gives up his or her desire for individual achievement in order to become one of many encircling branches — a community that is rooted and nurtured by Christ and points to his reputation and quality, not their own.
Great wine is the reflection of a particular vineyard, be it from an Old World tradition or a New World experiment. God wants to tend the finest vineyard ever, the one that takes the ultimate prize for an exquisite vintage.Jesus is not only the vine from which the branches draw their nourishment, but He calls us friends. A friend is one who is loved. May we, as disciples of Jesus, the true vine, embrace our role as branches — channels for God’s grace, so that when the world samples the fine vintage of God’s love and grace, they will want to know the winemaker!
We are not left to our own devices.
The reason that Jesus gives for his willingness to have his own life cut off is “love” for his “friends.” Here’s where a look at the Greek is helpful. The word used here for “love” (phileo) is a form of the word translated “friend” (philos).
In Greek, a “friend” is literally one who is loved. It’s more than just a connection of shared common interests and goals, like on a football team, or positive regard for a buddy or pal. Friendship, in the way that Jesus uses it, is always grounded in a deeper love than the comradery that survives the end of a football season or a graduation ceremony.
“As the Father has loved me,” said Jesus, “so I have loved you; abide in my love” (John 15:9). Jesus’ own idea of friendship was defined and shaped by God’s love for him. Jesus was “one who was loved” by God: chosen, equipped, guided, embraced and held all the way from the manger to the tomb and beyond.
As that love shaped and defined Jesus’ life and ministry, so would Jesus’ love shape and define his team of disciples, both then and now. “You did not choose me but I chose you,” Jesus reminds us (v. 16). The kind of love that causes someone to be willing to sacrifice his or her own life springs from the deep knowledge of having been loved that way him- or herself.
To be a “friend” of Jesus, then, means to be one who is loved in a sacrificial wayJesus’ example. “This is my commandment,” says Jesus to his disciples, “that you love one another as I have loved you” (v. 12). We cannot truly learn to love until we have been loved ourselves.
For Jesus, “laying down” his life meant a painful physical sacrifice. We may never be called to do that for another, but there are lots of ways of laying down our lives. . But it also means following
- We may need to amputate our personal ambitions in order to do what’s best for our families.
- We might be called to give sacrificially of our hard-earned money in order to care for someone who is experiencing a crushing need.
There are a thousand ways we can lay down our lives on behalf of Jesus, but we’ll only be able to do it if we are willing to receive his love for us. We can’t earn it, only receive it and allow it to transform us. It’s only then that we, as friends of Jesus, will be able to “bear fruit” that will last.
Jesus did it for us because he was loved into it by God. Jesus gave his friends his own life. We can do it for others because we have been loved into it by Christ. What are we prepared to give as friends of Jesus?
The first two, fruit and friend, are directly related to, and rooted in, Jesus' actions on our behalf. FAITHFULNESS is a result of our response to what Christ has already made possible for us. Faithfulness is how to stay connected.kingdom of God. How do we best stay connected to the “true vine”? It is our responsibility to 'grow' , that is, to do the necessary work of disciplined study, thoughtful reflection and intentional service for the
Reading, meditating and praying through the Scriptures is one way in which disciples are “pruned.” The words of Jesus about the kingdom and the story of his life, death and resurrection focus us on what’s truly important for bearing the fruit of his grace and love to the world.
The greatest decision facing the 21st-century church is whether it will function as a law-based community of faith or as a grace-based community of love. Will we be defined by some carefully articulated, theologically sophisticated, and logically delineated "Articles of Faith?" Or will the church welcome its role as a living, breathing, healing, helping organism known for its "Acts of Love?"
The fact is: If we are genuinely to be the church; if we are to be a true Christian community, we have no choice in this matter. Jesus offered us only one great commandment -- "Love one another as I have loved you."
Instead of a series of religious rules, Jesus declared we are to live according to the mandate of love. Be careful how you live. Bear fruit—be a friend—and be faithful. You may be the only Bible some people will ever read.
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. . . . You are my friends if you do what I command you. . . . but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. . . . I appointed you to go and bear fruit, . . . I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."
Let us pray:
Lord, we have come at your own invitation, chosen by you, to be counted your friends;
Yours is the strength that sustains dedication, a commitment we know never ends.
So, in the world, where each duty assigned us gives us the chance to create or destroy,
Help us to make those decisions that bind us, Lord, to you and to your people in obedience and joy. Amen.
Rev. Rosemary Stelz