5th Sunday of Easter
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, it’s about this time of year that there are many graduations and in a way graduations are bittersweet, aren’t they? Students are glad to be closing one chapter of their lives and beginning a new one. Graduations kind of mean you’ve made it to the top, but then that also means the next step is going to be back on the bottom. Graduate from grade school… then you’re back on the bottom in high school, graduate high school then you’re back on the bottom in college, graduate college then you usually start at the bottom of the job you get. The whole ordeal can make you feel rather insignificant. It also happens that after people graduate they start to lose some of the connections they made with friends or classmates or teachers. If you don’t stay connected with them, it can make even your friendships seem rather insignificant and unimportant as you drift apart.
In our text this morning our Lord tells us how vitally important and significant our lives are as we stay connected to Him. In these eight verses there’s a word that Jesus spoke eight times. Did you catch it? It’s the word “remain.” Remain in me. Remain connected to the life-sustaining, life-giving, life-nourishing vine. Why? Because that’s where true significance and meaning for your life is found. However, apart from Christ, apart from that vine we’d all be lifeless, worthless, dead branches.
Jesus said, “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.” As opposed to every faithless, undependable, and dying vine, Jesus is the true, genuine, real vine. He is the one who always does His Father’s will, who is perfect in every way. And out from Jesus, the true vine, are branches of different kinds- there are the fruitful branches and there are the unfruitful ones. It’s the gardener’s job to examine the branches to see that they are producing fruit. If the branch is dead, he cuts it off. Jesus said, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while ever branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” The gardener is interested in fruit from his vine so he does two things: He removes dead, lifeless branches and prunes the living ones. So we get the picture. People who were once connected to Christ but shut off the flow of the life-giving sap from God’s Word are removed. They have chosen to die and have destroyed their souls, so they are removed. But the fruit producing branches are pruned. Apparently, left to their own, vine branches will produce a lot of superfluous growth- suckers and buds that sap the strength from the fruit. So, too, through Christian admonition, encouragement, even trials and troubles Jesus keeps His people from becoming too attached to the superfluous things of this world.
Jesus goes on, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” Through God’s Word He has cleansed us, purified us, forgiven our sins, washed us clean. He’s made us one of His own through faith. Now He tells us, “Remain in me, and I remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” You can’t simply cut a branch off a vine and expect it to produce anything. In fact, if you cut a branch off, it will die. The same is true with Christ. Cut yourself off from Christ and you will die spiritually and not be able to produce any fruit and your life will become meaningless.
Jesus repeats the image again, “I am the vine; you are the branches, a man who remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” A connection to Jesus is essential for life. Someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus cannot do anything that pleases God. There might be a great philanthropist who donates millions to charities and volunteers countless hours to the community, but if he doesn’t believe in Jesus everything he does is meaningless to God. It delights God far more to see a little child pray before a meal, “Thank you Jesus for this food Amen,” than everything an unbeliever could ever do.
Now comes the warning. “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” It’s never a question of whether Christ wants to remain in us; the question is whether or not we do. For many of us it was about this time of year when we were confirmed, when we made a solemn vow before the Lord to remain faithful to Him, to regularly make use of the means of grace (hearing God’s word and receiving the Sacrament), why? Because that’s exactly the means by which Jesus nourishes and supports and strengthens the most vital connection in all of eternity- our connection to Him.
The sad fact is that many who once had been connected to the vine, who had made their confirmation vows, who rightly and readily vowed that they would remain faithful to the Savior to death, have chosen to die. To cut off the nourishment from the Vine, to become rotten and corrupt branches. So what do you do with a dead vine branch? It doesn’t produce fruit any more, it isn’t adding anything to the vine, it isn’t fit to use to build something, it isn’t fit to make furniture out of or fashion into something useful, it isn’t even fit to use as a peg to hang a coat on. The only thing a dead vine branch is useful for is adding fuel to a fire. Jesus words cut deep, don’t they? His words here ought to scare any willful or complacent sinner to death. Yet, they also cause a lump in our throats as well, if we choose to cut ourselves off from Him our future is only fire too.
That’s why it’s vital to remain in Him: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” Remain in an intimate relationship with your Savior and you will want what He wants and when you ask Him, He’ll give it. And here’s the heart of it: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” As you are connected to Christ and fed by His Word you’ll have more fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control. And your Father in heaven delights in those! He delights in your life!
Connected to Jesus, remaining in Him through His Word and Sacraments gives you the life-sustaining nourishment your soul needs. And being connected to Jesus, the Vine, you naturally do good things. There’s simply going to be fruit in the way that you deal with the fellow human beings whom God has placed around you.
We’re tempted to go around with the attitude of not being very important or influential. The circumstances of our lives don’t help much. We still undergo outwardly the same problems as everyone else- sickness, job loss, hardship, etc. We don’t feel very important, we live our lives with our daily routines, we don’t often do spectacular things that make the headlines, it doesn’t seem like we make a whole lot of difference or impact in the lives of others, if we die tomorrow the world is still going to figure out how to keep going without us and our help. So what good does all the things we do in our lives really accomplish? How much do our lives really matter?
Well your life matters to one person, the most important one, the one who connected you to the Vine to receive over and over a continuous supply of the best “sap” this world has ever seen, as you drink in the waters of life, as you hear God’s Word, the Holy Spirit comes to you unseen and strengthens your faith in Christ. As you again today watched another baby washed clean and adopted into God’s kingdom, you were reminded again of the blessings that continue to be yours since your own baptism when God adopted you into His family. As you receive once again today the Lord himself in His supper He comes to live in you and give you the forgiveness you need. As you receive the gospel through these means you are strengthened, uplifted, encouraged, and nourished in your soul and the Lord Himself causes you to bear fruit, so to speak.
Your life becomes incredibly meaningful. Perhaps the awesome fruit, the things you do that your God delights in, perhaps they go unnoticed to the world around you. Many may not understand, many may not even see, many may never even hear about what God does through you. Perhaps YOU don’t even always realize the things you do, the good fruit you bear, the things that cause your Gardener to smile. But finally that doesn’t matter. What matters most of all is that your Father in heaven sees you. He knows the things you do and He delights in them. He sees, He enjoys, He knows all the good fruit that He produces through you as you are connected to the Vine.
What “fruit” might this be? Finally it’s anything you do that is in harmony with God’s will, God’s revealed will, aka, God’s Word, the Bible. Whatever you do as a branch connected to Christ, whatever you do in faith that is what God wants you to do, is a fruit. So, it certainly includes how you tell a coworker or a friend about Jesus the Savior- as Philip did in our 1st lesson. It also includes showing your love for your those around you with your words and actions- as our 2nd lesson talked about. But it also includes a host of things: the very fact that you are here this morning listening to God’s Word is a fruit of faith, otherwise you would have had better things to do with your time. As you volunteer your time for the work of the church (with the children, with the grounds, with the worship services, etc) those are all fruits your Father in heaven absolutely delights in. But think of less obvious fruits: the fact that you work hard at your job to provide for your family and support God’s work is a fruit of faith, the fact that you care and are concerned about your children’s lives and souls (even if they don’t respond) is a fruit of faith. The fact that you are ready to give a helping hand to anyone who needs it is a fruit of faith. The fact that you offer prayers in your heart to God for the spreading of the Gospel and for those who are hurting or in pain (which no one may ever even know about) are fruits of faith your Father in heaven is absolutely delighted in.
What awesome value there is to your life! You see, Jesus rose from the dead to make you His very own, to create the most intimate relationship with you there could ever be, to make you one of the branches connected to Him. As you remain connected to Him through His Word and Sacraments He fills you again and again in your soul with His life-giving sap. And as He does so He causes you to bring forth all kinds of fruit He delights in. So is your life insignificant and lowly? Not at all. Your life has infinite value because your life gives glory to God! Amen.