John 15:1-11

            It is always a good occasion to share our worship service with the leaders and scouts of Troop 279 and Pack 66.  When we are together, it reminds the church of our responsibility to the community to assist in every way possible in the development of boys into young men of character.  When we are together, it reminds the scouts of the nature and beliefs of the church that makes the Troop and Pack possible.  I believe the relationship between the church and the scouts is a very positive and encouraging one.  There is an African Proverb about relationships.  It says, “If you want to go fast, go it alone.  If you want to go far, go with others.”  We hope this church goes far as we go together with the scouts.

            Everything about the life of each scout, leader, parent, parishioner, and pastor here today is measured and ruled by our relationships with one another.  That is not new thought or truth.  How far one goes in their life always has been about the relationship and role we have with others.  The boys are the sons of parents.  Those are relationships.  The boys have leaders who give them direction, and, in some cases, the boys are leaders who give direction to others.  Those are relationships.  Some boys may have brothers or sisters.  Those are relationships.  Members of the congregation have relationships with their family members and with one another as a church.  Everything about our life is measured and guided by our relationships to others.

            Today, we read a passage from the Bible that talked about the primary relationship in life.  It is the one relationship that is central to our entire existence; namely, our relationship with God.  Everyone, whether you believe in God or not, has a relationship with God.  That is part of what we read from the Bible earlier today.  You have in your bulletin as an insert that Bible passage.  I would invite you to look at it as we explore a bit what those words meant at the time they were spoken, what those words mean to us today, and what difference those words should make in our life.

            This Bible passage comes from what we call the New Testament.  The Bible is comprised of two principal sections: The Old Testament and the New Testament.  There are 39 separate books in the Old Testament and represent the history of God working in and through the Hebrew people.  There are 27 separate books of the New Testament which tell us about the life of Jesus Christ and the development of the early Christian church.  The Christian church, regardless of whether it is a Baptist, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, or Lutheran church all agree that Jesus is God’s Son.  That is the relationship of God and Jesus, Father and Son.  Jesus was so careful about his relationship with his Father that Jesus only did what his father, God, wanted him to do.  He always obeyed his father, God.  Jesus never wasted time getting around to doing what his father wanted.  Jesus always showed his love for his father, God.  Now, let’s have a show of hands; please raise your hand if you have always done exactly what your father told you to do, when he told you to do it, and how he told you to do it.  I think we can see that Jesus was a very special individual.  Our passage today comes from the New Testament book called John, after the writer, John, a follower of Jesus.  John gave us words from Jesus Christ about what our relationship with God, our relationship with Jesus, and our relationship with one another.

            Let’s see how this passage began.  We are reading from the fifteenth chapter of the book of the New Testament called John.  There are 21 chapters in total.  At this point, Jesus was speaking with eleven of his closest friends.  Jesus called these close friends his apostles.  There was Peter and his brother Andrew.  There was James and his brother John, who wrote this book.  There was also Philip, Nathanael, Matthew, Thomas, James (a second one), Simon, and Thaddeus (also named Judas).  Jesus had twelve apostles, but one of them named Judas, had separated himself earlier in the evening to betray Jesus’ location to the Roman authorities so that soldiers could be sent to arrest Jesus.  So in this scene, Jesus was talking to the people closest to him.

            Verse 1 from our reading began with these words, “I am the true vine.”  Let’s just pause for a moment.  Jesus said, “I am the true vine.”  Now Jesus did not suddenly become a talking grapevine.  He was using the image of grapevine to illustrate a point about the relationship that he had with God and with his eleven apostles.  Jesus knew that the apostles understood the basics about growing grapes or other plants that bear fruit.  This was a safe assumption because raising crops and fruits was done by most people in Jesus’ day.

            I found it interesting that the scouts have merit badges that deal with growing plants that produce fruits.  But of the 138 merit badges available in scouts, I found just 2 dealt with growing plants that bear or produce a fruit or vegetable.  One is called Gardening and the other is called Plant Science.  They not, however, popular merit badges.  The Gardening merit badge is one of the least popular badges, ranking 129th out of 138 badges.  Plant Science is only slightly more popular at 121st of 138 badges.  If a scout did complete these merit badges, then they would learn how seeds germinate and plants grow which produce food to eat.  The scouts would also realize that some seeds do not germinate, some plants produce shoots or branches that produce food, and plants produce some branches do not produce food.  There is a lot to be learned about life in watching and participating in the creative process of gardening or growing plants.

As we return to the passage, we remember hear again Jesus’ words, “I am the true vine and my Father (God) is the vine grower.”  Jesus was the true vine, the prized possession of the vine grower, the gardener, God.  This was a way of Jesus expressing through a familiar garden setting his relationship with God.  “I am the true vine and my Father (God) is the vine grower.” 

Now Jesus relationship with God does not end there; it has a purpose.  Jesus said in verse 2, “He (God) removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”  If we were scouts taking the Gardening merit badge, we would know that plant or vine has branches coming off it and the fruit is formed on those branches.  The gardener prunes, or cuts off, the branches or shoots that do not produce fruit in order to make the vine stronger.  The gardener would also trim away unnecessary parts of the branches that are producing fruit.  The gardener does this pruning so that the branch will produce even more fruit.  And if we did not already know it, we would learn that the fruit must be consistent with the vine.  A grapevine will produce grapes.  A pumpkin vine will produce pumpkins.  But tomatoes will not grow from a watermelon vine.  The fruit must be consistent with the nature of the vine.

After Jesus reminded his disciples of the art of growing, he said, “You (his disciples) have already been cleansed [pruned] by the word [by my teaching] that I have spoken to you. Abide in me [remain faithful to what I told you] as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides [remains] in the vine, neither can you [produce fruit] unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.”

Now what Jesus laid out here is not in the merit badge for Gardening or Plant Science.  What Jesus was saying to his closest friends was there is a design to God’s relationship for every man, woman, boy, and girl.  The relationship is simple.  God is like the vine grower, Jesus is the vine the gardener planted, and people are the branches coming from the vine.  The vine grower sees everything and cares for the vine.  The vine gives strength to the branches and nutrients to the branches.  Why does the vine give strength and nutrient to the branches?  So the branches produce fruit consistent with the nature of that vine.  Who enjoys that fruit?  It would be the vine grower; in this case, God.

The scene Jesus painted with his words was simple to understand.  There was a vine grower (God), the true vine (Jesus), the branches (Jesus’ followers), and the fruit they produced.  The scene described the relationships that connected each person with God through their connection, their relationship with Jesus.

Jesus had constructed or painted a scene of relationships using a gardening experience to show that everyone has a relationship with God.  Now not everybody understood the scene Jesus constructed.  So to help people understand the scene, Jesus took the time to carefully deconstruct that scene.  He said, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (Fruit will not grow on branch that is separated from the vine.)  Jesus continued, “Whoever does not abide in me (does not do as I ask) is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, (do what I ask, then) ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father (God) is glorified (praised) by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”  Branches that are not attached to the true vine cannot bear the fruit of that vine.  We know this is true.  If a branch becomes separated from the vine, the branch will wither and die.  The hope that that branch would ever produce fruit is lost.  Jesus was encouraging his apostles to understand their relationship with God through him.

So what do Jesus’ words mean to you and to me?  This is one of those timeless messages from Jesus that requires little interpretation.  Jesus’ words mean to us that we have a relationship with God.  It is as though there is a vine grower (God), there is a true vine (Jesus), and there are branches that get their sustenance for life from Jesus because they are connected to Jesus (that would be us).  Those branches either produce fruit or do not.  Those branches that get no sustenance from the vine (Jesus) because they are not attached to Jesus (that would be those who do not do what Jesus asks) produce no fruit and sadly wither away.  Those branches (that would be those who do what Jesus asks) get their sustenance from Jesus produce fruit.  Where we fit in this scene depends on what type of branch we are; one that is connected to Jesus or one not connected to Jesus.

For us as branches to hold onto a relationship with Jesus as the vine, to follow his lead, to be sustained by him, means we will bear fruit consistent with Jesus as the vine. This leaves us one final question to explore?  What is that fruit we should be producing?  Jesus does not say here specifically what he meant by fruit.  So, if Jesus is the vine, and I am the branch, what fruit should I produce?  Well, we know the branch produces what is found already within the vine.  The fruit we produce then must reflect the nature and character of Jesus.  The nature of Jesus was that of compassionate servant of others.  He saw people in physical need and felt compelled to help them.  He saw people suffering because they did not know the truth about God and so he taught them.  Jesus was patient, kind, gentle, and merciful.

            The people who wrote the New Testament did a lot of writing about what fruits we ought to produce for God.  I end today using the words of just one of the writers.  He said, “We [who are branches on the vine of Jesus] all have different gifts. Each gift came because of the grace God gave us. Whoever has the gift of prophecy [preaching] should use that gift in a way that fits the kind of faith they have [always shares the good news of the God]. Whoever has the gift of serving should serve. Whoever has the gift of teaching should teach. Whoever has the gift of encouraging others should do that. Whoever has the gift of giving to help others should give generously. Whoever has the gift of leading should work hard at it. Whoever has the gift of showing kindness to others should do it gladly.

Your love must be real. Hate what is evil. Do only what is good. 10 Love each other in a way that makes you feel close like brothers and sisters. And give each other more honor than you give yourself. 11 As you serve the Lord, work hard and don’t be lazy. Be excited about serving him!” (Romans 12:6-11).  Can you imagine a world where we all produced fruit like that?  God can and he invites you to be a strong branch on the vine producing such fruit.  Let us pray.