Read John 15:1-8
One of my favorite places to go as a kid was my Aunt and Uncle’s farm just a half hour from where I grew up in Wisconsin. They have a beautiful property with roaming chickens, lush gardens and an aging barn all surrounded by waving fields of natural prairie. When I read this passage from John, it is my uncle’s wild grape vines rambling down the hillside behind their farmhouse that come to mind. As I imagine the picture Jesus is painting of the true vine and how we are all part of it, I see this tangle of vines overlooking the Sugar River preparing to become tasty jam.
Now this tangle of vines was always pretty unruly. But that was part of what made it so beautiful. My uncle trusted that nature would provide, and she did each year. And honestly that is exactly how I imagine the vine God is lovingly tending us to be. A little wild, a little messy, and so full of life if we can find it in ourselves to trust her to provide.
The disciples who Jesus is addressing in our passage for today certainly have experience with what it is to be a messy community.
In recent memory...One of their own betrayed Jesus at their last supper together, Peter and others denied their connection to Jesus following his arrest, Many ran away or have been hiding in fear of violence. But even in the mess of all that, life broke through.
Jesus rose from the dead and now gathers his disciples together. In spite of their desertion and denial, he takes this final opportunity within what is called his Farewell Discourse to share his vision for moving forward together as church.
He counsels them, “I am the true vine…abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”
Nowhere in Jesus’ counsel is there a promise that being church together will always be a neat and orderly affair. Inclusion can be messy. Supporting those with different life experiences can be difficult. Helping our neighbors can force us out of our comfort zones. But that is exactly what Jesus is calling us into. A life of messy connection, a life of trusting in God, a life of abiding in him.
So what does that mean, really? What does it mean when Jesus says, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit?”
Well, abiding isn’t really a word I hear used much these days, so in this context I like translating it as connecting or living or thriving.
What Jesus is saying is that if we tend to our connection to him and follow his command to love as he has, we can bear fruits of goodness and love in the world. Put another way, if we cultivate our relationship with God and care for one another even when it gets messy, we can truly thrive.
But just as we can be messengers of God’s love in the world bearing fruits of joy, we can also prevent others from flourishing.
When we do not care for our fellow branches for our neighbors, when we judge others, when we try to determine who should and shouldn’t be a part of the vine with us, we are getting in the way of God’s vision as gardener.
Because one thing is incredibly clear in this passage.
None of the disciples and none of us are the ones with the shears in this gardening scenario.
We are simply current and future branches with hopes of bearing fruit in the world. It is not our job to decide who is in and who is out. It is the Word, Holy Wisdom embodied through Jesus that tends the vine.
Our only job as extensions of this holy vine is to live. To live and to thrive in connection to one another and in connection to Jesus.
May you, may we be fruit bearers in the beautiful, messy vine that is life together and life with Jesus in this Easter season. Amen.