April 29, 2018
John 15:1-8, Easter 5
If you have noticed anything about the Gospel of John, it is that Jesus is not afraid to state who he is and what his purpose is. Today’s lesson finds us amid Jesus’ farewell discourse. This is the conversation that Jesus has with his disciples before being arrested and sentenced to death on the cross. These “I am” statements that John presents throughout his gospel points to the divinity of Jesus and what he means for the people of Israel, and the world. Today’s “I am” statement is the last one in a series of seven. The same amount as the number of signs Jesus uses to show his divinity and connection with God, the father.
The funny thing is, just before this speech, Jesus says, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.” Yet, Jesus continues to speak. Most scholars conclude that these next couple of chapters were added later, by John himself or editors from the same community, to explain further the discourse Jesus has with his disciples during the last supper.
Jesus’ bold “I am” statements point to a truth that the people of Israel have been longing for since exile. It is in Jesus’ promise to abide in them that they are given hope and a sign of God’s grace for all of eternity.
Abide is a word that we do not hear too often. Perhaps one of the words, that we sing of in familiar hymns, but not one that we use in everyday language. To abide in something requires a long-term commitment. To abide, you must stay, live, dwell, last, endure, or continue in what you have promised. It is not a one-night stand. It is not a brief encounter left for others to deal with. It is not an opportunity to go in and fix something and then retreat. To abide, is to enter into relationship and community.
What is it that we choose to abide in today? There are signs all over the place of those times that we choose to abide in the things that are not of Jesus. They exist away from the vine, yet we are drawn to them out of temptation. We abide in addictive behaviors and substances to help ease the pains and struggles that we encounter in this earthly life. We abide in bad relationships that are abusive because we fear what may happen when we leave them. We abide in sins that corrupt and lead us further away from the true vine.
What makes you think that the disciples were any different?
Yes, we know what most of them did before they were called by Jesus to follow him and go out into the world and proclaim the good news. They were human just like us. That means that they came to Jesus with their own vices and addictive behaviors. Let’s admit it, the disciples probably would not have received a second look today. They would have been working on the lines or in the fields and they would have been looked over.
However, Jesus does not look them over, he looks at them in the eyes and invites them to follow him. They began to learn what it meant to abide in Jesus. However, since Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, we also learn that they abided in other things as well. Primarily, they abided in the fear of having to take up their own cross. The uncertainty that came with the call that Jesus had placed upon their lives. A call that made them step out of their comfort zone. A call that made them become leaders and engage in others and proclaim the good news as far and wide as they could.
It is in this farewell discourse of Jesus’, that he wants them to experience the grace of God. Jesus is trying to recap their entire three-year journey together over the course of one meal. Jesus’ last meal with the disciples before being led to the cross. While it may sound like it, Jesus is not threatening them with judgement or punishment. He is trying to tell them and show them how much he loves them. This love he wants them to know, does not stop with them. It extends to those that they share the love with as well.
As they find themselves abiding in Jesus, they are grafted right on to the same vine. The vine that God prunes and keeps healthy. A vine that bears good fruit. They can relate to this image of Jesus being the true vine. In the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament as we know it, the image of the vineyard was used quite often. It is hard work to get a vineyard functioning at its highest level. The farmer that oversees the vineyard must know how to properly care for the vines and prune and trim them on a regular basis. If you have gardened, you have come to learn that many plants and flowers react positively to pruning and trimming. You pinch off old buds so that flowers will rebloom. I have learned that if you pinch off the first buds of pansies, as hard as it may be to do so, the flowers will grow even more abundantly and fully. You trim back rose bushes to make them healthier so that they do not choke themselves out.
Jesus started trimming the disciple’s old ways of thinking before they even knew what he was doing. Through God, he began to increase their belief in themselves which will eventually push them out to minister to the people of Israel and beyond.
As I read this passage, I keep going back to vs. 4, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” This promise that Jesus makes to the disciples continues to this day. As I read that, it does not tell us what we must do. It is full of love and compassion that is poured out for all people. Jesus does not say, if you abide in me then I will abide in you. What Jesus says is, “as I abide in you.” Whether you are aware of it or not, Jesus is already abiding in you. Whether you like it or not. Jesus does not need an invitation to enter our lives. He is already there. Catharine of Sienna wrote this beautiful prayer nearly 700 years ago:
And you, high eternal Trinity,
acted as if you were drunk with love,
infatuated with your creature.
When you saw that this tree could bear no fruit
but the fruit of death
because it was cut off from you who are life,
you came to its rescue
with the same love
with which you had created it:
you engrafted your divinity
into the dead tree of our humanity.
O sweet tender engrafting!
You, sweetness itself,
stooped to join yourself
with our bitterness.
Jesus comes to abide in us despite our own faults and sins. The Message translation, by Eugene Peterson, translates it, “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.” Jesus is there when we choose to abide in those things that take us further and further away from him. Jesus is there when we denounce him and yell and scream at him. Jesus is there when we reach our lowest point, ready to pick us up and walk with us. Jesus abides in us, just as a parent abides with their child. Jesus remains with us, stays with us, and dwells with us all the days of our lives. The least we can do is return his love for us with a joyful love shared with our neighbors and the strangers in our midst just alike.
Let us pray. Jesus, the true vine, we thank you for grafting us into your loving care, even when we push away. May we learn to care for others in the same way and work in your vineyard that you have laid before us. Amen.