Once met an English couple on a vineyard in France while he was still Prince of Wales. Lost for words he stammered, ‘I expect it’s quite a surprise to meet a real prince and the heir to the English throne while on holiday?’ The wife boldly replied, ‘No not really – in God’s sight as believers in the true King, the Lord Jesus Christ we are all princes and princesses and are cleansed by the word and the blood of the Lamb. What’s more one day we will all bend the knee before the throne of God and give an account of what we done with the gifts that God’s has given us!’ The King a little lost for words replied as best he could perhaps with ‘Err yes quite so, jolly good’.
Not many of us are so bold and that’s okay. We aren’t extremists like St Paul, we’re not heroes of the faith like Mother Theresa. We are called to be fruitful, we are to give away our lives for others. Called to be fruitful. The flowers on a grapevine are small and unremarkable. They are not the crowning glory of the plant. The fruit looks nice on top of a bowl of fruit or accompanying a platter of cheese. But it doesn’t last. The point of a grapevine is the juice from its fruit often trampled and then poured out as wine or as fruit juice. This was imagery of the people of Israel who were called to be fruitful, to glorify God and to be a light to the nations. They were privileged and given a particular role butonly in order to give away God’s abundant provision to others so that they too might know and experience God’s love. The vine was such a powerful image that it adorned their coinage in defiance of the roman currency. A golden vine wrapped itself around the temple entrance in Jerusalem.
The message of today’s gospel tells us that Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. The imagery is powerful and beautiful. It is a comforting description of our personal relationship with Jesus but its too simplistic and out of context. Remain in him and he will abide in you, and you’ll find that life is all green pastures and still waters. Using an Old testament simile, life is basking peacefully in your own sunny vineyard which is flourishing. Vineyards were a sign of peace and stability and often thought to be a sign of God’s blessing. But this is to ignore the wider context – Jesus is preparing his team to do battle in
society that is largely hostile to the good news of Jesus as peace-loving messiah. The team Jesus has built are the branches and he is the vine – they are armed only with the bible, in this case only the Old Testament, the words of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They are called to be fruitful.
John 15 is part of what is known as the farewell discourse, it’s so called because it refers to Jesus’ training seminars before he leaves them to be with God the Father. Once he leaves, they are to wait ten days before the Holy spirit empowers them – they can do nothing until they are given the power from God to do the work of a disciple.Jesus is training his disciples for mission and empowering them with the Holy Spirit to
do so. They are not experienced evangelists, they haven’t been ordained, they have not been selected by rabbis as the intellectual elite, they are not powerful people withrespect or authority – they are typically ordinary people with a mixture of abilities and talents. Just like you and me. None of their human qualities will allow them to do the work of the kingdom of God. Jesus reminds them that ‘apart from me you can do nothing’. Yet with the bible and the holy spirit we become far from ordinary – we are ambassadors of Christ, we are heavenly royalty, princes and princesses in the kingdom of God, we are sent to the nations
The disciples need to have confidence that even though Jesus is returning to the Father, they will be able to do the work of a disciple. So do we need confidence.
The true vine
Why true – compared to untrue? An untrue vine won’t produce good fruit - this is a people or tribe. The destruction of vineyards in the OT was sometimes a sign of God’s judgement for being unproductive, like a branch that gets cut off and thrown away to be burnt in the fire. Jesus’ own body was fixed to a wooden structure and his purpose was to pour out his life blood for us. His body was like a grapevine attached to a trellis. This is written to a community of people and so the reference to dead wood or branchescan be illustrated in the person of Judas whose fruit production ended up being sourand so he was cut off from the vine.
Four secrets to effective mission
White wine isn’t white, it’s green! Red wine isn’t often red, it’s more purple. So I’m using the word purple to help us remember the four secrets of effective mission as identified from this passage by Bruce Milne. These are
2. Remain in me – you will bear much fruit. V5 apart from me you can do nothing. And my words abide in you – keep studying and reading and comtenplating the bible
3. Praying in Jesus name - Ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you.
4. Love for fellow disciples
How has God pruned you over the years?
The prayer of Humble Access - We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, That we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. You have already been cleansed by the word I have spoken to you Jesus gave himself to be consumed by his followers. The fruit of his ministry was given for others. The juice from the vine is like the blood from the judgement tree, the cross. Our lives are to be poured out as an offering to God for the sake of others.
Ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you – sounds good! Notice the verse begins If you abide in me and my words abide in you.
Years attending church, never experienced love like it – they will know that you are my disciples …..
I must only ask you to do what I myself am prepared to do, this after all is what Jesus did. I do find that sharing the gospel is made harden when we don’t meet new people. I also believe we live in a different age to that of the disciples which requires a fresh proclamation of the gospel, not a new truth, but perhaps in a language that contemporary society will be able to grasp. We are called to proclaim the gospel afresh to each generation. Well the truth of the bible hasn’t changed but the thinking of society has altered a lot. It knows of the abuses in the church through the ages, it doubts that truth even exists, it doesn’t have any spiritual language. Atheism wasn’t around in Jesus day – it was a case of which God or gods you worshipped not none at all. Jesus said only the sick need a doctor and it’s those he came to bring good news to. The reason the poor the sick the humble the humble are blessed is because they are all too aware of their need for something else and that life isn’t can’t be about success achievement status – Jesus met their needs and then earned the right to be listened to.
On Friday Andy Hawkes took about £200 worth of food to the Storehouse. It came from the primary school, St Gregs who filled this church on Wednesday with prayers and songs giving thanks and praise to God for His provision. Like them, this produce here today is a practical expression of God’s love but also should be seen as symbolic of our need to take the message of Jesus out to a world that is unaware or unwilling to hear about the good news. We might be afraid inexperienced and ill-equipped as were the disciples but the Holy Spirit will help us with the words of the bible to be a powerful witness and be fruitful. Apart from me you can do nothing – church can be run quite respectably without the power of the Holy Spirit but its fruit will be sour and its branches will eventually be cutoff.
Here’s the good news – you can know inner peace and contentment irrespective of circumstances – it’s called joy. The secret of joy seems to be in serving God and others – giving away all that God has provided for the benefit of others. To finish then, Jesus reminds his disciples and us that I have said these things so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. V11
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