Last week we got a reminder that we are not the Shepherd. This week we get a reminder that we are neither the Vine nor the Vinegrower.
Jesus says—”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide 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. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. (NRSV)
It is so easy for us to make this text about us. I mean—let’s get real—Who does not get their attention pulled into that part about branches “gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned?” Although fire is dangerous in the wrong context the real danger for us on Sunday is to make that perciope portion our primary focus. For if we do, then our trajectory will move us far from the gravity of the text, which is the Father’s agency—which, by the way, will get totally lost amongst all the Works Righteousness we’ll undoubtedly spew. Here’s a cute example of something that misses the gravity of the text by focusing on people. (People focused cute thingee) If you watch it, ask this question, “What does this actually say about God?”
No matter what the “cute thingee” fails to illustrate, the text is all about God. The Father (v.5) is the Vinegrower. The Vinegrower is the one in charge of growth, and pruning, and cleansing by the word—the Son. The bearing of fruit (v.4-5) is a function of human beings grafted into the Son and thus bearing fruit out of the Son’s agency. Apart from the Son, the entire matter proves fruitless. So much the better for the humans because then all that is left for them to do is “abide.”
Now I have to tell you, Christians stink at abiding. We think abiding is some sort of “doing” on our end that we must “do” in order to “get.” And, YES, there is incumbent responsibility in the word “abide.” The Greek word for “abide” that opens v.4 is μείνατε. This word means to remain. It’s used in the way that my great grandmama used the word “sit.” Like when visitors would pull up to her house on the Carver Church Road and she’d say from the porch, “Y’all come on up here and sit a spell.” She invited the person to “abide” in her company, to be at rest in her presence, to find space for themselves in her hospitable rocking chairs.
Relationships were deepened in that space of knowing, and sharing, and resting. And no form of that Greek word for “abide” means “jump up from the ground, connect yourself to the vine, and keep your branchy self connected, or else get on your fire-suit and prepare for everlasting roasting and toasting.” No part of that verb says or means any such thing.
Perhaps “abide” for us is more about resting in the reality that none of this fruit-bearing business is a result of us. Perhaps we are free to simply embrace being vine branches that are pruned to be more productive fruit bearers. Perhaps we are being cleansed by the word. These all seem like very good reasons to inspire us to abide.
We are not the juicy center of this fruit-vine business.We are branches–nothing more. God is the center of this Tootsie Pop vine metaphor.
- Jesus is Vine.
- God is Vinegrower.
- God grafts branches to Vine.
- God tends and prunes branches.
- Jesus the Vine nourishes us.
- Jesus is the source of any fruit-bearing agency in us.
And so we abide. For we branches are graciously and gracefully placed into Jesus the Son—by God the Father—and are tended there according to God’s purpose and care. This is an abiding place where Jesus says, “You all ‘sit a spell’ in me, as I ‘sit a spell’ in you.”
Yet this abiding space is not dead or sedentary. It is alive and it abounds with the realities and pains of pruning and being re-shaped, and being re-formed, so that fruit abounds.
Branches abide and bear fruit, and most definitely will be pruned by the Vinegrower in order to bear more fruit. It’s only a matter of time. And we have to own that the pruning process can be painful—rarely is anything else.
A long time ago, back when all my hair was brown-black…
Out by the curve of the road was Dad’s rose garden planted on the bank of a deep ditch—it was 200 sq. ft. of rose bushes. One Friday I went to a spend-the-night party, and when I came home on Saturday I rounded the corner to see 200 sq. ft of nubs, roses bushes pruned down to piddlin’ trunks. It was pretty ugly to see. But Dad said it had to happen. Within a few weeks there were so many roses. The Morning Has Broken rose bent almost to the ground as its canes and branches bore the weight of so many flowers. This stunning beauty would never have happened had Dad not aggressively pruned each plant.
Dad was smart when it came to roses and God is even smarter when it comes to us.
God is not obtuse. God knows what God intends to work in us; what dry, pithy, unproductive wood has to be cut from us so that we thrive in fruit-bearing. God knows this about us, about our friends, about our homes, about our families, about our nations, even about God’s Church. Perhaps we ought to preach something about all of that….perhaps.