Summary: We’re called not as servants, but as friends of Christ to bear much fruit to the glory of God. To do that we’ll need to be firmly grafted into the life of Christ and the life of his Church; we’ll need to be committed to obeying him in everything we do.
Today is the first anniversary of the opening of St Thomas’. A lot’s happened in the last year hasn’t it? We’ve had a number of people join us. We’ve seen lots of new programs starting up, taking advantage of these great facilities. It makes you feel good to be part of it doesn’t it?
In fact just being part of the Christian church is a good thing, whether or not you’ve got great facilities like these. I wonder have you thought about what it means for you to be a Christian? For some it means the comfort of knowing that you’re on God’s side? For some it’s being part of a wider community of people who are mutually dependent and supportive? It might mean being part of a world-wide community of people who share a love for and who worship the one God? But you know, while being a Christian might mean all of those things to different people, none of them is at the heart of what Jesus says it means to be Christian. Here in John 15 Jesus begins to teach his disciples what it means to be one of his followers.
He says the whole point of being one of his followers is to bear fruit to the Father’s glory. In fact, he says if you don’t bear fruit, there’s something wrong. Have a look at John 15:1. He begins with the statement that he is the true vine and his Father the vinegrower. Now for the disciples this would have rung loud bells. The image of a vine or a vineyard was a common image of the nation of Israel. That’s what we read in our first reading from Is 5. There, in the song of the vineyard, God tells how he planted a vineyard, meaning the people of Israel, and looked for it to bear grapes, but all he found were wild grapes, of no use to him. And so he says he’ll tear down that vineyard, make it a waste, because it didn’t bear the fruit that God required from it. Israel had failed to do what God required, and so would be left a desolate wasteland.
But now Jesus has come and he declares that he is the true vine. He is the one who will obey the Father and please him in all he does (v10) the way Israel failed to do.
But if Jesus is the vine, those who have joined him as his followers are grafted in and become branches of that same vine. And that means that we too are expected to bear fruit. If we don't bear fruit, the Father, the vine grower, will prune us. He’ll take away those parts of us that are unfruitful, or that are bearing wild grapes, and those parts that are bearing fruit he’ll prune to make them even more fruitful.
Have you ever had a grape vine and watched how it grows? It first sends out shoots, some of which have flowers on them which become grapes. But then about the time that the grapes are beginning to ripen, it’ll suddenly have a spurt of growth. New branches spring out of the vine, new growth. To the casual observer it looks wonderful, full of health and vigour. But the vine grower isn’t interested in lush growth; he’s interested in luscious grapes. So one of the jobs of the vine grower is to go along and prune those branches that don’t have any fruit on them.
So here’s the first thing we learn from this picture of Christ as the vine and us as the branches. The whole point of being a follower of Christ is so that we can continue his work, to bear much fruit to the glory of God.
But then the question arises, how are we going to bear fruit? Well, fairly obviously, the first thing you need if you’re going to bear the right fruit, is to be grafted into the right vine. Now this is important. No matter how good a branch may be, unless they’re grafted into a healthy vine, they’ll never bear any fruit. Again, following the analogy of the vine grower, most if not all commercial grapes are grown from grafted vines. What the grower does is to select a variety of grape that appears to have the desired characteristics and then grafts that branch into a root stock that’s known to be healthy and vigorous and disease resistant, etc. And the result, hopefully, is a vine that produces plenty of good fruit. But until that branch is successfully grafted into the root stock, it’s of no use. In fact if it’s left too long it’ll shrivel up and die.
That’s the picture that Jesus is giving of our situation. We need to be grafted into the vine, that is into the life of Christ, in order for us to flourish and bear fruit. But notice who all that depends on in the first instance? It doesn’t depend on the branch does it? It depends entirely on the vine grower. So too, our salvation, our being grafted into the vine, doesn’t depend on our efforts, but on God who does it all for us. God’s gift to us is to graft us in, if we ask him to, so we can take part in the life of the vine, in the life of Christ. Only then does he expect us to bear fruit, as we draw on the power of God, on the life of Christ, to deliver the fruit that God desires.