What was said last Sunday can be said again today, “Thanks be to God for this fourth Gospel!” with its word-pictures of God taking on our flesh in Jesus Christ to complete the half-sentence God gave centuries earlier when Moses demanded to know God’s name and was told, “I AM” – the “I am” God.”
This Sunday we hear Jesus saying, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower.’” and, looking beyond the vineyards, to the people, adding, ‘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. I 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.
The Jews who were around to hear Jesus say these words, could remember their ancestral story;
Heirs of the call to be God’s vineyard,
bearing the fruits of a life God was nourishing them to live,
to be the good wine to which the Apostle Paul would later add the label listing its contents: (Galatians 5: 22-23)
“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
They could also remember the prophet Jeremiah had written down God, the vineyard-grower’s question,
"I planted you as a choice vine, from the purest stock. How then did you turn degenerate and become a wild vine?" (2:21).
To which Ezekiel added God’s verdict:
“Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so I will give up the inhabitants of Jerusalem" (15:6).
They could look at themselves and see, just as fungus and insects cause a branch to yield bitter grapes or no grapes and need to be cut off and burned,
their lives were marked with those threatening signs.
But today’s Gospel quotes Jesus announcing a saving remedy,
“Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…”
“Those” being the Jews who were hearing Jesus say He is the true vine from which they, the branches, grow
and produce the fruits God created them to yield;
and Paul added others – Greeks and Romans, Gentiles,
are more branches attached to the vine through grafting.
On our small farm there is an old apple tree yielding an early Fall crop for more than 100 years. The locals call it a “Folly-wattle” or “Apron Pocket” apple, perfect for pies and sauce.
Howard cut small, new branches and grafted them to a semi-dwarf tree in our backyard that produces a newer stock of Cortland, and now, it also yields the grafted ones.
A reminded that we Gentiles are grafted to the true Vine, Jesus, Whose life surges through Jew and Gentile, nations, races, ages and genders –
abiding in, grafted to, the vine, Jesus,
with His words being the test of connectedness:
Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself
unless it abides in the vine,
neither can you unless you abide in me.
Back in the days when I was serving on Conference staff, Trinity’s pastor, Dr. Creager, invited me to come and lead a Sunday morning seminar on the subject of “Finding, Attracting, Welcoming, and Keeping New Members,” and then preach the sermon.
After the service of worship, he motioned for me to join him at the front door and greet the people.
I came away thinking about the Conference assignments that took me into most of the churches to offer seminars and workshops, to preach, and to sit in on meetings.
There was something about this one that was different.
I didn’t know most of the people, and yet I felt there was something that was drawing and holding them together. The African-American gospel song in our New Century Hymnal helped name it: (NCH #293)
“There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place,
and I know it’s the Spirit of the Lord.”
A place where there are people abiding in Jesus Who is abiding in them.
Little did I realize that a year and a half later I would be called and
installed on this date to become pastor, where today, we hear the
Gospel words of Jesus,
“I am the vine, you are the branches.”
Count the Gospel’s seven “I am” image of God fleshed out in Christ and see that the writer intentionally made these words the seventh.
Seven – the symbol of the Sabbath, the seventh day when God rested to admire all God had made – with humans created to be the pinnacle in God’s labors.
The Sabbath day to savor “the fruit of the vine”-
the best saved till last,
The fruit that – in moderation – “makes the heart glad,”
the cup for leisure-time dining and conversation,
the chalice raised four times in the Passover Seder –
recalling and reliving the escape from slavery in Egypt to the
long wilderness journey to freedom and a settled life in a new
the chalice Jesus raised in that meal and broke the centuries’ old silence with His, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”
I must confess that, at the age of fourteen, when, for the first time, I received a little cube of bread and small cup filled with grape juice, until coming here to stand behind the table and speak Christ’s invitation,
I was on a quest to discover what was announced to be “the innermost sanctuary of the whole Christian worship” where “we enter into a living communion with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”- the abiding Christ.
In college every writing assignment related to religion, and all through seminary, was on the Lord’s Supper – all as a quest to experience the abiding Christ…until, one Sunday, at this Table, when I prayed the
consecrating the words, “Come, Holy Spirit…that our eyes may be opened, and we may recognize the risen Christ in our midst, in each other, and in all for whom Christ died.”
That day, as we communed together, I sipped from the cup, and at long last tasted the truth of John’s seventh “I am” word of Jesus” –
I am the vine, you are the branches.”
In spite of dead twig doubts, the poisoning fungus of the world, and the blight of self-centeredness, we have been blessed to savor the harvest of abiding in Christ; bless to be a congregation of branches grafted to Him, a people praying others will also savor in this small patch in Christ’s vineyard called “Trinity!” AMEN.