Topic: Biblical Verse: John 15:1–15:8
The Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 2, 2021
We’ve had our new AV upgrades for livestreaming worship services in place for a few weeks now, and we are learning about all the new possibilities as we go along. I want to say thank you to those individuals who serve faithfully each Sunday up there in the choir loft as our AV Operators. They are doing yeoman’s work and making use of the new technology now at our disposal. New team members are welcome and invited to be part of this ministry. If you’d like to learn more, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. All of this remains a work in progress as we ramp up to harness these tools for the sake of the kingdom of God. In terms of livestreaming technology, we are light years ahead of where we were just one year ago! This is one of the silver linings in the dark cloud of the coronavirus. During the recent installation of the new equipment, the router located in the choir loft became unplugged, leading to something called a network storm. This was a completely new term for me, as I learned about this from our IT support team. Without that router in place, we had no wifi, no internet, and no phone service because our phone system is voice-over-internet. Things suddenly became very quiet in the church office! Why? Because no emails or phone calls were coming through. We couldn’t access the internet. In short, everything pretty much came to a screeching halt. We learned anew how dependent we are on staying connected. Once the problem was diagnosed and the router was plugged back in, we were instantly back up and running again – amazing! It is that image of staying connected that’s before us in today’s Gospel lesson as Jesus tells us: “Abide in me, and I in you. 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. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). And so the message on this Fifth Sunday of Easter, also Confirmation Sunday, is based on Jesus’ words in that Gospel lesson under the theme, “Staying Connected.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Jesus’ words, “I am the true vine” (John 15:1, 5), are part of a larger cycle in John’s Gospel in which Jesus makes a number of “I am” statements in the course of his ministry. We heard one of these last week: “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11-18), and there are others as well: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48); “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12); “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25); “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). At the core of each of these statements is Jesus’ use of “I am,” which links this back to God’s revelation to Moses in the burning bush. When called by God to go back to Egypt and lead his chosen people to freedom, Moses asked God what he should tell the people who sent him. And God said, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). This is unutterable Name of God, so sacred that God’s own people refused to speak it, lest they misuse it. That is the connection Jesus is making here in John’s Gospel: he is that same God who spoke to Moses, and who now speaks to us today. This Jesus who is the true vine calls us to abide in him; to stay connected to him. Over and over again, Jesus says that here in this Gospel lesson.
What does it mean to abide, to stay connected, to Jesus? Today is Confirmation Sunday, and there are two young men who will reaffirm their Baptismal vows in the Rite of Confirmation. It’s been our privilege and blessing to come alongside them over these last two years to help them abide in Jesus; to learn and grow in the faith we share. But what happens after Confirmation Sunday? More learning and growing in Jesus! Confirmation does not equal graduation – period. This side of heaven, we are never finished with learning and growing in Jesus. It is a lifelong process of staying connected to Jesus. And what happens if we don’t? You end up with a network storm, like we did in the church office. Things get crazy; everything is spinning around trying to connect but it’s just wasted energy because it’s going nowhere. This is a call not just for our two Confirmands, but for all of us, to stay plugged into Jesus; to abide in him; to stay connected with him. And how do we do this? By spending time with Jesus in his Word where he speaks to us, doing this as individuals and with others. By worshiping Jesus, not just with our lips but with our whole lives. By receiving Jesus as he comes to us in his holy Supper, giving us his very Body and Blood to eat and to drink. By serving and loving others as he himself has served and loved us. By becoming more like Jesus in our thinking, speaking, and living. All of this is what Jesus means in that ending verse in today’s Gospel lesson: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). By the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work in our lives, our lives bear fruit for God’s kingdom. And here’s the thing: fruitful branches have to be cut back and pruned in order to keep them productive. That’s true in the natural world, and it’s true in the spiritual world of faith. If there is unproductive growth going on in our lives, the Father who is the Master Gardener is going to do some trimming. We probably won’t like this, and we will cry out in protest. But the Master Gardener knows what he’s doing, and he truly knows what is best for us. Will we receive this pruning, this cutting back, as the blessing that it is intended to be? Or will we dig in our heels and do everything we can to keep it from happening? Do we really mean what we’re praying for in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven?”
Last week, in my morning devotions, I read the following from a man named Andrew Murray (1828-1917). He founded a Huguenot seminary and missionary training school in South Africa. He wrote:
Have you ever noticed the difference in the Christian life between work and fruit? A machine can do work; only life can bear fruit. A law can compel work; only life can spontaneously bring forth fruit. Work implies effort and labour; the essential idea of fruit is, that it is the silent, natural, restful produce of our inner life. The connection between work and fruit is, perhaps, best seen in the expression, ‘fruitful in every good work’ (Col. 1:10). It is only when good works come as the fruit of the indwelling Spirit that they are acceptable to God. Under the compulsion of law and conscience, or the influence of inclination and zeal, men may be most diligent in good works, and yet find that they have but little spiritual result. Their works are man’s effort, instead of being the fruit of the Spirit, the restful, natural outcome of the Spirit’s operation within us. (For All the Saints: A Prayer Book For and By the Church, Vol. 1. Delhi, NY: The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 1994; pp. 1082-1083).
Staying connected to Jesus, abiding in him – that’s what will bring about this restful, natural produce in our lives. May Jesus who is the true Vine help us who are his branches that we may, by his grace, do this very thing. Amen.