Who doesn’t love grapes? In this sermon we look at Jesus’s explanation of how he is a vine, and we are the branches of the vine. We look at his love for us, how we relate to that love, and what it means for how we live together. Preached May 5, 2018 @ St. Peter’s Comox
Come, come with me. This morning I want to take us to a moment in a time, a moment in one of the last conversations Jesus has with his disciples. He has just told them who he is, that he is a vine. He has told them who they are, the branches of the vine. He has told them their purpose is to bear fruit and that the Father is the farmer who cares for the plant. They don’t quite get it and so Jesus explains what he meant. Let’s hear what he has to say:
As the Father has loved me so I have loved you.
In this way are we the branches fastened to the vine, we are fastened by love to the root that brings us life. Love binds us to the source of our life. And what manner of love fastens us? It is the kind of love that God the Father has for God the Son. All throughout John’s Gospel we are told that to see Jesus is to see the Father that their intimacy and love is such that to behold Jesus is to behold the Father. And now we are told that we have been loved by Jesus in the same overwhelming way that he is loved by the Father. In the same way as the vinedresser cares for the vine, so the vine is saying it cares for the branches. Pruning back the leafy growth Jim talked about last week, being supported upward into the light of the sun.
Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. Just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
Abide. Don’t get me wrong this is a beautiful and powerful verse. Its one you could spend an hour sitting outside and praying. In fact I do recommend that, just sitting and resting in these words, and by resting in them we may well grow nurtured by the vine. But abide is one of those words that outside of the church I never hear. I have to be honest because of that song “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide” I thought it meant to stay. I thought it meant to wait. And that would beautiful too but its not really what it means. Here it means to accept a rule, it means to submit. We might paraphrase this verse: “submit to the authority of my love. If you do what I tell you, then you have accepted the authority of my love. Just as I have done what my Father has told me, do what my love commands”
We live in an age and a culture where we don’t want anybody to be ‘the boss of me.’ We deconstruct every structure and narrative. Yet here we are invited not to tear down or question or rebel but submit. And this submission isn’t to tyranny or to nation or to justice-ideology but to the love of Jesus. Jesus invites us to bend our knees and receive in his love the reign of the kingdom of God.
These things I have spoken to you that my joy may remain in you and that your joy may be full.
Jesus wants the apostles here to remain joyful, and that it might be complete. When is Jesus telling them this parable? It is the night of his betrayal. In a few hours they will be in the garden praying. That night he will be arrested and they will scatter. His death and his resurrection are imminent and so he is leaving them with these last teachings. And Paul and Peter in their epistles talk about this: doctrine and joy aren’t separate. Teaching, particular teaching from God on the nature of God helps us to behold and receive the sunlight we need to bear fruit, Jesus telling us who he is allows us to know him, and in knowing him we might be close to him, and in being close to him the joy the apostles had in his presence becomes our inheritance.
This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.
In other words: if you submit to my rule you will obey my love. This is what my love demands-that you love each other. And not just you know saying “hey I love you man.” This does not mean in a glib way appreciating one another or in an abstract way recognizing God’s image in one another. It means loving each other in the same way that the Father loves the Son. I can’t even get my head around that. Yet with God’s help we are called to submit to it, to come under Jesus’s reign and let him teach us, let his love transform us such that in our efforts to obey his fruits might grow of his love in us.
And why a commandment? I mean why not a blessing or an invitation? Why a command? Because love is hard. Because love means being available, it means self-offering, it means commitment through the messiness of life. It is not a feeling so much as a condition. Just as vines need support or they collapse in on them selves and become nothing but leafy growth, we too need scaffolding that we can reach the light, that the branches can reach deep into the vine and produce great fruits. It is a commandment for our sake not for God’s, because we need it to be so.
Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I have commanded you.
Jesus is saying this, knowing what’s about to happen. He is about to lay down his life for his friends. God is about to lay down his life for his friends. To trust Jesus, to believe in him, to call him king means to love as Jesus loved us. These are no easy words my friends. We are asked to lay down our lives, sometimes even now in many parts of the world this does mean death at the hands of worldly institutions. But it also means taking on suffering for the sake of those who abandon us or accuse us. It means saying not my will but yours be done. It means turning the other cheek, it means encouraging in the face of brokenness it means…way more than I can wrap myself around and so truly the only way I can get at it is to submit and let myself be wrapped in it.
No longer do I call you servants for a servant does not know what his master is doing but I have called you my friends for all the things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
Because Jesus has told the apostles who he is, because they are no longer in the darkness but in the presence and knowledge of God they are transformed. There was a time when Jesus called the apostles servants, that time has come to an end. We come to God, seeking to serve, Jesus takes that service and transforms it, bringing us into his reign, into his friendship. You know its striking to me that these same apostles will go from this mystery, and through them God will make disciples of cities and nations, that through friendship with God Jesus is in these words building his church.
You did not choose Me, but I chose you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
Jesus chose them. He called them by name and asked them to follow him. And now on this night before his death he tells them the purpose of that summons. Jesus tells them they were called in so that they could be prepared to be sent out. We are branches fastened to the vine by love that this love might reach out through us. For this fruit is the glory of God. This fruit is the disciples of the nations. This is the fruit of God’s intimacy with us and in that is everlasting life.
These things I command you, that you love one another.