By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends
May 2, 2021
John 15:1–8 (ESV)
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 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. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
1 John 4:7–21 (ESV)
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Last week I spoke about stories. I encouraged us to embrace the tool of imagination while considering story. Story is a powerful tool because it can unlock the power of our mind. But there is another tool that can be used that will unlock perception. Illustration.
Illustration is powerful because it is a tool of deep meaning. If we were to take a trip to the Nelson-Atkins museum of Art here in Kansas City, we would be grace with many illustrations. Each of these works of art are attempts of humans to speak of or show us something deeper. Some of those works of art point us to God, and some of them show us something about us and the world we live or have lived. We use the tool of illustration to give something tangible to concepts that seem to be abstract. Much of life is abstract. Our emotions are real, but abstract. Even knowledge is abstract, we can know but we cannot really grasp or gain wisdom until we can make it tangible.
Jesus uses story and illustration to express truth in ways that can move the abstract into the tangible. Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” What a wonderful illustration.
Why do I call this a wonderful illustration? A vineyard is one of the most labor and financially intensive agricultural crops that can be grown. Agriculture is one of the oldest professions in the world. Agricultural historians would say that the invention of agriculture is what prompted the rise of civilization. When humans began to domesticate plants and animals, they emerged from the lifestyle of nomadic hunting and gathering and began to settle in villages and cities. They could settle because they no longer had to follow the wondering wild herd, but they could manage their food supply. Our ancestors painstakingly sought after the plants that were edible, they gathered seeds or tubers and placed them in the ground. They found the animals that could be tamed and they learned how to keep and train those animals. And over time they were able develop a life and lifestyle around these plant and animals. They were able to obtain a surplus of food, and economies emerged because others could move away from producing food and specialize in other aspects of life that their personal skills could be used to a greater extent and they could trade their skills for the surplus produced by others.
The concept of this emergence is shown in the fullest sense in the vineyard. The vineyard, unlike the grass-based crops like wheat or corn, is one of length. It takes time to establish a vineyard. Wheat yields a crop every year. You plant the seed, it grows, it produces fruit, and it dies all within a year. The vine, and the orchard, take multiple years to yield fruit. Those that plant a vineyard are established in their land. According to the University of California, to establish a vineyard you will invest at least ten thousand dollars an acre. The article goes on to say that you will wait four or five years to get a crop, and it will take another year after that first crop to get the first vintage, or enough fruit to contribute to the most profitable use of grapes, wine. Those that invest in a vineyard have enough surplus in the production of food that they do not need to worry about feeding their family or their community and they can take land out of production to risk the production of the fruit of a vine. And that land used for the vineyard may not see a positive income for over ten years.
Jesus uses agricultural illustrations often. He uses these because the culture during the first century was primarily agriculturally based. The world by large has been agriculturally based until the industrial revolution. So, these teachings based on agriculture provided a great deal of tangible wisdom for the people. Today, especially among those in urban settings these lessons become cryptic. The further we travel away from the agricultural roots of civilization we lose knowledge, and we must strive to grasp the understanding and knowledge that was once freely available.
The vineyard is a wonder illustration of life with God because it shows the reality that life is hard. To have that fulfilled life that Jesus promises takes time. It requires labor. And unfortunately, pain and suffering are often necessary.
Jesus says that He is the true vine. We are not the vine. You can grow a vine from a seed and it can take root and grow, but that is not the methods used in a vineyard. The most common method of vineyard establishment is a method called grafting. This process requires two types of grape vines: one is selected for the roots, and the other is for the branches. Those that grow grapes choose the rootstock carefully because that is the portion that is in the ground. They diligently study the soil and environmental conditions when they choose the rootstock because if the rootstock cannot become established in the soil the vineyard is lost. The rootstock of the vine is where the vineyard begins. It is the root of the vine that provides the foundation and the nutrients for the fruit. When Jesus says that he is the true vine, he is saying that he is the rootstock. He is the life-giving source that can over come the harsh soil conditions we face.
The rootstock is chosen based on the conditions of the soil. Not all grape vines will grow in the soil you desire to establish a vineyard in. The vine might make the best grapes but if it cannot take root in the soil, it is worthless. And even though the rootstock vines may be able to take root well in the given soils it might not produce the best fruit.
Jesus says that he is the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. I want us to consider the illustration. The vine, that is Christ, is the root stock. The vinedresser is the Father. The vinedresser is an important person in the vineyard. I said before that when grapes are produced commercially, they do not grow them from a seed like wheat but they use a process called grafting. The first component to this is the rootstock, or the foundation of the vine, but the vinedresser does not want the rootstock to bear the fruit, that is not why that vine was chosen. Jesus came to this world for one specific purpose. He came to provide or establish the means of life. He came to overcome the greatest challenge of life. Our greatest challenge is the wages of sin. Sin is a blight that affects all of life and will be our undoing. We cannot overcome the wages of sin on our own. If we try to root on our own the blight of sin will kill the roots, and we will never be able to bear the fruit we were created to bear.
This is where the vinedresser comes in. The vinedresser knows the vines. The dresser knows what vine can take root and what will not. The vinedresser plants the rootstock into the soil and allows that root to become established. When that vine begins to grow, the dresser comes by with a branch from a vine of the variety of desired fruit and places that branch into the rootstock. This is a precision process. It requires momentary suffering from both the rootstock and the branch because both are cut. The dresser removes the branches from the rootstock this will render that vine unable to bear fruit because it lacks the leave and branches. But the branch comes from a different vine, that branch was removed from the vine it was once part of, it was separated from life, or it dies to itself. The dresser then carefully peels away bark and whittles the inner portion of the vine in such a way that the branch will fit into the rootstock, then the bark or skin is place over the cuts and allowed to grow together. The branch is supplied with water and nutrients from the root and the roots are supplied with the energy from the branches’ leaves. And together fruit is produced.
“I am the true vine,” Jesus says, “and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoke to you. 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.”
The word abide is key to this verse. It means to remain, to endure, and in some cases, it can mean to remain undisturbed. When a vine dresser makes a graft, they will then carefully wrap the wound they inflicted and let it remain undisturbed for a while so that the two plants will grow and heal together. If the graft fails the dresser will have to cut the vine back again and make another attempt. But if the branch abides in the vine, it will grow and bear fruit. This is what Jesus means when he says abide. We remain in the vine. We allow the rootstock to provide the foundation and nourishment for us, and we supply the roots with the energy that makes the roots stronger. We remain together. We do not allow the cuts that were made to join us to cause death, but we remain and together we bear fruit.
We must abide. If we are grafted into the vine and attempt to remain independent or in our old nature, we will die. The reason we were grafted is because we could not live on our own in this environment. This is what John means in his letter that we read earlier, “He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” We cannot survive unless Christ took on the role to cover or to cancel the blight of sin. We must abide, remain in that rootstock able to survive in the soils of life teaming with the disease-causing sin. The vinedresser found it fitting to place us in this time and place at this moment in the vine of history. He needs the fruit that we can bear right here, now. But he began this process many years ago.
I mentioned before that it can take years before a vineyard is established. Four to five years for the first harvest, an additional year for the fruit to fulfill its purpose, and ten to thirteen years before the fruit begins to provide enough fruit to overcome the initial investment. God has a plan and purpose for us, as the vinedresser, that process was initiated many years in the past. And all along, during those years God has pruned us. The act of pruning is the removal of excess branches from the vine, the purpose of this is to leave one singular vine dedicated to produce the most fruit possible. When there is only one branch all the energy produced by the leaves is dedicated to the roots and fruit, not the production of additional branches. There are times where a vinedresser wants a branch to be produced so that another graft can be made, but even then, it is up to the vinedresser not the vine to make that call. And that branch will eventually be pruned from the main branch.
Abide. We can do nothing if we do not abide. If we think we can do something apart from the true vine that will be pruned away, because it has nothing to do with the purpose of vinedresser. Yet Jesus says, “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” How does this fit into the illustration? We must abide first. “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered and thrown into the fire, and burned.” When we abide, we are joining with Christ for a shared purpose. Our will is united in his, and those wills are directed by the work of the vinedresser. When we abide the things that we ask are like the sugars produced through the process of photosynthesis in the leaves of a plant. When we abide, those things are dedicated to produce fruit and the maintenance of the roots. When we abide, those are the things that we are asking for. Our purpose is not focused on ourselves but focused on either establishing greater roots or more fruit.
Abide, remain. Stay focused on the singular purpose set before us. You were grafted into the vine at the place you are, at this time and in this place for one thing. That one thing is your calling, your ministry, your entire purpose of existence. God needs you to abide where you are under his caring hand, to produce the fruit of his direction. For years God has been working and tending your branch for this purpose, so that when the time is right you will produce the purposed fruit needed. But this can only occur if we abide and remain when we stand where we are in Christ and stop working against him.
Look around this Meeting. Everyone you see is here for a purpose. Everyone is here for a reason. Everyone of us is grafted into the rootstock of Christ for reasons only fully known by God the Father. But as we abide and remain, we work together to bear fruit. Our stories and our illustrations of life add energy to the branch and the roots to strengthen the vine. Our devotion and our sacrifices all together make the vine stronger and the fruit sweeter. And our unity to that singular purpose will yield profit to God’s economy.
Will we abide? Will we remain in the root of Christ? Will we allow God to direct and prune our lives so that we can participate in the harvest set before us? Let us now enter this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends. Let us abide in the root of Christ and flourish under the tender hand of God our father so that we can participate in His glory.