Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Our text for this morning’s sermon is taken from St. John’s gospel account the fifteenth chapter (John 15:1-8).
Beloved in the Lord,
Christ is the true Vine. You are the branches. The Father is the vinedresser. The point of the vine is to provide life to the branches. The branches are to bear fruit, good fruit, sweet fruit, fruit that pleases the vinedresser. That is their purpose and their mission. The vinedresser’s task is to make sure that happens. Making sure that happens means hacking, hoeing, digging, and yes . . . manuring . . . yeah. In other words it means suffering for the branches. If Christ is the vine and you are the branches, then all that hacking, hoeing, digging, and manuring is for you. Those connected to the vine will suffer. Christians baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus will be afflicted.
Jesus makes this abundantly clear in our text. He is vine. You are the branches. Branches are pruned by the vinedresser. That means the Father works on you and it’s all good for you. Now I realize this flies in the face of everything you hear these days. But Jesus’ words enlighten our minds and quicken our hearts. They transform our worldview, our life view, our view of suffering.
If we were to follow what we hear these days then we’d all be following after Joel Osteen, Dr. Phil and Oprah, maybe even a Joyce Meyers or a Benny Hinn. These are the messengers of self-empowerment! These are the spiritual gurus, religious coaches and pious therapists that the world fawns over. These proclaim peace when there is no peace, comfort where if honest we know there is suffering, health if your faithful, wisdom if you’re blessed, and riches if God favors you. Health, wealth, wisdom, and no suffering are promised, lauded, and sought after. But everything hinges on that little two letter word . . . “if”. Everything is conditional. And suffering still comes.
Yes, suffering still comes. The world is still broken. Lives still hurt. And following after the messengers of health, wealth and wisdom we are permitted to keep our idols. Our Idols keep us from Christ, they strangle the branches and prevent the life of the vine from sharing His nourishment.
Old Adam loves to follow his heart. And the heart of fallen humanity is a very productive idol factory. Making, chasing, and imitating our idols amounts to nothing. We fashion our gods and then they fashion us. All people will eventually become more and more like their god be it the true One risen from the dead, or any others formed with the blood, sweat and tears of the human heart.
Those following their heart bear bitter fruit. Bitter fruit is angers the Lord. The works of the flesh hurt and hinder self and neighbor. They harm other branches spreading their bitterness beyond themselves. Such a branch must be pruned. Hacking, hoeing, digging and manuring must come. The Lord will not share with idols that which is due His Name alone. Hacking, hoeing, digging and manuring are meant to shut down your idol factory and put to death any and all idols found therein. Suffering is God’s judgment against your idols, to prove their inability to save and His Almighty power to redeem. Affliction is for the refining of your faith- more precious than gold – which is to cling to Christ alone for salvation. Every pluck of the pruning hook, every dead leaf torn off, every empty twig severed, is good, good for you, good for the Church, and good for the world because you will bear fruit, good fruit, sweet fruit, fruit that is pleasing to the Lord your vinedresser.
Through such hacking and hoeing, digging and manuring our God works on you and in you for the glory of His name and the good of His Kingdom. There is a purpose to your suffering. There is meaning to your life. Your life is no longer to be drawn from the world’s wellspring. Jesus says, “I am the vine.” Don’t let these words go unnoticed. Branches cannot sustain themselves. They must be connected to the vine. Severed from the vine there is no life. No life then no fruit. If there’s no life and if there’s no fruit then the branch is tossed to the fire.
Jesus says, “I am the vine. You are the branches.” Jesus is the vine and the vine provides life for the branches. The vine gives Himself to the vinedresser’s will. He bears it first and foremost. He works the work of God and works it rightly. His is a pure heart, the heart we long to have, the heart we pray for. His is a clean heart, a heart devoted to God and to neighbor. And His is a bleeding heart. He bleeds for you to give you life. He dies for you to spare you judgment. He rises for you that in Him you live forever unto God.
Our idols must give way to the true God and Lord who offers Himself to the cross. Everything the world and these idols promise us evades us. Yet the Lord’s Word and promises in Christ Jesus are poured upon us, given into our hearts and our mouths. The Vine is planted firmly in the land and receives the brunt of the world’s brutality. He holds tight to the earth, sending deep His roots as though He were grasping it out of the clutches of hell, siphoning the sin and wretchedness of this world’s rebellion all into Himself, all suffered by Him first and foremost, all for the world, all for you, and all for the glory of His Father. He is the vine and the Father is the vinedresser. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. And the Vine gives life, His life, resurrected life, to the branches that the branches give glory to God!
Dear Christians what you see and what you feel and experience in this life must be interpreted through the word and works of Jesus. To do otherwise is to miss the mark, get things wrong, and increase your suffering, for you gradually and slowly would be choking yourself from the life of the Vine. Apart from Jesus you can do nothing. NOTHING! Nothing good, nothing pious, nothing loving, nothing gracious, certainly nothing eternal. Apart from Jesus you can do nothing. Therefore do not set your heart apart from Jesus. Do not fix your eyes on the present sufferings of this world which we must all endure. Let faith cling to Jesus alone. Look upon Christ and His cross. Let your heart peer past the surface, the physical appearances and sensations of this world and look up towards the life beyond. “If you have been raised with Christ seek the things that are above.” Do not focus on the hacking, hoeing, digging and manuring. Such things are merely part of our life in Christ! Such things are the good and gracious workings of the vinedresser. Don’t fuss about these neither fret, your heavenly Father is loving you, chastening you, giving opportunity for new life, to receive anew the precious gospel of His Son and then to bear good, sweet fruit.
Connected to Christ your sins are forgiven. Receiving His lifeblood your hurts are bound up. Hearing His Word, your soul is strengthened, encouraged, lifted high upon the rock, set in His tabernacle and given refuge and rest. All that you need to live a productive, purposeful, meaningful, fruitful life is given you in Christ through Word and Sacrament. These do the connecting, the saving, the cleaning, the binding up and the healing.
Therefore beloved, with Christ and His gospel in you and for you good fruit is sure to come. Good works are sure to follow in word and in deed for God and for neighbor. Thus in the midst of suffering and affliction, worn hearts and weary bodies, broken lives and hurting souls you, by the Spirit’s power, produce fruit that delights the vinedresser: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23 ESV). This is the fruit of our life in Christ. These are the works we are to be working in the world. Life is no longer about what you can do, but what Christ is doing in you for others. For the life you live you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself up for you. And if your Life in Christ, one which is plagued by hacking and hoeing, digging and manuring, is about Christ, His Word and His Work, then you shall be for God and for neighbor a sweetness that the world does not comprehend. Your life will make a difference. Worlds will be changed. Others will be converted. Rather than being conformed to the ways of the world you shall be transformed by the power of the gospel for the renewing of your minds.
And beloved, suffering will still come. The bucket of manure will fall on us. Our enemies will do this and our God will allow it. Why? Because though our enemies would have us cry foul, curse God and die . . . our God would have us do otherwise. If we have faith in Christ what do our enemies gain with all their manure? Nothing! Nothing! But our Lord takes that manure and fertilizes the vine which is good for the branches. All of the world’s persecutions can only increase the harvest. And the harvest is what our vinedresser is all about: Good Fruit from good branches because by grace through faith we are connected to Jesus, the Vine, the very Salvation of the world! AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
Pastor Tony Sikora
Hope Lutheran Church
De Witt, MI