As we conclude the message series on the “I am” statements of Jesus, Joanna considers His declaration “I am the True Vine….”
Joanna is a speaker, podcaster, TV host, and communications consultant. With a Business Communications degree and a Masters in Theological Studies, she has been helping the Church communicate the best news in the world for over 15 years.
Along with her work, she is also a Tyndale Board Governor and host of the Word Made Digital Podcast. Joanna is a proud aunt to 12 nieces and nephews, has travelled to 37 countries in search of coffee, and calls downtown Toronto home.
Good morning, good snowy morning to you. It's so fun to be together and to be in person. For those of us who are in the room, I'm so glad that we're able to do this.
We're in John chapter 15. And I'm going to read a bit of this. And the truth is, as I was preparing, I didn't know what verse to stop at, because it's just all so good. And it flows naturally from one phrase to the next. So we're going to read John 15, 1 to 10. But you if you're not listening to me, just keep reading and, and you'll get something out of it. For sure.
John 15 verse, starting at verse one, this is Jesus speaking, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit. While, every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, so that it will eat bear even more, be even more fruitful. You are already pruned because of the word I've spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself, it must remain in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me, I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you were like a branch that's thrown away and withers, such branches are picked up and thrown into the fire and burned. But if you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to My Father's glory, that you would bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept My Father's commands, and remain in His love."
This text, that we jump into today, is from what we call the farewell discourse in the book of John. It's where Jesus is giving a long teaching at the Last Supper to his closest followers, his friends. And so we enter in, that's why I mean by we enter in, and had, I had to choose which verse to stop at, because it's a long flowing conversation between Jesus and his followers at this last, very intimate, dinner. And Jesus knows exactly what's about to happen right after this. So he's just pouring out those last instructions, those things that he just wants them to know. Or even in this case, visualize. He's saying, I am like the vine, and you are like the branches. And for them, of course, being from a more agricultural lifestyle, they would know a lot more about that than us, so we're going to dive into that. But the the thing I want to stick with the most is the word that he uses the most in this text. From verse four to 10, I count 11 times, in just a few verses, Jesus says, remain. Remain. Remain. So the irony of this, what is Jesus trying to get at here? Remember, this is his last supper with His disciples. And, of course, those of us who are followers of Jesus know the story, that right after this, he's arrested, and what do they do? They leave, they scatter, and they're terrified. A lot like us when hard things happen. So remain, remain, remain, as we get into this imagery of the vine, and the he Jesus, the vine, and we the branches, and then God the Father, this beautiful imagery of him as the gardener, as he's tending to this garden, that the gardener, the vine, and the branches are this beautiful relationship between all of them. They're working together towards something, with the gardener leading it, and the vine carrying it out. That the gardener, in fact is personally responsible to ensure that the vine bears fruit, this is his job in the garden. His job is to get fruit from the vine.
And also of course because of that, the gardener is just so passionate about this work. It's the gardeners job to get the fruit. All the vine and the branches have to do is stick together. May that at least give you some peace and reassurance today, that the gardener who is most passionate about this work in his vineyard is, is carrying this out. And the glory of this gardener is the fruit from these vines. I have been fascinated in the last number of days as I was researching this, because what do I know about vineyards and wine, and I mean, I know I like to drink wine sometimes. But that's as far as like, I'm not the person at the party who you would ask to bring the good wine. I'm just going to go like this one's on sale. That's the one I will bring I, I like it. But that's as far as my knowledge goes. The cheap one $9.95. That's the one I'm bringing. But as I began to do some reading and understanding, and listening this week to experts about gardening, this imagery that has most captivated me has been about what happens in the grafting process. So as we talk about the vine, and the branches, this is what Jesus is trying to communicate.
So you get a vine, it's hanging, you know, off of the fencing or the infrastructure that whole supports it and holds it up. If you can picture a vineyard or a vine this growing on your mom's fence, and off of this vine or these branches. But in the case of wineries, and what they're doing in these kinds of tended gardens, it's not just a vine that's left to its own devices, but a vine that's really cared for by the gardener, who is passionately concerned about fruit. He takes a bud, a tiny little bud, that has all of the potential and possibility to be something, to be a full branch that bears fruit. And what they do is they go to the vine, and they actually cut the vine, they cut into the vine, they wound the vine, and place this tiny bud with all of its potential, in to the vine. And then they literally bind them together, with something that's equivalent to like a bandaid, that like rubbery sticky stuff, that keeps these two things together. The vine, and the potential of a branch, are the vine being cut into, the bud being pushed into the vine, and then they are bound together. This beautiful image is new to me, and may be new to you. But very familiar to Jesus, as he's talking to his disciples at this, that, at this last supper, trying to give an image, do you see it as I'm describing it, the image of the vine being actually cut into, in some way you could say damaged or wounded, for the sake of the branch, that it might bear fruit. And then if you just left that little bud of a branch, and just shoved it in, but didn't bind them together, the actual force of the vine itself, I've learned, would basically push it back out. So they must be bound together with this bandaid kind of rubbery sticky stuff, so that the the branch can bear fruit. Of course those of us who are familiar with the prophecies of Jesus before he even showed up on the scene, Isaiah 53, it says, "By his wounds, we are healed." If we would just remain. If we would be bound up with the vine. He is the vine and we are the people of God are the branches if we would just stay in that wounded place, bound to him, His wounds are our healing, and by His wounds, we bear fruit.
As we were just speaking about here in the front, before we began this morning, the last few years have been a little bit rough. We have a global pandemic that, at least at the very beginning, no one, none of us had ever been through anything like this before. And we're we were all in some sort of, at least at the beginning, some sort of mass panic, wondering if we were the world was ending, are we all gonna die, we had no idea we didn't understand in the beginning, this huge amount of anxiety. But for many of us, that anxiety hasn't really gone away. The last few years have been isolating, lonely, frustrating, difficult,. There has been just such a, we all know this, a huge rise, whether in ourselves, or people we love, depression, anxiety, loneliness. It's been tough. Not all of it's been tough. There's been some really wonderful things that have gone on in our lives. But it's been hard. And it's been unpredictable. It has not, in many ways, if we have this metaphor of the vineyard and the vine and the branches and the gardener, this doesn't feel like a great time to bear fruit.
This has just been a really tough go for a lot of us. And in the midst of that. I have felt, as I'm sure you have also felt and seen, this shaking up in the church. Churches are now a many, for many of them are open again, you know, you physically you can go to church, but what we're discovering is a lot of people are reevaluating if they want to go back. And probably you are too. Not all of you, but but at least some of you in the room and, and online watching. Is this something that still matters to us? Why did we go in the first place? What was wrong with how that worked, or didn't work for us or for our community? And if we were to go back at all, what needs to change, what might be different?
This big word overarching it is deconstruction, which I have a love hate relationship with the word, because I think it's thrown around a little bit too much. But this idea of taking something apart, to look at its pieces and see which pieces we should put back together, and in what place, and in what order, is this thing that a lot of us are doing in a number of areas of our life, but particularly it's felt right now in the church. And I think there's a lot of pain, grieving, and questions that come with that. And those are welcome. Those questions, those pains, those wonderings, those those realizations of how maybe things weren't as good as we had thought they were. But the call in that moment, in the last supper, in that difficult moment they were coming into, and in the panic of what was about to happen, and they didn't know how the story would go. And the same thing as us in spring 2020, had no clue what was happening in the world, didn't know what was going to happen, didn't know how serious this illness was going to be. And now up till today, as we have the waves of this COVID reality in our every aspect of our life and our faith. Jesus says, remain, remain, remain. I am the vine and you are the branches. Actually, verse five, right? It says, I'm the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit, but apart from me, you can do nothing. Now that verse stands out to a lot of us, because we think, we all know people apart from Jesus, who do a lot of good stuff, who do actually remarkable things, whether it's people we don't know who build Tesla's, and rocket to space for their own fun, or they, you know, serve the poor and they make an impact in their local school system. You know, whatever it is, we all know people who don't know Jesus and have done some things. But Jesus says, apart from me, you can do nothing. And we think, the skeptic in us thinks well, like that's, like, that's actually not true, Jesus. You want me to remain in you so I can do something, but I can do something over there. And actually what Jesus is trying to say here, is ultimately apart from me, you can do nothing you can only do with me. This is an eternal conversation, a longevity, a legacy conversation, not an in the moment conversation. Apart from me, you can only do the things that you can do. You're left with just yourself. But with me, you can bear fruit, and not just fruit, fruit that will last.
The process of making wine, and why I go for the one that's on sale is because wine and the cost of making it, is quite expensive. It takes a long time. I also learned this really brilliant little insight, which compares us as Jesus describing himself as the vine, and as his followers as the branches. I learned that, as I've described that idea of the grafting of the little bud with all its potential as a branch, cut into the cut and bound together with the vine, it takes three years for that little bud to branch into something that will actually bear fruit that could be made into wine, or Welch's, or whatever it is you like. Three years to get fruit. And Jesus is talking about this idea to people he has just spent, how many years with? Three years. So he's coming to the end of his time, physically with the disciples, these three years of growth of their branch remaining grafted to him. And he says, now, now is the time we're going to start seeing some fruit. This tough ground that Jesus is describing in what's about to happen to his disciples in this whole last address that he gives to them. And then the reality of our own context here, December, November, 2021. As I've continued to learn through all of my nerdy studying about the vine in the last number of days, you need tough conditions for good wine. You need time, and you need tough conditions. It's actually that the best wine is created when the circumstances are tough. Because basically, the the science of it is that when things are going well, the vine tends to create a lot of like root systems, it's thinks, oh, this is a really nice place. This is a great condition, I'm going to like settle down, I'm going to cozy up my roots here, I'm going to work really hard on cementing myself in place. But when the when things are tough, it puts all of its energy into the thing that will reproduce itself, which is the fruit. All of its energy is into this, if we're going to continue if we're going to carry on past this moment into the future years, we must bear fruit. We don't have time right now to stick down our roots and get all cozy and comfy we are about the fruit. And so the best conditions are when things are tough, when the weather is harsh, when the winter is long, when the days are dark. The branches produce fruit.
So it makes me think, and I hope it will make you consider today what is the fruit? And are you remaining. Do you have of resiliency given to you by the Holy Spirit to remain, to remain, to remain when people around you are leaving church? When lots of things in culture are causes for stress, concern and struggle. Will you remain? The prayer I have for my life, and the reality of why we sit in this room today, is because we are drinking, metaphorically, the vintage wine, the vintage fruit of people who have come before us. There are people who gave their life, remaining in the vine, so that we can have this space, so that we can turn the lights on, so that we can learn and study here in this place things that actually matter to us and to the world. We are drinking from the vintages before us. What will be the legacy of your life? What kind of, I think, what kind of a vintage Joanna will people like 50 years from now want to be drinking from? Will it be the good stuff? The good fruit? The stuff that took time and trouble and toil and work to get the one that remained on the vine? Or will it be the kind of thing like Jesus describes, that's actually no use because it left the vine and it's basically just thrown away. What is the taste of your life? Both now, and as you make plans for your whole life, what kind of fruit do you want?
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love. By God's power as the gardener, Oh, would you bind us? Would you graft us? Would you graph me, Lord, into this vine? Bind my wandering heart to thee. That's from the song you know, Come Thou Fount of every Blessing, that old hymn. Bind my wandering heart to thee. Tie my little bud of potential branch to the vine in the wound of you Jesus, would you bind me to yourself because Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love here's my heart, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above. Amen.
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