May 12, 2024 – Jesus is the Vine

John 15:1-8

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just 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. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Jesus is ... The Vine!

I’ve shared with you before here in worship a little bit about my aspirational attempts at gardening: it’s something I’d love to do in theory, and I deeply admire people who have green thumbs, but I’ve never had much success in the garden myself.  The closest I’ve ever come to having a somewhat productive garden was probably back when I was in seminary, and I think the reason it was successful was because it wasn’t something I was attempting to do by myself!  It was a community garden on the seminary campus—a humble little project that a few of us participated in—and we all took turns composting, planting, watering, weeding, and trying to keep the deer away!

There were a ton of deer living around the campus, and they were always hopping over the fence and getting into the garden to chomp on the crops.  As a city girl, I had no idea that a deer could jump such a high fence—apparently they were deeply motivated by the prospect of stolen veggies!  But the thing that surprised me even more than the leaping deer was the resiliency of the plants.  I remember that after the first time the deer got in, I thought the garden must be done for.  All of the tiny melons and tomatoes had been devoured, the leaves had been eaten off the shoots, and all of the little flowers that had been getting ready to produce were gone.  The plants looked hopeless—like a bunch of sad green sticks—and at first I thought “Well, I guess we’ll try again next year!” 

But then, to my surprise, the plants somehow came back to life.  They grew new leaves, new flowers, new fruit.  And that’s when I realized: as long as the branches were connected to a healthy living root, and as long as they were being nurtured by sun, soil, and water—the story wasn’t over.  Those plants could keep growing, and they could keep producing new fruits and vegetables.  All they had to do was stay connected to the source of life…and that’s what today’s Gospel lesson today is all about!

We’ve reached the end of our sermon series on the I Am sayings of Jesus, and over the last six weeks we’ve covered a number of different metaphors for who Jesus is.  We’ve talked about Jesus as the resurrection, as light, as a shepherd, as bread, as a road or a path—and today, it’s time to explore the image of Jesus as the vine!  This passage follows the one we talked about last week, and it’s part of the big farewell speech that Jesus gave to his disciples before his arrest and execution.  He’s giving them some final words of advice, and he’s telling them how to continue their ministry once he’s no longer with them physically.

And he gives them the example of a grapevine, which was a really good analogy, because grapevines and vineyards were everywhere in ancient Israel.  In fact, the grapevine was actually a symbol of the nation of Israel, and there are many passages in the Old Testament that talk about the Israelites being God’s vineyard.  For example, in Psalm 80 we hear about how God brought the people out of Egypt and planted them in a new land just like a farmer might carefully transplant a vine into new soil.  The Israelites were used to imagining themselves as part of God’s vineyard, so Jesus taps into this familiar imagery and tells his disciples if they are the branches, then he is the vine.  And he says that if they want to be spiritually healthy, and if they want to bear good fruit, they have to stay connected to him. 

A plant can only produce when it’s connected to its source, and Jesus is saying that this is how we are, as Christians.  We are the branches, and Jesus is the vine; the root.  Our power comes from him.  And when we are connected to Jesus, we can do incredible things: we can fight injustice, we can heal broken hearts, we can mend broken relationships, we can bring joy to the hopeless, and we can fill our world and our lives with peace.  But in order to do those things, we have to stay connected…connected to God, and connected to each other.  We have to stay plugged in if we’re going to bear any fruit!

So let’s talk a little bit about what it means to be a fruitful branch!  I notice that our Gospel reading mentions a few different agricultural terms that might give us some insight into what it takes to become healthier, stronger branches in our connection with the vine, so I’d like to go over these one by one!  One of the metaphors that Jesus uses is pruning—he says that if we want to be faithful and fruitful disciples, we have to let ourselves be pruned from time to time.  Which admittedly might not sound particularly appealing when you’re the branch in this scenario…I mean, have you seen what pruning shears look like?  I don’t think anyone wants to get too cozy with a pair of those! 

But let’s consider this: why do farmers and gardeners prune branches? They do this so that the plants can grow stronger, and in order to ensure that the plant’s energy and resources are used wisely.  And as followers of Jesus, it can be really beneficial for us to do this on a spiritual level: to take stock every now and then and see what areas in our lives need to be pruned; what we can cut back on in order to grow in the ways that God is calling us to grow.  This isn’t always easy, of course…there are so many things in life that are vying for our time and attention, and so many distractions that we have to contend with.  And in the midst of all the pressure and all the demands, we can forget that we weren’t made to do all the things all the time, and we can forget that pruning is an important spiritual discipline. 

So when our lives are in need of spiritual pruning, where can we start?  Several years ago, I was reading a book on the I Am sayings by a pastor named Rob Fuquay, and in his chapter on Jesus being the vine, he talks about pruning and he shares something that he calls the 5% rule.  Here’s what he means: he says,

“Nearly 95% of what we do in life others can do.  One day someone else will do our job, take care of our house, volunteer in our place, and so forth.  No one else, however, can be a husband or wife to our spouse, a father or mother to our children, take care of our bodies, or tend our souls.  It’s up to us to do the necessary and regular pruning of our schedules.”  (Rob Fuquay, “The God We Can Know”)


I think this can be a hard truth for a lot of us to hear, because we’d like to think that 100% of our output counts as essential!  But ultimately, God calls us to prioritize and structure our lives in healthy ways.  God calls us to care for our relationships and our spiritual lives, because those are the things that keep us plugged into Christ. Those are the things that—if cared for properly—will allow us to be faithful, fruitful disciples. 

But of course, there are times when pruning isn’t enough.  There are some things in our lives that just have to be cut away altogether.  When you think about a vineyard or a garden, if there’s a branch that’s completely dead or diseased, then it needs to go…otherwise, it’ll negatively affect the entire plant. And that’s true for us as well: there are things in our own lives that need to be cut away entirely so that we can grow and thrive.  Things like bitterness, resentment, and old grudges; prejudice and apathy and sin.  These things weigh us down and they don’t do anything positive or fruitful, so there’s no room for them in the life of disciple.  Our task is to be actively removing those things from our lives; to allow God to cut them away so that new life can bloom and grow! 

Which brings us to the next part: growing fruit!  Once we’ve pruned the distractions and cut away our sinful impulses, we can focus on really living and thriving and blooming.  We can focus on being the people who God has called us to be, and bearing fruit that honors God.  And the good news is that bearing fruit doesn’t have to be a big or overwhelming job.  We can bear good spiritual fruit anytime, anywhere! Scripture tells us in Galatians 5 that the fruit we are called to bear include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Those are fruits that we can cultivate and grow every day, no matter where we are or what we’re doing.

And as you know, this weekend we’re celebrating Mother’s Day and Senior Sunday, and we just had All School’s Day here in town.  The end of the school year is upon us, and I know a lot of us are going to be going into “summer mode” soon.  And as we move into summertime, I’d encourage you to focus on blooming and showing the fruits of the Spirit.  Throughout these summer months, as you travel and play and visit family, you can focus on growing in love, in peace, in generosity, in kindness.  You can work to honor God each and every day, and I would encourage you to make a commitment to stay connected to Jesus by staying connected to this faith community over the coming months…especially with a new pastor coming in July!  Please, make every effort to be here as much as possible over the summer to help welcome Pastor Andrew and his family and help them get settled into this congregation and community.  (And when you’re out of town traveling, I’d encourage you to either find a local United Methodist Church and worship there or worship with us via livestream…and if you do the latter, drop a note in the Facebook comments and let us know where you’re worshipping from! It’d be fun to see how far around the state and country and world our livestream can reach this summer!)

And now, before we close, I have a word to share with our graduating seniors today:  I’d like to take a moment to talk to you a little bit about staying connected and what that means in college and beyond! 

A Word to the Graduates

I know a lot of new college students struggle to make time for church…and I know this from experience, because even though I went to a church-affiliated college and I was pretty regular at Wednesday chapel services, I could probably count on one hand the number of times I made it to a Sunday church service during my first year or so!  I did get reconnected midway through my sophomore year, and I was glad I did, because there’s something centering about starting your week with worship—taking an hour each Sunday to remember that there’s more to life and the universe outside of grades and classes and relationship drama!  And honestly, there’s something to be said for just being part of a church community…and let me tell you, churches love college students.  If you’re nervous, bring a friend or two…I can almost guarantee you that there is a church somewhere in your new community that would love to see your faces on Sundays, and there might even be little old ladies who invite you over for Sunday dinner or families that will let you come over and do your laundry for free.  So that’s one piece of unsolicited advice that I’d offer: don’t miss out on that! Find a faith community that wants to love on you and support you as you figure out the whole adulting thing! 

Also, when you check out your college’s clubs and small groups, there will be faith-based organizations to check out.  My advice is to check them out, see if one is a good fit for you—some of your colleges will even have United Methodist groups.  We have some young adults here at the church who were active in United Methodist campus ministries just a few years ago; I’m sure they’d love to tell you about their experience! 


Friends of all ages: wherever life takes you, I invite you to focus on serving God, and focus on staying connected to Jesus. Because Jesus is the true vine; the one who gives us our energy, our power, and our strength.  Thanks be to God!  Amen!