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Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter – April 28, 2024

John 15:1-8

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

I want to admit up front that I am not much of a gardener. We’ve had some decent gardens over the years, but all the credit for that goes to my wife. I do the unskilled labor and she does the rest. I do, however, understand the basics of gardening. I understand that it involves both subtraction and addition. It involves both pruning and feeding. Whether you’re growing roses or tomatoes or grapes, in order to get the best results, you need to both take some things out of the picture and introduce other things. Some things need to be cut out or removed, while other things need to be added or bestowed or given.

On the route I take for my morning run there’s a house where just about every year a guy grows a giant pumpkin in his side yard. I’ve run this same route for years now, and I’ve seen how he does things. Once a particularly promising pumpkin takes shape, he pinches off all the other branches. They are dead ends. Any new flowers or new buds get pinched off. They will only hinder the growth of the pumpkin he is trying to grow. He prunes the vine so that all the nutrients can go to the pumpkin, helping it grow. He is also diligent about pulling out any weeds growing nearby. They will only sap nutrients from the soil, taking them away from the pumpkin. He makes sure nothing is growing nearby which blocks the sunlight, cutting back anything that might impede that wondrous process of photosynthesis.

He not only prunes, he also feeds. He makes sure the pumpkin gets what it needs to grow – not only sunlight, but water and food. I see him out there some mornings with his hose. He enriches the soil with plant food and fertilizer to get that good nitrogen and potassium into the ground. This nourishment comes through the vine, which delivers the goods to the pumpkin, making it grow.

This morning we hear another one of the great “I AM” statements of Jesus. Last Sunday we heard Jesus say, “I AM the good shepherd.” Today we hear him say, “I AM the vine.” Jesus goes on to say that we are the branches and his Father is the vine grower, or the gardener. As Jesus unpacks this word picture, he describes for us how he and God the Father are at work in our lives.

God the Father is glorified by the fruit he grows in us. This is first and foremost the fruit of faith, faith in his Son. This faith, however, goes on to blossom into the fruits St. Paul describes as the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians, which include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and self-control. These are some of the fruits God loves to grow in us. And this happens through both subtraction and addition.

God the Father goes to work on us through the Word pinch off those buds that prevent us from bearing fruit, those offshoots that only lead us away from him. Our gardener God speaks a Word of law, a word of command, a word that convicts us, in order to pinch off our false gods, our misplaced trust, our dead-end hopes.

“Oh, you think your accomplishments in life are what saves you? Nope, that’s my job.” Pinch. “Oh, you think THAT is what is going to give you peace and joy in life? Nope. You will only find it in me.” Pinch. “Oh, you think the next election is what is going to decide the fate of the world? Nope, again, that’s me.” Pinch. God pinches off anything that threatens to become more important to us than him, any offshoot that begins to draw precious resources away from what is most important, which is faith in him.

Our gardener God also uses his Word to prune away our sinful desires, our sinful attitudes, our sinful behaviors. There is no place for them in his vineyard, and so he cuts them away. This is not a once-and-done thing, but an ongoing process – just like it is in any garden. The author of Hebrews tells us God’s Word is a two-edged sword. We could also call this Word a set of sharp pruning shears. God uses these pruning shears to shape us into fruitful branches that give him glory, training us in righteousness and holiness, coaxing out of us those fruits of faith. Because weeds are plentiful and aggressive, because they grow so easily in our hearts, because they sap energy away from the bearing of good fruit, there is a constant need for the ongoing work of subtraction, of snipping them away, cutting them out of our lives. God does this work through the two-bladed garden shears of his Word.

But our gardener God doesn’t just snip and pinch. Our gardener God also nourishes. Our gardener God bestows good things upon us to make sure we have what we need for us branches to bear good fruit. And God delivers the goods through his Son, who is the Vine. Through the conduit of this Vine that is Christ our gardener God waters us and feeds us.

In Holy Baptism we are first grafted into the Vine through a water of rebirth. “You have already been cleansed by the word I have spoken to you,” Jesus told his disciples. In Holy Baptism Jesus speaks his cleansing word to us. As we return to the font, we are watered again and again through the life-giving promises we have been given: We are forgiven. We are loved. We are his, now and forever. What a refreshing Word to have splashed over us again and again!

In Holy Communion we are fed with the spiritual nutrients we need so that faith would grow in us. We literally take the fruit of the Vine into our bodies. We receive the bread that is Christ, who nourishes and strengthens us in his grace.

What is our role in all of this? Jesus tells us that the only thing for us to do is to abide in him. “Abide in me as I abide in you,” Jesus says. “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

To abide is simply to “remain in.” To abide is to remain in Christ. It is to stay connected to the Vine. The Christian life is about communion with Christ, staying close to him, resting in him, letting him deliver the goods of his grace and love to you.

This is what John is getting at in our epistle reading for today when he writes: “God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”

We abide in Jesus through prayer, through being in his Word, through showing up and participating in the life of his church, receiving what he has to give us. We abide in Jesus by staying connected to him, as he so faithfully stays connected to us. We abide in Jesus simply by being branches who are connected to the Vine, simply by letting God tend to us as our good and gracious gardener who goes to work on us through his Word, pruning and feeding, trimming here and bestowing there.

Jesus is the Vine, and you are the branches. Through Baptism and Holy Communion and his Word you have been connected to him. Apart from the Vine, we can do nothing. But as we abide in him who is our life-giving Vine, God continues to give us what we need in order to grow faith in us, faith that blossoms in the kinds of fruit that give him glory.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church