The Fifth Sunday of Easter AD 2021
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Kurt E. Reinhardt
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken 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.  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.  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.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
There is a pile of pear branches in my barbecue pit this spring. They’re withering and drying out. They were nice little branches but someone cut them off for me, because they weren’t going to be fruitful. All that they were going to do was get in the way of the fruit bearing, using up the goodness of the tree and keeping the healthy air from flowing around the fruit. Those nice little branches were only going to leave me with small scabby fruit.
Jesus couldn’t make it any clearer for us, the image is so plain, so powerful. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Him. Everything depends on Jesus, our life, our fruit, our glory. Apart from Him you can do nothing. Apart from Jesus there is no life, there is no fruit, there is no glory. Apart from Jesus you are dead. You are only good for the fire.
Branch life is simple. Abide in Jesus, remain in Jesus, stay put in Jesus and His life will flow into you and you will bear fruit. You do not make yourselves a part of the vine. The vine makes you a part of it. The vine does not come out of the branch but the branch comes out of the vine. The life flows from the vine into the branch. The life begins with the vine. It is not the word that you speak to Him but the Word that He speaks to you that gives you life in Him.
When does this happen? When you are baptized into Him. There in the water He joins your life to His life. His death becomes your death. His resurrection becomes your resurrection. He comes to abide in you. You come to abide in Him. He becomes your vine. You become His branches. In your baptism, beloved, you were grafted into the vine. It was all a gift of grace, an undeserved gift from the hand of God. You did nothing to earn it or achieve it. God gave it to you through His Son by the power of His Spirit.
But you must be fruitful. Being fruitful matters and something needs to be done about it. But what? What is a branch to do to be fruitful? Can a branch produce its own fruit? The branch has no life in it apart from the vine. The branch is only fruitful through the vine. And so to be fruitful all that the branch has to do is abide in the vine. Stay put, remain, abide in Jesus and you will bear fruit. He will bear fruit through you. As long as you don’t leave Him you will be fruitful.
Don’t branch out on your own and you will bear fruit. And so if you see a lack of fruit what is the problem? Branching. That’s the problem, lots of nice little branches and not so much abiding. Forgetting Jesus, neglecting Jesus, leaving Jesus and so poor fruit, bad fruit, fruitlessness. Branching out from Jesus’ life, branching out from Jesus’ love and so faith suffers, and so love suffers. How fruity were you this week under Covid? How did faith do with all the fear, worry and doubt? How did love do under the stress and weariness of it all?
Branching. It is a big problem for people like me and you. Branching goes along with that whole wanting to be our own gods thing, that all got started in Eden. Branching. It is a big problem that can only be solved by pruning. Pruning cuts the branch back bringing it closer to the vine. A pruned branch produces more fruit, better fruit, because the life of the vine goes into the fruit rather than all those nice little branches.
Pruning is done by a pruner. Pruning is done for repentance to make us more fruitful. Pruning lets us know it’s not all about the branch. It is not all about us. Apart from me you can do nothing. Those there are pruning words, razor sharp cutting words, words that make you look at all the branchiness of your life, and see all that stuff you try to do on your own, all that stuff you cut out Jesus to do. It’s not worth anything, only good to be cut off and tossed into the fire.
Pruning fixes our eyes on Jesus. Pruning focuses our lives on Jesus. Pruning centers our hearts on Jesus. Pruning cuts away all those useless, fruitless branches, so that I can see the vine, so that I can remember that it is all about - abiding in Jesus. Pruning that is what the Father is up to this morning through His Word by His Spirit, pruning away all those branches so that we might see Jesus. Pruning away our sin through His forgiveness.
Now look and see, beloved, with all those little branches cut away. Here is the true vine, here to share His life with you, that you might bear abundant fruit. Here is Jesus to pour His blood into you, to give His flesh into you, that His life might course through your veins, that His life might live in your flesh. Here is Jesus, beloved, the true vine, here to make you a true branch by abiding in you, by remaining in you, by staying put in you.
Branch life is simple. Abide on the vine, remain on the vine ,stay put on the vine and the life of the vine will flow into you and you will bear fruit. Abide, remain, stay put on the vine and the vine dresser will look after you. He will tend you, prune you, so that you will be even more fruitful. Abide, remain, stay put on the vine and you will live now and forever. Amen