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In this sermon, we look at John 15, where Jesus invokes the image of branches connected to a vine to describe the relationship between Jesus and all of us. Jesus offers us an invitation not to grow in independence and self-reliance as we oftentimes are prone to do, but rather to grow in deeper reliance upon him who alone is the source of life.

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    If you've been with us the last few weeks, you'll know that we've been engaging in a series during Lent where we've been looking at what it means to be a disciple. What we've seen is that when Jesus calls people to follow him, he's not simply asking them to give an intellectual assent to a few ideas, but he's calling them to live under his discipline and instruction. He's calling them to be a student or an apprentice of him. In a sense, he's calling them—calling us—to rely on him for everything. We've been focusing on the places where Jesus offers these two words of invitation, “if anyone.” If anyone comes after me, let him deny himself. If anyone comes after me, he must hate his father and his mother. If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. All these, and many more, are invitations to follow Jesus, but there are also promises that as we lay down our pride, as we lay down our need for our own glory, we will find the life that we are searching for.

    In this sermon, we're going to look at John 15 where Jesus offers another invitation—to abide in him. In this passage, there's an invitation, but there's also a warning. This is where we get the “if anyone,” “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers.” That's what I want to look at—this passage from John 15—the call for us to be disciples of Jesus and to abide in him. Let's give our attention to God's word. 

    1I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide 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. 5I 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. 6If 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. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

    This is God's word. It's absolutely true, and it's given to us in love.

    Would you pray with me? 

    Oh God, we sang of your love for us. We've heard and spoken words of you abiding with us and us and you. Lord, we come now to your word, and we pray that even more so we would learn, and understand, and know what it means that you are the vine, and we are the branches. God give us hope to be able to follow you, open our eyes and ears that we may see and hear what you would have us know, and above all, stir our hearts, that we would love you, and follow you, and bear the fruit that you have called us to bear in our lives not just for our own sake, but for the sake of the world. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen. 

    As a parent of four children, one of the things I'm struck by often is how different my childhood was versus my kids' childhood. I grew up in New Jersey, not far from here. We came into the city a couple of times over my childhood, but my kids have been born and raised here, which means that they are and will always be native New Yorkers. They won't have to wrestle with the major identity issue that I've had to wrestle with, and no doubt many of you who have moved here in your adult life will have to wrestle with as well. This burning question is, when do we actually belong to New York City? When can we become New Yorkers? There are articles and surveys that have lots of different opinions on this. I'm sure you all have many different opinions. For some of you, especially those who were born and raised here, it might be that you're only a native New Yorker if you were born here, if you have been raised here. For others of you, the prevailing wisdom and opinion is that it's about 10 years. If you've lived here for 10 years, then you can call yourself a New Yorker. For others, it's not perhaps the length of the time, but you have to have lived through something pretty significant in the life of the city. If you were here for September 11, after that you are a New Yorker, or if you lived through the blackout of 2004, then you could call yourself a New Yorker. If you were here perhaps in March, April, and May of 2020, during the first months of the pandemic, then you could be a New Yorker. For others, you're a New Yorker when you start acting like a New Yorker: When you start getting really impatient with people, when you can learn to swipe through your MetroCard through the turnstile on the first try, every time. That's how you know, you're a New Yorker. Or you're a New Yorker if you are eager to give out directions to tourists, because what else are you going to do with all this information you have about all the complicated subway systems? I knew I was a New Yorker, after a few years of living here, when we went away to some remote, rural area. I got really nervous, because I thought, who's gonna hear my screams? We’re out here in the middle of nowhere. It was just too loud. The crickets were just too much. That's how I knew I was a New Yorker. 

    That's a really silly question and kind of a silly exercise, but it gets at something important, that all of us have a deep desire, and oftentimes, an insecurity that arises when we move here to New York. We want to belong. We want to be part of this great city, so we're asking how long until we can really belong? When can we call New York home? You can ask that about a place like New York, but I think you can also ask a deeper, more important version of that question in all sorts of ways when it comes to our relationship with God. We might not ask it directly. You might not ask, OK, when will I be at home with God?, but you can ask it in lots of other ways. The question often comes up like this, when am I going to stop struggling with my unbelief? When will my questions finally be answered? When will my prayers be heard? When will I finally be transformed? When will I finally be changed? When will I stop struggling in this life? When will I know for sure that all of this is true? I think those are all versions of that question. When and how can I be at home with God? But even those questions assume a desire or a yearning to be at home with God. Oftentimes, there's another question that is asked, and maybe you're asking it now, why would I want to be at home with Jesus? Or more to the point in our series, why would I want to be a disciple of Jesus? There are lots of ways to find happiness. There are lots of ways to get fulfillment. There's lots of ways to find hope, joy, and satisfaction in this life, so why would I want to abide in Jesus? 

    What you find, as you read throughout the Scriptures, from the beginning to the end, is that all the writers of the Scriptures in the accounts that are given and the stories that are told are really answering both of those questions. To the first question, when can I finally be at home?, page after page you find that God wants you to dwell with him. He wants you to find all of your hope, and life, and joy in him. That's what Jesus is really getting at in the passage we looked at. He wants you to be at home with him, not only in the future, when certainly that will be true in the consummation and the fulfillment of all things in the new Heavens in the new earth, but right now, right here. Did you notice the passage we read when Jesus calls us to abide in him, it's not in future tense. It's very present. It's now. This is what I want us to see here, that Jesus is after total dependence upon him for everything. This seems so counterintuitive and so countercultural, really, and even counter to how we consider what growing up in maturity looks like in life. Right? Because the more mature you get, the less reliant on others you ought to be, at least that's what we think. More maturity means more self-reliance, but that's not the case with Jesus. We're to celebrate our radical dependence upon God as the source of life. That's why you have this warning here in our passage, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away.”

    He kind of gets at that second question, why would I want to bide with Jesus?, because what the Scripture tells us is that the life that you're looking for can only be found in Jesus. The life you're looking for, the joy you're searching for, the meaning you're trying to make out of your existence, what Jesus calls bearing fruit in this passage, can only be found when we dwell and when we abide with Jesus. This is an astonishing claim. It's the claim of Christianity, so I want us to explore that now. Here in John 15—here’s a little bit of background—Jesus is making his way to the cross. His death is now an inevitability. Much of this can read kind of like a cruel tragedy. Jesus is going to leave his disciples soon, and the one thing that is clear is that they are not ready for him to leave. They don't know everything. They don't have all the answers, haven't even been to seminary yet. How are they going to figure all this out? They have so much more to learn, so much more to figure out. The opposition against them is growing, and their time with Jesus is running out. He's about to leave them. As he does, he starts talking about this language about abiding with him, dwelling with him, but Jesus has something in mind for these disciples who are with him and for us now 2,000 years later, looking and longing and asking, how do we find our home in God? To get that answer, Jesus employs this agricultural metaphor. I want to look at two things from this passage—that we are to abide in the vine and we are to trust the gardener. We abide in the vine and we trust the gardener. 

    Abide In The Vine

    First, listen again to v.4-5, Jesus says, “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.” Jesus comes right out and says, look, you can't do this on your own. What I'm asking you to do and what you're being called to do, (he says this to the disciples), you can't do this yourself. You can't produce fruit on your own. You must abide in me. Over and over again, he says this, “Abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches.” What he's saying is that he wants them to be at home in him, to find their rest, their hope, and their identity in him. He will produce the fruit in their lives. 

    Here's this interesting paradox: Jesus tells them that he's leaving them, and in so doing is calling them to continue on in his mission to bear fruit, to be God's agents of redemption in the world. You would sort of expect Jesus to say upon his leaving something like OK now, I'm leaving. You guys figure it out. You'll know what to do when the time is right, but whatever you do, go out and bear fruit. That's not what he says. He never does that. The remarkable thing is that his language and the illustrations that he uses offer an even closer connection to his people, even in his absence, even after his death, and resurrection, and his ascension. Did you hear the closeness and the intimacy in this passage? We were created to be intimately known by the one who gives us life, to abide in him and he in us. It is the very core of our human existence, and it's not simply for our future in the new Heavens, in the new earth. It's here, and it's now. 

    Our lives, however, and our world are marked not by the sense of belonging. It's marked not by a sense of feeling at home with God, but rather a sense of wandering, a sense of restlessness, and ultimately a sense of homelessness. The Bible tells this story over and over. It returns to this theme all throughout. Adam and Eve were created to live in the Garden of Eden, to dwell with God because that's where God had made his home. They were to enjoy the delights and the fruits of their life with God. The garden was their home, because that is where God was making his home. But they weren't content there, so they sinned against God and weren't satisfied with their home. They were kicked out of the garden, out into the world, and they were homeless. One of the major themes in the Old Testament is that God's people are always looking for a home. Not just any home, but longing to be in God's home. You have the patriarchs, you have Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob wandering without a land and without a home. Joseph was making his home in Egypt, but still with this deep sense of homelessness. He is a foreigner in a foreign land. You have Israel longing for a home that is certainly not in Egypt, but being delivered by God out of Egypt, and yet still homeless, wandering through the desert for 40 years. At times, God dwells with them in the tabernacle, and then later in the temple, but those are always incomplete. They're always fleeting, and you have Israel always longing and wanting more. Then they reached the promised land, but even then, it's only for a time and God's people are taking off into exile. There's no home, there's no dwelling with God. This is why when John opens his gospel in John 1, you have this phrase, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In other words, God made his home among us. He's talking about Jesus. As he does, he's opening up this hope to us, this hope and promise that the world had been longing for, that all of humanity has been longing for, that God had finally made his home with us. It's the first words that this long alienation of humanity with God, this humanity marked with wandering and homelessness had now come to an end. 

    The first time we see this language of abiding that Jesus uses here in John 15, he first uses it in John 1, when Jesus calls us first disciples. The disciples asked Jesus, “‘Rabbi’ where are you [abiding]?” [Same word]. He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’” Then John tells us, “So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.” These words and this imagery of abiding as a vine with a branch are words of invitation to all of us. Our hearts are homeless, and we need to find rest. The rest that we need to find, and the rest we're looking for, the home we're looking for, for all of our hopes and our fears, and our cares and our joys, are only found in Jesus. What the Scriptures tell us is that we look for a home in all sorts of other places, in all sorts of other ways. The home is not going to be where we're looking. Scriptures tell us that our home is not in our job. It's not in our kids. You're not going to find your home in your marriage, or in your singleness. You're not going to find your home in your youth or in your sexuality. It's not in your financial situation. It's not in your future self. It's not in the degree that you're pursuing. It's not in the new you after you lose the next five pounds. It's not in whatever dreams the city is offering to you. Your home is in God. In him is where you belong. Being a Christian means receiving the invitation by Jesus, to make our home with him and then responding by moving in. 

    The disciples made their home with him that day, in John 1, when he first called them. This is what I want you to see, that Jesus is welcoming those first disciples, and in this imagery, in our text, he's welcoming his disciples again into his home, into life with him. In the midst of their fear, and they had a lot, in the midst of their sin, there was a lot, their shame, their confusion, Jesus welcomed strangers into his home, into life with him so that they might find the rest and the life that they were looking for. So it is with us. In the midst of your sorrow, in the midst of your shame, in the midst of your boredom, in the midst of your disappointments, your frustration, your joys and your delights, Jesus welcomes you and wants you to abide in him. In Jesus, your heart is homeless no longer. Like a branch that is so intimately tied to a vine, so our lives are connected and dependent on Jesus—not just for some spiritual aspect of our lives but for everything. 

    One of the questions we need to be asking ourselves is how do we do this? How do we abide in Jesus? How do we remain in him? Let me give you two, hopefully, tangible ways that we can apply this to our lives. Did you notice in v.7 that Jesus talks about having his words abide or remain in us? This is one of the key ways to abide, to remain united to Jesus. It's to let his words be the words that define us, that shape who you are and what you do. You could consider this a practice during Lent. Before you pick up your phone in the morning, read the Bible. Read a passage of Scripture. Read a song. Read anything, any part of the Scriptures. Before you check Twitter, before you check your notifications, before you see who texted you, before you check what the overseas markets did overnight, before you stand before the avalanche of emails that no doubt are awaiting you each and every morning, be attentive to God's word. When you do, you will see that the simple act creates a habit that says the most important thing I can do each and every day of my life is make my home with Jesus. He gets the first word. He gets to say who you are. He gets to say who you belong to. He gets to say where your hope should be. It's all in him. 

    The other application I would suggest for us is that we make our home with Jesus, but also we make our home with the disciples of Jesus. In other words, find your way deeper into the life of this church. In order to abide with Jesus, we must abide with his people. If you're new here, if this is your first or second time, you're welcome to visit and check things out for a while to figure out if this is the place for you. There's no pressure here at all. We're really glad that you are here, but I want you to know that for many of you who've been visiting here for a really long time, it might be time to start dwelling with God's people. It might be time to move in through serving, through becoming a member, becoming part of a Community Group, finding deeper ways of connection in this church. This is how you're going to make your home with God when you will make your home with the people of God. That's what the disciples did as they moved in with Jesus. Their crowds grew. They grew together as disciples. Of course, you see this more fully as the church grows and expands all throughout the Book of Acts. They're dwelling with one another, abiding with one another, and therefore abiding with Jesus. 

    Trust The Gardener

    The first thing we do is we take up the invitation to abide with Jesus, but the other thing this passage calls us to do is to trust the work of the gardener, which is not easy to do. Listen to v.2, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” In order for the branches to bear fruit, the fruit that they need to bear, there's some pruning that needs to happen. That's the picture here in this passage. It's God the Father as the gardener watching over his vineyard, pruning the branches so that they will bear as much fruit as possible. When I was 16 years old, and living in New Jersey, one of the jobs I had was working in an apple and peach orchard. Each spring, late spring and early summer, one of my jobs was to go out with a bunch of other guys in a peach orchard, in what seemed like hundreds of acres of peach trees, and prune the trees. We would take a stick that had a leather strap on the end, and we would go down row after row after row of tree and whack the branches until we decided that enough peaches had been knocked off so that the ones remaining would then grow into these beautiful pieces of fruit. You can imagine as a 16-year-old that the job would get kind of mundane and boring, so we would think of all sorts of ways to knock peaches off of a tree, including running pickup trucks into trees and finding all sorts of other games to just indiscriminately prune trees. 

    I want to suggest to you that oftentimes when we think about our lives being pruned, and you get to this passage and think about your life being pruned and clipped away, and parts of your life taking a snip here and there, we think of God being as careless as I was with those peach trees—sort of randomly whacking away your life, without any reason, sort of taking different parts of your life away, but that's not how the Father cares for his vineyard. This vineyard imagery is prevalent throughout the Scriptures. Listen to Isaiah 5, and how Isaiah talks about it here, 

    1Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.”

    Look how careful he is with the vine and the branches. He does not plant the vineyard and then sit back and just watch things grow. He carefully looks at each branch, knowing when and where to cut in order to produce more fruit. Honestly, when I was a 16 year old in the peach orchards of New Jersey, I didn't need to be that careful. You could be kind of indiscriminate, whack a couple of branches, and the right amount of peaches were going to fall off. We were still going to produce this great harvest of peaches, but that's not the kind of fruit that we're talking about in this passage. We're talking about a vineyard with grapes. In order to produce the best possible grape a lot of care must be given to the branches. This is what the disciples are learning the closer they get to Jesus. They've had to submit to the pruners knife, cutting away other goals and ambitions. Remember, all of them have had their lives completely overturned, completely upended once they started following Jesus. They've been pruned. They've already borne fruit, but they now must expect more pruning so that they can bear more fruit. The point here is that when Jesus talks about God the Father as the gardener, pruning and clipping branches, he's doing it with the greatest of care. He's doing it with the greatest wisdom and attention. He knows just where to cut the branch, just where and when to prune in order to get the most fruit out of each branch. For you and I the promise is that God is just as careful as he prunes things away and shapes our lives, as God has shaped us into the people he has called us to be, bearing the fruit of love and obedience. He is at work in every aspect of your life. At times he will be adding things to your life that you simply do not want. He'll be giving you responsibilities that you never asked for. He's going to bring people into your life that you would rather not deal with. Other times, he'll be taking things away from you that you so desperately wanted—that you really deep down desire, dreams and ambitions, deep hopes for your own life. It may be impossible for you and for me to understand why he does it and why he does it when he does it, but I want you to know that even though it's so incredibly hard, it's never random. It's never careless. It's never arbitrary. It is the careful hand of God pruning your life so that you might bear more fruit. 

    Lastly, I want you to know that every branch in this passage gets pruned. Every branch needs pruning. It needs constant care. It's not just the weak branches. It's not just the branches that have issues. It's every branch. In fact, in v.2, Jesus says, the more fruit that the branches bear, the more they're going to be pruned. There are lots of times in life when hardships and frustrations arise, and our first thought is to ask, where's God in all this? Why isn't he here? Why doesn’t he care? Why would he take this thing away from me? Why would he add this thing into my life that I never asked for? I want you to consider the fact that when you ask that question the answer, most likely, is he's right there. That he is right there with you working on you, as an individual, working on us as a church, even in the midst of trials, especially in the midst of trials, and hardships, and suffering. 

    Oftentimes, I think that we hear a passage like this, in John 15, and the vine and the branches and the pruning, and abiding in Jesus, and we kind of read it like this, you can abide in Jesus and you can abide with Jesus, as long as you bear fruit. As long as you're productive, as long as you're willing to withstand a certain amount of pain that comes with the pruning, he'll let you stick around. He won't cut you off. In other words, it can sound like this, as long as you pay the rent, as long as you pay the dues, you can abide and live with Jesus. But that's the mistaken interpretation. That is not what this passage says. That's not what Jesus is getting at here. These are not conditions of his invitation, but rather the inevitable results of abiding with Jesus. The promise here is that the God of Heaven and earth, wants to and is going to produce fruit through you, through your life, in the midst of all your fears, sorrows, and frustrations, your own brokenness, the ways in which you can't figure life out, you can't get it together, Jesus is going to bear his fruits through your life. That's his promise. That is a remarkable thing. Our bearing fruit is not some mere duty laid upon us, nor is it a test by which we figure out if we're deserving or not. The fruit you bear is something God delights in, something God produces in you, something God is glorified in, and something that he is going to accomplish through you, which means as disciples, we are called to order our lives around his life. He is the vine, we are the branch, rather than we trying to fit God's life into our life. 

    As we abide in Jesus, the true vine, and as we trust the work of the gardener, his pruning in our life, our ambitions and our desires, they're going to be pruned. Our lives will be directed outward just like the branches on the vines that have been pruned. When you prune a branch, you direct them outward toward the sunlight, so that they can grow and flourish and prevent them from growing in on themselves. Our lives will turn outwards, towards one another and towards our neighbors, and they will see the fruit our lives produce. This is the promise that Jesus makes, that he has secured his life for us. He has secured for us a home in him because on the cross Jesus was cut off from the Father, so that we might ultimately have our life in him. All the longing and all the places that we search for, for a home and our ambitions and our goals, in other people in other places, our wandering hearts can finally find their home and the rest in the only one who can satisfy us. The only one who can call us to himself, the only one who would die for us, the only one who would rise again from life, the only one who can rule and reign over the Heavens of the earth. He is the one who now calls you to find our home in him. When we gather together at the supper, in this bread and in this cup, we proclaim our radical dependence upon him, the very one who offers us the fruit of his life, in this bread in this cup, so that we can abide in him. That's the invitation for us today. Find your home and your rest in him—the only one who can truly satisfy us is Jesus himself. 

    Let's pray. 

    Our great God and Heavenly Father, we thank you and we praise you. We ask that you would draw us to yourself, that you would satisfy us, that you would feed us and nourish us here at this table, that our wandering hearts, Lord, which are so prone to find their home in other people, and places, and things, and ambitions and ideas, that we would finally find our true home in you. We pray all these things in Jesus' name. Amen.