Jesus as the vine with us as the branches is a very powerful model for the Christian life. It sets things straight as to how we are to be and what we are to do. As the text says, "cut off from me you can do nothing." So this text calls us to be branches.
Branches on a real grapevine do two things. First, they hold the leaves. The leaves are sun catchers. The sunlight caught is turned into food for the plant by the process we have named photosynthesis. After the leaf has done its work then the food is moved by the branch into the plant. The plant uses that food to grow more leaves and produce fruit. Second, the branches hold the fruit while it grows. The branch feeds the fruit with the food produced by the leaves. In short, no branches, no leaves; no leaves, no food; no food, no fruit; no fruit, no life. For those of us in the Episcopal Church, this would mean no wine for use in communion.
Jesus, in using this model of the vine and the branches, sets up an interdependent model. We are completely dependent on Jesus for life. Jesus is completely depending on us to do his work in the world. The image employed in the text is, "It is to the glory of God that you should bear fruit, and then you will be my disciples."
A very human parallel is the connection between a grandparent and a grandchild. There would be no grandchildren around at all if there weren't grandparents. So new life is dependent on the earlier life. But, at the same time, it is the parents who raise the children that are the grandchildren. The grandparents just get to love and enjoy them. As one grandparent said, "the only reason to have kids is so that you can have grandkids." The grandparents are dependent on their children to give them grandchildren. It is an interdependent system. Since God creates both grapevines and human families, God must like interdependent systems.
So for those of us who claim that we are Christians, the meaning is clear. The degree to which we are connected to Jesus is the degree to which we are alive.
Our Baptismal Rite describes this connectedness in several ways. First, it tells what we are not. The first three questions asked of one being baptized are:
- "Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?"
- "Do you renounce the evil powers of this works which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?"
- "Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?"
This is a pruning of everything that keeps us from being what God wants us to be. This means that we can be connected to Jesus because we have cut out the barriers to connectedness. We have sworn off the things that kill us.
The next three questions put us in a right relation with God. They connect us to Jesus.
- "Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?"
- "Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?"
- "Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?"
These questions, having been answered with "I do, with God's help" create a branch of the vine used as the model in our gospel text. All that remains is for that branch to go to work producing fruit.
A seven-year-old granddaughter said to her granddaddy, "In this family we are kind of serious about God, aren't we?" He said, "Yes." She asked, "Why?" The granddaddy hugged the little girl and said, "So that I can hug you, tickle you and try to tell you how much I love you and how glad I am that God gave you to us." She said, "That's cool."
It probably wouldn't be well understood if you walked up to a stranger and hugged, tickled and told them that you loved them and were grateful to God because they are here. But, that is exactly what we are somehow supposed to figure out how to do. God is love. Jesus said so. The fruit that Jesus calls us to bear as his branches is love. Since we are Christian, plan on leaving this worship in order to love. Go bear some fruit.