By Rev. Bill Versteeg
15:1 "I am the true vine,
and my Father is the gardener.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ
All of us intuitively understand the key to this mornings message - which is also the first theme that comes out of this passage.
It's very simply this. We value many things because of their FUNCTION - that is - they fulfill a PURPOSE and we value them for fulfilling that purpose.
Take for example something as mundane as the rear tire on your car. Its purpose or function is to hold the car up off the road and get you places, hopefully with some traction especially in winter. But if the thing goes flat, what do you do? Rip it off, get it fixed. If it can't be fixed what do you do? Toss it!
Or take for example a tea towel. At first you might hang it in your kitchen for decoration. After it has aged for some time, and you have used it enough to stain it, you simply use it for drying dishes. But when it is so worn out that it has holes in it and it has become so thin that it can no longer hold any water, it will be demoted to a floor rag,. When it looses even that function or purpose, it goes in the garbage. We value it for the purpose it fulfills.
I never became so aware of this issue until we moved. We (like you) often have old things laying around the house, and when we move we have to make the choice to keep them or toss them. I'm a bit of a junk collector when it comes to electronics. Last time we moved, it came the time to clean out and pack the garage. That was a scary project! A friend (Burt) came to help me. And he made a rule with me right at the beginning of our project. He would ask me:
"Do you need (not want - I would have kept everything) - Do you need to keep this?"
If I did not answer immediately in the affirmative, it was thrown in the trash bin before I had a chance to way to pros and cons of keeping it. For everything that we kept or threw away, I had to choose wether it would fulfill the purpose of spare parts or have value as something to do with electronics. In the slowness of my decisions, I lost a few things I valued. For every piece I had to answer the question very quickly: "Why should I keep this?" And if there was not a quick answer, I lost it. That is Functionalism at its worst.
I have taken advantage of this truth too. In Saskatoon, at a garage sale, I purchased an old Hewlit Packard 20 Meg hard drive for parts for $19. It only weighed about 400 lbs and took a van to move. Its original cost, somewhere around $120,000. But because it was obsolete, it was worthless.
When it comes to THINGS, we value them because they fulfill a purpose, and if they cease to fulfill that purpose or function, in this disposable culture, we are all too aware of the fact that we will toss them very quickly.
There are exceptions to this rule!
When it comes to living things, ie. people or pets, we value them because of the relationship we have with them. We may have a friend, now we have friends for the purpose of fellowship and companionship. There may be times when a friend might be insensitive, unthoughtful, when he might not fulfill that purpose of friendship. That does not mean we toss them out! Rather we value them because of the relationship itself, and we work on reconciliation.
I suggest to you in fact, that when we start treating living beings as disposable, or if others are treating us like things that have a purpose and if we fail to fulfill that purpose, they break relationship with us and the potential for abuse is present. When it comes to others, our value for each other ought to be based on relationship, not wether we can fulfill a purpose. The very character of love is that it is not conditioned on whether or not we fulfill a purpose that somebody else expects from us. Love is realtional, it cannot be based on function.
In our passage this morning, we discover that God in his wisdom, in dealing with us paints for us a picture that is both functional and relational. This morning we want to focus on the functional part of this picture, though we will end with the key to next Sunday mornings message lest this passage overwhelm us.
This passage starts with our functions as God's people. God has a purpose for our lives and what is that purpose very simply, it is to bear FRUIT.
"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last."
That is God's functional purpose for our lives. If we bear fruit, we are of value to him. If we do not bear fruit..., well notice the passage. God the Father is the gardener, the viticulturalist, and his sole desire is that the branches of the vine might bear fruit, that is how he evaluates them. And everything he does with them in this passage has to do with the function for which he purposed those branches - that they might bear fruit.
Notice what he does.
"I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that does not bear fruit."
Like the tire and the tea towel, those parts of the vine that do not do their job, they are tossed and burned (and frankly - vine branches are not much good even for firewood)
In Viticulture, 90 - 95% of the art is pruning off worthless branches. They reason is, on grape vines, grapes only happen on new growth (new wine just doesn't seem to fit into old wineskins) Those old branches might look wonderful and leafy but the simple truth is that they will not bear any fruit . So God cuts them back and tosses out all that old stuff so that the new vine branches might be fruit bearing ones. The simple truth is that old branches on a vine take up its nutrients so that new vine branches will only produce poor fruit. That is why old branches are cut off.
This first part that the gardener does is the painful to us because he is talking about us - the church, he is talking about us as individuals. This passages forces us to ask oursleves: Are we fulfilling God's function for our lives? Are we bearing fruit that will last? Or are we pieces of greenery adorning his vine that need to be cut off because we are fruitless?
Before we ask that question further, let me point out something else that the gardener does. If he sees a branch bearing fruit, maybe not a lot, but a little, you know what he does to it - this time he does not cut it off, rather he cuts it way down to size.
"He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit while every branch that does bear fruit he prunies, so that is will be even more fruitful."
The whole reason behind pruning is FRUIT - not just a little, but a lot of fruit.
"This is my Father's Glory, that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples." (We will look at this much more extensively in sermon #3 of this series.)
Pruning is also done for the purpose of strength. Some long skinny shaky branches couldn't bear any fruit because simply they are not strong enough. Rather fruit in large quantities grows from a thick branch close to the vine. Therefore the gardener cuts branches short so that when the fruit comes, it will be strong. (We will look at this theme in sermons #2 and #4 of this series)
So the first question this passage asks us is: Are we fulfilling God's purpose for our lives? (That is are we BEARING FRUIT?)
Well, you ask - what does it mean to bear fruit?
Let me describe fruit for you.
1. Fruit never exists for itself. Rather the gardener hires people to come pick it at just the right time, lest the fruit rot on the vine. Fruit is designed for others. However you might choose to define fruit - the first and most basic question is this - are you living to serve yourself or are you living to serve God and others?
(That's why we have tire graveyards - they too don't exist for themselves.)
2. Good fruit is food! This is true of spiritual fruit also, it is for other people to enjoy and grow by, it blesses others, it nurtures them.
3. Good fruit is reproducable - it has the potential when falling onto good soil to reproduce again the same fruit as the original vine. The fruit that the Christian bears out to "rub off" on other people. The faith of the Christian ought to become the faith of those around him. If not, we will be burned.
This has many applications for our lives. For young people, it is very practical. You live in a time when you are making choices about your future careers. And so often you make those choices based on abilities and future income. But how about the question of having a career in which you intentionally bear fruit for God? How does fruit bearing fit into your plans? How are you going to be living your life for others, how is your life in Christ going to be reproduced in others?
We will ask this same question of different age groups. For now, the next question, if we want to bear fruit is - "What is the key to bearing fruit?"
The answer is the wonderful part of this passage. The key to bearing fruit is not in our doing so much, not in our work or activities, the key to the function of bearing fruit is in our RELATIONSHIP with Christ.
"Remain in me and I will reamin in you. No branch can bear fuit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, apart from em you can do nothing."
We will look at that next week.