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2024-04-28 Easter 5

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

During our short stint in the Okanagan at my first parish, we got to experience wine country! There were something like 25 wineries within 10 minutes of where we lived and it was an absolutely gorgeous place to be. Hot and dry weather made for excellent growing conditions for the vines. We never had more friends in our lives ever than when we lived there! Everyone we knew wanted to come and stay with us all the time. When we moved to Oxbow, this trend didn’t continue, for some unknown reason! But we did have a lot of fun touring people around the vineyards up and down the valley and visiting all the estate wineries. Seeing the valley covered in vines and grapes is truly a must see if it’s not on your bucket list already. The views are stunning and sampling the produce is highly recommended as well! All of a sudden our Lord’s parables about vines and fruit and pruning all started to make a lot more sense after seeing it first hand.

That’s the thing about Jesus. He was always using these stories, these parables, to get His points across. Relatable, earthly stories with a heavenly meaning behind them. Today is no different. “I am the vine; you are the branches” (JN 15:5) Jesus tells His disciples. The disciples knew that the vine was the main source of nutrition, growth and life itself for the branches. This is elementary to anyone with any kind of growing or farming experience. Think of a tomato plant. Can any of the branches produce tomatoes if they aren’t attached to the main vine? Of course not. There would be no life and no fruit without this connection. "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” (JN 15:5)

The last part of that sentence is very key: apart from me, you can do nothing. It’s a warning of sorts, a strong reminder that staying close to the Lord and attached to Him was the only way to have life and have it abundantly. If they become cutoff from Jesus, they won’t be able to do a single thing. When Jesus sent them out into the world, He gave them the power to do all kinds of exciting things like casting out demons and miraculously healing the sick. They came back and gave the report, amazed at all they were able to do and say. Jesus reminded them that they weren’t able to do this by their own power or ability. Rather it was by His power that He had given them. Apart from Jesus, none of these things could been possible.

He also applies this same parable to pruning, branches that are cut off from the vine because they are completely dead. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 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” (JN 15:1-2). If we haven’t seen this on grape vines, we have seen this on trees in the back yard. You get branches that die or get broken and must be trimmed to increase the over all health of the tree. What Jesus is referring to in this parable though is people. People that no longer believe in Him as the Saviour, their faith has dried up and withered. The branches are no longer bearing fruit because of this lack of faith. It is here that the vinedresser does His work of cleaning up the dead rot. But even this has a purpose: to increase the health and yield more fruit from the good branches. This can apply in many ways to our church and our lives. If you have antagonistic church members that cause nothing but trouble, sewing seeds of division and hatred for their brothers and sisters in Christ, you get the snip! That deadwood of unrepentant hearts gets cut up and ready for the burn pile.

It’s a stark, spiritual warning not to take our Lord’s grace for granted. Don’t become apathetic. Don’t become an “Easter & Christmas” Christian. This slacker’s path is one that leads to destruction. Instead, be enlivened by the grace of our Lord! Be filled with His abundant life and blessing in the promise of His word and sacraments. Grow the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Eph 5:22-23). And this kind of growth only comes by being attached to and abiding in the vine. You can’t do this when you choose not to come to church. You can’t abide in the vine when you’re not present to receive our Lord’s life that makes such fruit grow.

This pruning process is done also to the branches that do produce fruit. What does this mean? Well, it hearkens back to the fact of our sinful nature. The Spirit is at work in us producing good fruit, but our sinful nature is at work in us producing bad fruit. Lust, anger, addictions, idolatry, love of money and worldly possessions, hatred, jealousy, gossip and on and on and on. It’s this bad fruit that the Lord is working to prune away. And when the cuts come, oh yes it is not pleasant! But it is truly for the long term gain and production of good fruit that gets better and better. We cooperate with God in this process when we repent of our sins, turning away from that bad fruit. But sometimes if we get hung up on those thorny branches of that bad fruit, God might have to set down the pruning sheers and break out the Binford 4000 hedge trimmer deluxe! And when that happens, when the hard times and struggles and suffering come, we remember this isn’t some kind of punishment. Rather, this is pruning. God is calling us to identify those things in our lives that aren’t good, especially sins we like doing, and turn away from them. Let them go because the better fruit needs to take their place.

This really becomes a lesson in the close relationship between faith and works. The more faith we have the more good works, good fruit, is produced. And this becomes ultra important in this post-Christian world we live in. More and more all the time the world is getting more and more evil. Darkness continues to engulf society. But this is a bleak and desolate landscape. The more that people buy into Satan’s lies and fill themselves with sin and evil, the more they are going to need the light and love that Jesus brings - the light and love that are grown and shown through you. Our actions speak louder than words. St. James hammers away at this in his letter: “14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:14-17).

Jesus is the vine. We are the branches. We are attached to Him and abide in Him by faith. In Him we are alive by grace. “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1JN 3:23-24). This is how we bear fruit. This is how we remain alive and attached to the vine. This is how we continue to receive God’s promises of forgiveness, life and salvation. Abide in Christ our Lord now and forever more, for Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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