Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter (B)
May 10, 2009
Text: John 15:1-8

Beloved in the Lord, do you want to bear fruit for God? Do you want to lead a God-pleasing life? Do you want to lead a life of praise and thanksgiving for all that God has done for you, a life that seeks His glory above all things and benefits your neighbor, a life lived according to God’s will? Do you want to let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven? Beloved, you cannot bear fruit for God outside of our Lord Jesus Christ. You cannot even begin to do good works unless you are connected to Jesus Christ as a branch to the one true Vine. If you want to do good, if you want to please God, if you want to bear fruit for Him, you must remain, abide, in Christ Jesus. But how? What does it mean to abide in Christ Jesus and how is this done?

At first glance it may seem like Jesus is commanding you to do a work for salvation, namely, attach yourself to Christ and then make every effort to abide in Him. But a branch does not attach itself to a vine. A branch grows out of the vine. A branch does not sprout its own vine, nor does a branch have the ability to choose which vine it will sprout from. The vine sprouts the branch. By grace, dear Christians, you are given to sprout from the true Vine, Jesus Christ our Lord. You grow out of Him. Your source is the Vine, Jesus Christ. And the Vinedresser, our heavenly Father, tends His Vine, His Son Jesus Christ, and tends the branches, holy believers who grow out of Jesus Christ. This is not your work. This is wholly the work of the Vine who grows you, Jesus Christ, and the Vinedresser who tends you, the Father, and they do their work on you through the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from both. This is how it works: The nourishing sap of God’s holy Word and Sacraments flows from the Vine that is Jesus Christ into the branches, you, the holy Christian Church. It flows from the true Vine into you individually who are members of Christ’s Body, the Church, members of the Vine. This is all pure grace without works on your part. You grow out of Christ by His grace, and you are continually fed and nourished by His grace. And so being nourished, you have life and health and you bear fruit. You bear fruit for God. The fruit that you bear is a life of repentance, praise, and thanksgiving to God for all that He has done for you, and good works that benefit your neighbor.

As long as you abide in the Vine, you will bear fruit. As long as you continue to receive the life-giving nourishment of the Vine in the Word and in the Sacrament, your praise and thanksgiving and good works will bud forth. But outside of this Vine, you can do nothing. Outside of this Vine, you are dead. You can cut off the live-giving nourishment that comes to you from the Vine. It’s actually very simple to do. It’s as easy as not coming to church. This is a timely reminder as the summer months approach and it is so easy to decide to take a vacation from being a Christian. What I mean by that is you start to think that four or five weeks, two or three months, you fill in the amount of time, is not that long to go without the Word and the Sacrament. But what happens during that time is you gradually start to weaken in the faith. From the practical side of things, you begin to fall out of the habit of coming to church. From the spiritual side of things, your defenses against the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh begin to be compromised. And mark my words, the devil especially will capitalize on any weakness he sees, particularly if he can introduce doubt, or perhaps worse, spiritual apathy. Before you know it, you’re not only NOT bearing fruit for God, you’ve become a dying branch. The problem is that you’ve cut off the life-giving nourishment of Christ that keeps you spiritually healthy and vibrant. This is precisely what Luther is talking about in his explanation of the Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.”[1] Needless to say, parents and those responsible for the spiritual health of children need to be especially on their guard against such spiritual laxity, for they not only cut themselves off of Christ’s nourishment, but their children as well.

I want you to be in church every Sunday not because of the offering or the attendance statistics, but because this is a matter of eternal life and death for every individual in this congregation. I want you to be in church every Sunday, and more importantly, your heavenly Father wants you to be in church every Sunday, because of the gifts of our Lord Jesus Christ which you can only get here, in His Body. I’m talking about the preaching of the Word, the Holy Absolution, the public reading of the Scriptures, Baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar, the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren. You can’t get that in a boat out on the lake. You can’t get that out on the golf course. You can’t get that with just you and Jesus without the Church. Not the way you get it here among Christ’s holy people, here where He has promised to be for you with His gifts, in full measure, pressed down, overflowing. Here you receive that very blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses you from all sin. Here you are nourished with Christ. You are nourished with His Word and Sacrament. His nourishing sap flows through you and buds forth so that you bear much fruit. “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” (John 15:4-5; ESV).

This is both a dire warning and a tremendous comfort. It is a dire warning never to stop up the flow of life-giving nourishment from our Lord, because if you stop that up by refusing to receive His gifts, you will cease to bear fruit. Ceasing to bear fruit is the evidence that the branch is dead. And Jesus says that any branch that does not bear fruit, the Vinedresser, the Father, will cut off from the Vine. “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” (v. 6). On the other hand this is a tremendous comfort for Christians who are joined to their Lord Jesus as branches to the Vine. Every branch that does bear fruit, every branch abiding in Christ and receiving His life-giving nourishment, the Father prunes, in order to make that branch even healthier and more fruitful. That is to say that the sufferings and temptations and trials of this life conform you to the image of Christ, drive you to His mercy, to His nourishment in Word and Sacrament, and thus make your faith even stronger and increase the quantity and quality of your fruit. And there is a great promise here for you: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (v. 7; emphasis added). Well, what does that mean, considering I don’t always get what I ask for? It means that abiding in Christ, and in His Word, you will ask according to Christ’s will and according to His Word. And God’s answer will always be yes to such a request. Actually every answer God gives to a Christian’s prayer is yes. It’s just that His yes is so much bigger than we could ever ask or imagine. The old story goes that a boy asks his father for a knife. The father gives his son an apple. God always answers your prayers with so much more, and so much better, than your request. In Christ, His answer is always yes.

And you will bear fruit. For you cannot be connected to Christ, a branch abiding in the true Vine, without bearing such fruit. His life-giving nourishment will always bud forth into abundance. Faith is always active. Martin Luther wrote, “O, when it comes to faith, what a living, creative, active, powerful thing it is. It cannot do other than good at all times. It never waits to ask whether there is some good work to do, Rather, before the question is raised, it has done the deed, and keeps on doing it.”[2] You may ask, “What good works? In my flesh I see nothing but sin and death.” How true. In your flesh. But remember what Jesus says about the fruit His people bear for God, how they feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, etc., and they don’t even remember having done it. They aren’t even aware of their good works. Yet in truth, having done good for their neighbor, they’ve done it unto Christ. Faith doesn’t keep track of the fruit it bears. Faith is too focused on Jesus Christ and the flow of His nourishment to look back at its own works. Faith simply trusts that Christ will use it to bear fruit. Look to Christ and you will bear fruit. Look to your fruit, and you will dry up. It is not your fruit that gives you nourishment, but Christ, the Vine. Abide in Christ and He in you with His good gifts, and there will always be an abundance of fruit. You will be pruned, but this is for your health and vitality.

Beloved in the Lord, do you want to bear fruit for God? Abide in Christ Jesus. Abide in His Word. Look to Christ crucified and risen for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. He will produce fruit in you. And by this the Father will be glorified, and you will show the world that you are disciples of Jesus Christ. That’s His promise. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).
[2] Martin Luther, “Preface to Romans,” John Dillenberger, Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings (Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1961) p. 24.

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