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 03, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter (B)

May 3, 2015
Text: John 15:1-8

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

            Every branch gets cut, one way or another.  There are the branches that have cut themselves off, preferring to go it alone apart from the Vine.  And there are the dead branches in whom is no life of faith in Christ, no fruit of love.  These the Vinedresser, the Father takes away and throws into the junk pile.  Then there are the living branches, the Christians, who remain connected to the Vine, our Lord Christ.  These, says Jesus, the Father prunes.  I don’t know enough about gardening in general, nor vine dressing in particular, but I do know that if you want a plant to remain healthy, you have to cut away whatever is dead or diseased in it.  What is dead or diseased in you?  All that remains of the sinful flesh.  All that is not of faith.  All that is not of Christ.  These the Father must strip away by pruning.  And it hurts.  Using other pictures, we call this the daily drowning of the Old Adam in the waters of Holy Baptism, the crucifixion of the Old Man.  This is repentance.  This is the cross.  This is any suffering or affliction the Lord uses to cut away all that is dead and diseased, so that you grow into a healthy and thriving branch of the Vine, Jesus Christ. 
            But everyone gets cut.  As I mentioned, there are some branches that cut themselves off completely.  Now, if you cut a branch off a vine and lay it aside, it will appear to go on living for a time.  It will still be green.  The leaves will still look fresh.  But not for long.  Because you’ve cut that branch away from its source of water and nutrition.  The roots belong to the vine, not to the branch.  So the cut-off branch will very soon wither and die.  The leaves will shrivel and fall away.  And there is no chance of the branch bearing fruit.  For all practical purposes the branch is dead the moment you cut it.  So it is with those who cut themselves away from Christ.  It may appear that they remain alive, even apart from Christ.  Maybe they’re still nice people.  Maybe they still help their neighbors and give to charity and send cards to the moms on Mother’s Day.  But their faith is dying.  Maybe it’s so gradual, they don’t even know it.  They may not know it until it’s too late, when they breathe their last and find themselves cast into the outer darkness.  It is tempting, sometimes, to cut yourself off from Christ.  It would be easier to conform to the world and cater to the desires of the flesh.  You could do what you want.  You wouldn’t have the Sunday morning obligation.  The world would embrace you.  No more danger of persecution.  It might be nice for a few years (and let’s face it, your earthly life is only a few years in the grand scheme of eternity).  But then what?  What happens in the end?  You find yourself eternally dead, eternally dying.  That’s hell.  Eternally separated from the Lord and Giver of life.  That is why the Church prays so earnestly for people who have cut themselves off from Christ.  Lord Jesus, bring them back to Yourself!  Rescue the lost sheep!  Grant them repentance and restoration!  It doesn’t always happen.  But it does happen!  I’ve seen it.  Never give up praying for the lost, loving them, and confessing Christ to them.
            Then there are those branches that are still connected to the Vine, but are dead nonetheless.  Somehow they’ve cut themselves off from the nourishment of the Vine without actually, physically separating from it.  The thing is, it takes the expertise of the Vinedresser to tell the difference between a truly dead branch that needs to be cut off, and a diseased branch that needs pruning.  In other words, you can’t tell the difference.  Only God can.  So don’t set yourself up as Judge.  That is God’s job.  Your judging is dangerous, because it could actually make you one of these dead branches.  Repent.  The dead branches still superficially connected to the Vine are hypocrites by the true definition of the word.  They appear to be Christians, they belong to a church, maybe they even come to Church every Sunday.  They lead pious lives and do nice things for people.  But their dark, dirty secret is that they don’t finally believe in Christ.  Not as their Savior.  Now, I will say, if you’re worried you might be one of these people, you’re not.  The thing about hypocrites is, it doesn’t worry them that they’re hypocrites.  What happens to these is that God Himself eventually cuts them off from the Vine.  The Church earnestly prays for these, that the Word of God would be like unto a hammer upon their hearts of stone, to break them into pieces and make of them new and living Christians, branches connected to the true Vine, Jesus Christ, receiving of His life-giving and nourishing sap, the Holy Spirit.  This happens, too.  I don’t know if I’ve seen it, because you can’t tell the difference between the hypocrite and a believing sinner.  Only God can see into the heart.
            What happens to these branches if they don’t repent, is that God Himself cuts them off and throws them into the refuse pile, along with the other branches that cut themselves off.  And in the end, what happens?  Jesus says “the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6; ESV).  Again, that’s hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48).  Beloved, do not cut yourself off from Christ.  Do not do it outwardly, separating yourself from the Communion of Saints, absenting yourself from Church and denying yourself the Lord’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation dispensed in His Word and Sacraments.  And do not cut yourself off inwardly, secretly denying your Lord while outwardly maintaining the appearance of Christianity.  If these dead branches are you, repent.  The Lord is calling you to life, breathing His Spirit into you now by His holy Word.  It’s not too late.  But the Day is coming, the Day of Judgment.  Now is the time of salvation.  There may not be a tomorrow.  Do not delay.  Confess your sins and receive the Holy Absolution, which connects you once again to your Savior, Christ, the Vine. 
            But as we said, everyone gets cut.  Even the faithful Christians.  Because the thing about faithful Christians is, they often look more like hypocrites than the hypocrites.  They look diseased and dying.  Your sins are deadly.  But the Father tenderly cares for these branches.  He tenderly cares for you.  Now, what He has to do to you is painful.  He has to cut you.  He has to prune you.  He has to call you to repentance.  So He gives you trial and tribulation to endure.  He leads you to despair of yourself, so you are not tempted to cut yourself off and go it alone.  He leads you to despair of others, so you are not tempted to seek salvation in some other vine, as if you could hop off one and connect yourself to another.  Every sorrow, every misfortune, every sickness, disease, or catastrophe, is a gracious call from the Father to repentance, to abide in Christ as your only Savior, to stay connected to His Word and Sacraments here in the holy Church, in the Body of Christ, with your fellow branches.  It is only here in the Church, where Jesus forgives your sins, waters you at the font, feeds you with His Word and with His Body and Blood, and imparts His Holy Spirit, that you stay alive, and bear fruit. 
            Because here His cross and death and resurrection life flow into you and enliven you to bear much fruit.  The cross is the source of it all.  There our Lord Himself was pruned, more than that, cut off by the Father and thrown into the fire.  The whole Vine was uprooted and burned on the cross.  On the cross, the whole Vine dies.  And if the Vine dies, the branches die.  You died with Christ, you branches, you who are baptized into Christ.  And since that is true, you are also risen with Christ, you branches who are baptized into Christ.  You have new life.  You have eternal life.  You already possess it in connection with Christ, the Vine.  It will appear fully on the Last Day.  Your life flows from the Vine, Christ Jesus, who is risen from the dead.  In Him your sins are forgiven.  Your flesh is pruned by God, your heavenly Father.  And you bear fruit, the fruit of faith in Christ and love toward your neighbor.  Your fruit looks outwardly an awful lot like the same things the cut-off branches are doing.  You help your neighbor, give to charity, and send a card to your mother.  But you do it in faith.  You do it in Christ, connected to Him.  And so your works are sanctified.  It is His love flowing through you to those you serve.  Apart from Him, those works are not pleasing to God.  But in Christ, they are heavenly fruits, a pleasing aroma, a sacrifice of thanksgiving, holy, and acceptable to God.  Because they are made in and with the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ.  “I am the Vine, you are the branches,” says Jesus.  “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

            So abide in Him.  Which is nothing else than to say, receive the gifts He gives you here.  Do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it (Small Catechism, 3rd Commandment).  Remember your Baptism and rejoice that you are washed clean of all sin and made a beloved Child of God, your heavenly Father, upon whom you can call at all times for help and blessing.  Come to the Feast of our Lord’s true Body and Blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and be strengthened and nourished for LIFE in this dying world, life in the midst of the pruning, life that outlives death, eternal life that will result in your bodily resurrection on the Last Day.  You abide in Christ when His Words abide in you.  The Word does it all.  By the Word you are cleansed.  By the Word you are connected to Christ.  By the Word His life flows into you and bears much fruit.  Be in the Word, and let the Word be in you, and you will be in Christ, and He will be in you.  And you will live.  Indeed, He is at this very moment in you, giving you life.  For He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.             

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