“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who abide in me and me in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1-2, 5)
I think of today’s passage as John’s version of the great commission. Most people think there’s only one great commission in the Bible and it’s at the end of Matthew’s gospel. In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “Go into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” But Jesus gave instructions to his disciples on several occasions before sending his disciples out.
Early in his ministry Jesus sent the disciples out two by two into the villages with the commission to call people to repentance and cast out demons. And Jesus meets Paul on the road to Damascus, confronts him for persecuting his people and then gives him a personal commissioning. So, it’s not surprising that John 15 would be seen as a commissioning – after all, these words are part of the farewell discourse of Jesus and are instructions on what to do after he is gone.
And the instruction to the disciples is two-pronged – abide and bear fruit. Abide in Jesus (stay close to Jesus), and to bear fruit (continue to show the love of Christ in your life and ministry). Abide is used ten times in today’s passage and the phrase “bear fruit” is referred to seven different times! Clearly this is the central message of Jesus to his disciples after he is gone.
And Jesus uses the analogy of vine and branches when talking about staying connected to him. “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just 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 and you are the branches.” The Greek word for “abide” (meno) literally means “stay” or “reside.” So, we are to reside with Jesus, stay close, remain connected to him. Why? Because if we do we can remain fruitful as his disciples. “Those who abide in me and me in them bear much fruit because apart from me you can do nothing.” So, the fruitfulness of our ministry as individuals and as a church is dependent on our remaining connected to him.
We can’t do this on our own – our gifts and resources are insufficient in themselves. We need the blessing and guidance of Jesus upon our mission and ministry in order for it to be fruitful.
Church attendance has been on the decline in churches for the last 20 years but one thing that has grown exponentially in that time is the Church Growth industry. There are no shortage of books, videos, consultants and coaches to tell you how to go about growing your church. It seems that anybody who has any success at all is deemed a church growth expert and is obligated to write a book. So, there has been a proliferation of literature, workshops, lectures and webinars on the topic. And I don’t deny that there is wisdom to be gained, but if wisdom was all we needed, more churches would be turning around by now. Wisdom alone does not guarantee growth.
What does? According to John 15, we need to abide in Jesus, remain connected to him in order to remain fruitful. Our effectiveness as a church begins staying connected to Jesus and be open to his leading us. And for the last two weeks the Faith in Motion group has been encouraging us to do just that – strengthen our connection to Jesus by daily reading of selected scripture passages and then prayerfully discerning how that passage might apply to us as individuals and as a church. And today at the end of this worship service we are going to take some time to do just that – we’ll gather together in small groups and hear what each of you have discerned. It may not seem like much, but we want to hear what the Spirit has been laying on your heart about Hidenwood.
Be suspect of any who use this opportunity to plant fear and hopelessness among you. God’s commissioning is always hopeful and empowering. Remember that these times are not near as challenging as those in which John writes his Gospel.
At the end of the 1st century the Church was experiencing growing oppression from the Roman Empire. They weren’t being martyred yet, but they were being bullied and ostracized for their faith! And Christians were also in serious conflict with the synagogue. So, John offers up these words of Jesus as a commission – a way forward for the Church. Abide and bear fruit. Nurture a close relationship with Jesus, whose presence will sustain you, whose wisdom will guide you and whose truth will shine before you. And bear fruit by loving one another as Jesus has loved us. Don’t return evil for evil. Don’t become dark – share the light of Christ, don’t tear people down, build them up, don’t be divisive, be forgiving and reconciling.
That’s the two-pronged message from John ‒ stay connected to Jesus and bear the fruit of love. And when people see a community of faith like this they will be attracted to it and to Christ despite the times... because there’s nothing in all the world more attractive than the love of Christ.