JOHN 15: 1-8


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit. 


“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”  If we read this passage from a secular point of view, it is equal parts reassuring and terrifying.  No matter how many times we discuss such texts, our FIRL group almost immediately begins our discussion concerned about the exclusivity of such a claim. It is extremely difficult for us to think of our faith in terms other than ‘who is in and who is out’ or in terms of reward and punishment.   What about the unchurched or the good people of are not part of the church.  Do you really need to abide in Jesus to bear fruit in the world?   What about the judgment in the text: “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”  What happened to unconditional love? Even using images of a father who must discipline his children, it is hard to reconcile a loving and sustaining God with one that not only prunes the unproductive, but also tosses the branches into the fire. We may have a loving father but he sure carries a big stick.


This passage cannot make  sense until we grasp what Jesus means when he directs us to ‘abide in me’.  Jesus has been living and teaching a new way of life with God and our fellow man.  In this passage, Jesus is saying, ‘Stick with me. The life I offer leads to life.  The life I offer will change your life.  The life I offer will save you and will redeem the world.  Abide in me.”  These promises are the foundation of our faith and each of us need to find the words to claim and articulate how we understand that new life.  For me, I make three faith claims.  


  1. We are all God’s children and we are loved.   Human ways of evaluating our value and worth are superseded.  When we realize that we are loved, we are safe with God.  The problem in real life is that as much as we yearn for such a promise, we do not like the vulnerability that comes with it.  Humans are stunningly unreliable.  The most loving among us will still impose limits and conditions on the love that we offer. We can imagine a bigger love but In real life, trusting God’s love  flies in the face of ordinary human experience. 


  1. We should live like love matters.  That is what it means to bear fruit.  Ultimately, it is the only thing that will last.  If we want to be part of eternal life, we must keep Jesus’ teaching central to our lives.  That means loving others even if we feel like we are only a drop in the ocean.   


And finally,


  1. Live like love will prevail.  Our resurrection faith declares that no matter what happens to us in real life, love will prevail.  When we are in pain, when we are suffering and when we witness human discrimination, entitlement and cruelty, this is a huge faith claim.  Our lives are way too short to know the wisdom of our choices but we are called to live as if love will ultimately prevail.   


These are my foundational faith claims when I read the words ‘abide in me.  Jesus will provide the nutrients and support we need to lead a fruit bearing life. Any life outside of that love will lead to a world of hurt. We will be separated from the vine and unable to sustain ourselves.   If we fail to abide in God’s love,  we will be doomed to proving ourselves and protecting ourselves. We will have to be hyper vigilant.  That  life is characterized by fear and anxiety.  God does not want that for us.  So Jesus says,  Remember how I cared for you—-’not as the world gives, give I unto you.’  Abide in me and you will bear fruit.  


He goes on to say: apart from me, you can do nothing.  This is not a threat.  It is an observation about life and a faith claim about what matters.   There is nothing we do or have that we get to keep—no amount of money, no accomplishments or even people.   In the grand scheme of history, even our planet is transitory.  These are not signs of punishment, they are predictable outcomes when choosing to seek what will not last.  Any life that is primarily focused upon proving or protecting ourselves will dry up and amount to nothing.  The life that matters is a life of inclusiveness, regard and love.  That is what God desires for us.  


In order to hang on to these promises we must keep them before us.  We must abide in him.  Our capacity to abide in him occurs through the process of pruning and the experience of prayer. 


Pruning is cutting away anything that fails to bear fruit.  If your money or position is most important to your life, it is far less likely that you will bear fruit. Your money and position will be more important than loving God and neighbor. Many times in life, loss and/or failure force us to rearrange our priorities.  When we lose something or someone that we could not imagine living without, our assumptions about ourselves and what is ultimately important are challenged.  We are pruned and have the opportunity to refocus our lives.  In real life, the cutting away is often quite painful but, just because something is painful, it does not mean it is bad.  It just means it is hard.  Abiding with God in such circumstances means trusting God’s presence in the midst of such times.  


 Interpersonally, there are many ways we sabotage ourselves.   In FIRL I asked what about ourselves needed to be pruned in order to accept the promise that we are loved.  What interferes with our abiding in that promise.  The two most common impediments are when we think too much of ourselves or when we think too little.  In the former, we act entitled and justify our place in the world. In our secret selves we seek agreement and crave validation.   Our need for validation, our need to be right interferes with our ability to actually respect the validity of others.  That is a tendency we must recognize and resist. We must confess and ask that our self centered ways be removed.


And just as common, we think too little of ourselves.  We will not claim our needs (under the guise of not being selfish)  are likely to martyr ourselves and then resent others when we feel overlooked. In such times, our sacrifices are more likely in service to our need to be ‘good’ rather than deep regard for another.  (These are not mutually exclusive.  It is a reminder that we are often not what we advertise.)  Learning what is genuinely loving toward ourselves and others begins and ends with abiding in him.  None of us escape our sinfulness—our turning away from the vine.  We need to have the courage to trust God with our failings and our self centeredness so that we can be redirected by the vine grower. 


One of the primary ways this happens is through prayer.  This text has the incredible promise that: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”


Again, the key here is:  “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you…”  Our wants must always be subject to our abiding in him.’  I have a client who lost her father almost thirty years ago.  She misses him terribly and has yearned for his presence in her life.  In the course of our conversation, this verse came up.  She stopped me and said for the first time since her father died, her prayer was not that her father be restored to her, it was to ask “for me to figure out what I needed to do to move forward.”   Her prayer for thirty years was for her life to be restored to what she knew.  Now she was looking to make use of the life she had been given.  There is no making sense of the ‘why’, there is only abiding in him in our present life.


Lynn Evans referenced two quotes that I pass along to you.  The prayer that is always answered is “thy will be done.”  And second she quoted a woman whose prayer was asking God to “take away the desires that do not align with your desire for us.”  To abide in him is to trust we can come wholly before God with our most selfish desires and doubts and to abide with him is to leave the outcome to God.  


Abiding in him is a conversation and a process. The secular equivalent is the aphorism:  “Good judgment come from experience.  Experience comes from bad judgment.” We don’t arrive at that place without many course corrections and much pruning..    But each time we abide in him, we find nourishment and support.  

Jesus promised that abiding in the vine is the richest life a human being can live.  It does not protect us from the hardships of this world but it sustains us through them. It is the way to life.  Let it be so.