Apart from Me
In our scripture today, Jesus is teaching his disciples... instructing his disciples in the importance of their calling and mission... and equipping his disciples for the trials/challenges that lie ahead... Knowing (as we heard last Sunday) that soon he would no longer be with the disciples, physically.
And in doing so... Jesus has left you and me a powerful image/model for living the Christian life...
Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” Which is... honestly appealing to most Presbyterians, I suppose, because it sets things in order... and we strive to do all things “decently and in order.”
If you think about it... it’s easy to see that in just a few simple words, Jesus defines our relationship... “I am the vine, you are the branches...” stressing that “apart from me (cut off from Christ) you (and I) can do nothing.”
Branches on an actual grapevine are incredibly important, aren’t they? The branches are supported, and fed by the vine... they receive their sustenance and life from the roots, thru the vine, no doubt... but they also hold the leaves. The leaves are sun catchers. The sunlight caught is turned into food for the plant by photosynthesis.
After the leaf has done its work... the food is moved by the branch into the plant. The plant uses that food to grow more branches and leaves...
Which reminds us of another important job of branches... branches are where the fruit is produced. And the fruit is what gives life to others. The branch feeds the fruit with the energy produced by the leaves. So... no branches, no leaves; no leaves, no food; no food, no fruit; no fruit, no life.
Of course, by using imagery of vine and branches, Jesus (very intentionally) sets up what we’d call an interdependent model. In other words, we’re completely dependent on Jesus... for life, for ministry, for salvation. And Jesus is completely depending on us - as his chosen disciples (the Elect) - to do his work in the world. “It is to the glory of God that you should bear much fruit, showing (or proving) yourselves to be my disciples.”
I think, on a very practical... and relatable level... we can see the truth of this scripture in the connection between a grandparent and a grandchild. There would be no grandchildren around at all if there weren't grandparents.
So new life is dependent on the earlier life. But, at the same time, it’s the parents who raise the children that are the grandchildren. The grandparents just get to love and enjoy them. As one grandparent said, “the only reason to have kids is so that you can have grandkids.”
The grandparents are dependent on their children to give them grandchildren. It’s an interdependent system. Since God creates vines & branches... and grandparents and grandchildren... God must really like interdependent systems.
So for those of us who’ve been called by Christ (as followers of Christ), the meaning is clear. The degree to which we are connected to Jesus is the degree to which we are alive.
“I am the vine, you are the branches... Apart from me, you can do nothing.”
Our Baptismal covenant describes this connectedness... by asking questions that call for a response...
“Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?”
“Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”
These questions are packed with verbs... action words... renouncing and rejecting and resisting... pruning our lives, in-other-words, of everything that keeps us from being what God has called us to be. This means that we can be connected to Jesus because we have cut out the barriers to connectedness. We have sworn off the things that separate us... kill us.
The next question puts us in a right relation with God... affirming our connection us to Jesus.
"Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve in as your Lord...?"
Of course, we’re taught to answer these questions in the affirmative... “I do” or “I will” are the usual responses! But they imply more than a simple nod in agreement... because when we answer “I do” to all these questions... we soon realize that we can’t, or we don’t - at least not fully.
So, it would be far better to answer... “With God’s help, I do!” Because it’s only with God’s help, that you and I can truly become branches of the vine... it’s only with God’s help that you and I can produce the fruit of the spirit.
A seven-year-old granddaughter said to her granddaddy, "In this family we are kind of serious about God, aren't we?" He said, "Yes." She asked, "Why?" The granddaddy hugged the little girl and said, "So that I can hug you, tickle you and try to tell you how much I love you and how glad I am that God gave you to us."
It probably wouldn’t be well understood or received... if you and I walked up to a complete stranger and hugged them, tickled them, and told them how much we and God loved them! But, with God's help... we can show others the love of God by the way we speak... the way we act. We don’t have to agree with anything the other person does, to love them! We don’t have accept or endorse their lifestyle or life choices... we don’t have to agree politically or theologically. Mature, Christian love... true love... transcends all such things. And we can only love like that... if we’re connected to the source of such love.
We can produce the fruit Christ expects, and in the process, we're actually sharing the gospel and building Gods kingdom of love and light.
And that's our calling... our commission... our ministry.
Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches... Apart from me, you can do nothing.” The good news is, with Christ, and in Christ, there’s nothing we cannot do!