Good teachers teach from what is right in front of them and my bet is that in this scripture, Jesus is too.
I imagine he and the disciples are on a hike to a new village…the Word, Jesus Himself, Kingdom spreading on foot. They pass through Pasture, and ramble over a sheep trail, sidle next to a farm, and then the trail winds through a vineyard. They are chatting as they walk and now it’s time for some water, figs, bread, maybe some cheese. Vineyard vines provide shade for a picnic.
And Jesus gets quiet for a moment, bites into a fig, tips his head slightly staring off and the disciples know not to bother him when he has that look in his eyes. Something good is coming.
I am the Vine, Jesus begins, the one rooted, planted and you, my friends, you are branches connected to me. He puts his whole hand around ancient, gnarly vines climbing up out of the earth.
I am the one through whom the nourishment comes, and without Me, the Vine, you aren’t able to do much…little branches walking here or there can’t produce fruit on their own. Only connected to Me, does fruit mature. He fingers the tendrils of branches coming out of the vine.
This is how the Message translates Jesus’ words:
1-3 “I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.
4“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.
5-8“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.
And we know that all through the gospel of John Jesus introduces Himself through the ordinary stuff of life. I am the Bread of Life. I am the Good Shepherd. And now, here He goes again with “I am the Vine” and when He says “I Am,” we pay attention because He is giving us a window. He is opening up a window to an important self-revelation.
And this friends, is where I always have gotten tripped up. Jesus says that the danger is when there is no healthy strong fruit, we get pruned off at the end of harvest. I got all tangled up in the words, believing that my responsibility was making fruit. Eyes closed, squeezing my face tight and pushing out ripe purple sweetness.
And ahhhh, it has taken 30 years to get untangled.
Because where does Jesus say is my responsibility? In the connection. Period. Abide in me (make sure your connection to me is vital) and I will abide in you…and my dear, do not worry, fruit will come.
But, here’s the lie that I gulped: “You must do something big for God in order to have worth” and it was preached directly from the pulpit and I know they didn’t mean to, but these were the words: You will know a person by the fruit they have produced. And I heard the judgment and the surge toward production and got tangled. And so I believed that something big was expected from me and I tried straining hard to pop fruit out. I truly did. And it was forced and it was fearful and it was full of the dregs of me.
Because my self-made fruit is full of ego if I have not drunk Jesus. Because, who is the Life? Jesus. Do I really want people to drink unadulterated me? Not so tasty. Bitter. Watery. I want to give TRUE nourishment…Living Water, Bread of Life. If we give anything else but Jesus Himself, it is puny, shrunken, inedible. He is the nourishment the world is seeking. He is the vital Life a despairing culture is seeking.
So the Secret that I needed was this: Connect deeply to Jesus, abide, surrender, live in His Presence, be filled up! and Jesus will drip out. Inevitable. Organic. And full of nourishing love.
And there’s nothing more fun…no joy can compare than handing out pure, unadulterated Jesus.
A drop to my children while laying on their bed listening to their stories of the day, a drop of love to the store clerk giving her a compliment, drops through the Word handed out, a drop drunk deep in the earth as I garden in my yard, a drop of love seeps out onto the neighborhood children as I smile, helping them to know that I believe they are fully-formed people worthy of my attention, drops of joy in the soup, love dripping out with the tears as I pray for someone grieving, Jesus nourishment in a sprinkler of sorts.
Because Jesus can’t be contained!…We drink Him? And He will drip out…all nourishing and sticky and wine-making rich.
Jesus in. Jesus out.
I don’t think I ever understood that fruit does not have to be fully formed and judgable at the Christian County Fair. These were the things I was told we would be judged by: How many people have you led to Jesus this year? How big is your church, your ministry? How much wisdom have you given out? How well-behaved, truth gulping are your children? How perfect is your home?
All along, while I was straining toward finished products, Jesus was watching me stress and speaks truth out of Colossians 2: “Summer, you are complete in Me.” I have gone to the cross and you have been forgiven and you have grace all over you and my dear, I do not judge you because I see you through the site-beams of the cross. And so slowly, as I have meditated on “I am complete in Christ”, I have begun to rest in Christ because no success, no job, no self-made product gives me worth…only He does.
But, I still desire that sweet fruit, the life brimming with purpose. And He wants that for me too…the Kingdom seeping into my neighborhood, my family, seeds of the Kingdom flung out into the world through the avenue of this person He has made.
So He says this: my dear ones, fruit production is My job. This, and only this is your fruit tending responsibility: Connect here.
“Have you surrendered today, surrendered your doubts, your fears, your agendas, have you rested in Me, drank the Word of Me, breathed Me in…so that through You, I can drip out to the people around you?”
Jesus in. Jesus out.
Quite simple really.
But surrender is hard and I have a bent toward making things complicated.
Terry Wardle illuminates the struggle this way in his highly engaging, (manly) book on the Holy Spirit, Untamed Christian, Unleashed Church (you’ve got to read this book!):
He tells the story about a spring deep in the forest close to his home. And as baseball practice began each year, he and his friends would go there since it was only a few hundred yards from where they practiced. But, each year, when they arrived, winter weather had deposited debris and rocks on the opening so that the spring could not run freely. Then, he and his friends would do a little spring cleaning, removing dead leaves and pulling out sticks so that the water would bubble up fresh and clear, so that it would flow strong all through baseball season and into the summer heat.
Could it be that we are like that spring after winter… our connectors are jammed and the Spirit can’t flow and Jesus can’t drip out? My sin and striving gets in the Spirit’s way and the Vine life gets jammed and pruning is just a part of daily life.
Tomorrow’s subject will be about Pruning and its normal place within the Christian life (especially in Lent?) making our good news, GOOD NEWS.
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(This is a previously published post with lots of re-editing.)