Thursday, March 3, 2016

Lenten Midweek Sermon: "I AM the Vine"

+ Lenten midweek sermon – March 2nd, 2016 +

Redeemer Lutheran, HB
I AM the Vine
John 15:1-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 On December 26th, 2004, an 8.3 magnitude earthquake hit just off the coast of Indonesia, and a massive tsunami soon followed. The destruction was catastrophic. Water, mud, and debris covered the coastline. Thousands were killed on land, and thousands more were washed out to sea.

In the aftermath, the BBC reported a story of a woman named Malawati who was among those swept out to sea. She was stranded, surrounded by sharks, 18 weeks pregnant, and survived 5 days before a cargo ship rescued her. Unlike her husband, and countless others, she survived.

And when reporters asked her how, she said, "I almost drowned twice as I could not swim and was thrashing in the water trying to keep my head up when I chanced upon the tree trunk".

She survived by clinging to a sago palm tree and eating its fruit.

Now, few of us have ever gone through something quite as traumatic as that. But her words reveal a great truth about this Lenten season. We survive the same way.

Cling to the tree and eat its fruit.  I AM the Vine; you are the branches.

Long before Jesus said this, the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah promised that the seed of the woman would one day germinate into a sapling of salvation.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous branch.

Finally, this righteous branch sprouted and came forth from the most unlikely of gardens: a Virgin’s womb. This branch grew and matured in the most unlikely of places, Bethlehem and Nazareth. But it was finally in Jerusalem where this branch would dig his roots deep into the soil that Adam was cursed to tend and till by the sweat of his brow. This righteous branch was not planted in a fertile field, rich in minerals and water but on a barren, dusty hilltop outside the city walls called the place of the skull. There this righteous branch sunk his roots into the soil, and planted the seed of his body into the very earth from which he had first created life. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

But in Calvary’s garden, the righteous branch finally sprouted into a tree. A cursed tree of death for Jesus. A blessed tree of life for you.

Cling to the tree and eat its fruit.

I AM the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Jesus says these words to his disciples during Holy Week, on the night he was betrayed, to prepare them for the coming catastrophe of Good Friday. There would be betrayal, denial, fear, anguish, bitter suffering, and finally death.

But how would they go on? What would they do now? How would they survive?

Cling to the tree and eat its fruit.

And what about us? This fallen world is one catastrophe after another. Earthquakes and tsunamis. Terror, violence, and hatred. Religion and politics. Sorrow, disease, and death.

And as if that wasn’t enough to trouble us, there’s those nagging, troubling seeds of doubt that Satan sows and nurtures within us, threatening to choke the life out of us.

“I have not done what Jesus commanded. I have not loved others as Christ has loved me. The only love that abides in me is a love of myself. All the fruit I bear is rotten. And I am not a branch, but a stick and twig, dried up and headed for the fire.”

“How will I survive? How do I abide in Christ’s love? How do I bear good fruit?”

Jesus gives us the same answer he gave his disciples. I AM the Vine; you are the branches.

Cling to my tree and eat of its fruit. For greater love has no one than this, that the tree lays down his life for the branches. Our life as branches isn’t found by looking at ourselves or admiring our fruit, but by being joined to Christ our Vine. And Jesus the Vine also became a branch for you.

After thirty-three years of bearing perfect fruit for you, Jesus the Vine attached himself to the tree of the cross for you. Jesus the Vine became the branch who withered in the scorching heat of God’s wrath for you. Jesus became the branch who was cast into the fire of hell itself: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me – all for you. Jesus the branch was cut off from the Vine for you.

Cling to the tree and eat of its fruit. And you will never wither, never be cast off or cut down from the Vine. For Jesus, the righteous branch who knew no sin, became sin so that in Him you become righteous branches of God.

Jesus the Vine redeems us from the curse of the law by becoming the curse for us. Jesus is cursed and you are blessed. Jesus the Vine withers and dies, you grow and live in Him. Jesus is cast off and you are grafted into Him who is the Vine. You are a new plant, thriving in the fertile soil of the tree of life. And like any new plant you need water, food, and sunlight. In Jesus, the Vine, you have everything you need: daily you are watered in in the living waters of your Baptism, Jesus feeds you with the fruit of his crucified and risen body, and you Jesus’ radiant warmth and joy abiding with you by his Word and promise:

I AM the Vine; you are the branches.

And that’s how we live. Cling to Jesus’ tree, and eat of its fruit.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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