faithful worshipper and disciple of Jesus heard that one of his fellow disciples had stated that he no longer needed the church. He didn’t need to worship and he didn’t need the company or encouragement of fellow believers. Upon hearing this, the faithful disciple decided to visit his reclusive brother one winter evening. After supper and pleasantries, the two men seated themselves in front of a fireplace.
Eventually the topic of worship and gathering with other Christians came up to which the reclusive disciple replied: “I don’t need to worship and I don’t need to meet with other Christians. My faith is enough for me. I don’t need encouragement from other disciples”. Upon hearing this, the faithful disciple took the tongs from the rack next to the fireplace. He then pulled a single coal from the fire and placed the glowing ember off to the side. The two watched in silence. The coal eventually ceased burning and it turned an ashen grey.
The faithful disciple didn’t say another word, but the silent message was not lost on the reclusive brother. He resumed meeting with fellow Christians now understands the importance of regularly connecting with Christ through Worship and the Word.
Staying connected to Christ and His church is an onerous task. It could be the most difficult and most misunderstood aspect of the faith. Maybe that’s because God has given each us a free will, none of us are forced to stay connected to the Lord.
Truth be told though, if we’re going to maintain a healthy and life-giving connection with the Lord, then we need to abide in Him to enjoy the blessings that relationship gives us . Connecting and abiding in Christ is priority number one in the life of a true disciple of Christ Jesus.
Today’s Gospel lesson from John 15:1-8 affirms this truth. The Holy Spirit's message through this word is clear. The first three verses contain the fundamental facts of this analogy: Jesus is the vine; God the Father is the vine-grower who works for fruit; and believers are the branches. (Note: Jesus' lesson of the vine and the branches is directed at believers, believers who once knew Christ and then turned their hearts away from him). Believers, then, are to make sure they stay connected to Jesus for various reasons. Here they are:
1. Jesus is the only source of Life
When Jesus said: “I am the true vine” he was highlighting that He is the only source of Life. Life connected to Jesus is abundant and everlasting! Therefore, because of this, Jesus is quite emphatic when he commands us “to abide in him" (verb appears 8 times in this passage). When Jesus tells us to ‘abide’ (‘dwell’ or ‘remain’) in Him, what he means is that we are to live in his love. To abide in Jesus is to abide in his love. It’s all about a living relationship of mutual love.
In John 14:2 (previous chapter) Jesus tells his disciples that ‘My Father’s house has many rooms (abiding places); if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?’ (NIV). The ‘many rooms’ is better translated as ‘abiding places’. These will be places where Jesus is with us, where he is engaged in a blessed relationship with us, where we are completely at home! That’s a snap-shot of eternity right there.
2. Abiding in Jesus results in more Fruit
Here’s the second reason we’re to abide in Christ: staying connected to him results in the production of [more] good fruit. Notice that the vine-grower (God the Father) isn’t concerned with the leaves, or the shade the branches provide, or their beauty. These accompaniments are not what the vine-grower is interested in. The vine-growers interest is that the branches will be productive bear more and more fruit.
In real terms, what Jesus is talking about is that we bear more and more fruit of the Spirit. This is produced by abiding in Him and his love. As we do this the the Spirit does His good work of bringing forth more and more “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:16-23) in our live. Do you want more of this fruit in your life? I know I do.
Well if this is your desire then you must abandon all hope, all hope in self, and all hope in secondary means to procure this fruit in your own strength and means…and you must run to Christ. Run to him. The fruit of the Spirit is never produced apart from Jesus! And the world longs to experience the love, joy and peace that has its source in the vine. Jesus wants you to bear more and more fruit – so that lost people can experience the real and transforming love.
Beloved of God, this can never happen unless one is connected to Christ. Jesus reminds us that nothing can be done apart from him. We cannot produce patience on our own, or joy, or peace, or any other fruit of the Spirit. We can’t will it to appear. We need to abide in Christ and encounter him where he can be found – the entire Gospel, which includes the Word and Sacraments, our daily devotions, bible study, meditation, etc. These are the means God uses to deliver his forgiveness, gifts and grace to us.
And as God pours out His abundant grace into our lives, we're reminded that we receive God's gifts of grace and embrace them by faith! We do this because faith needs something to cling to - tangible means of grace to hold onto this side of eternity. Luther reminds us 'faith must have something in which it believes, that is, something it clings to, something on which to plant its feet and into which to sink its roots. Thus faith clings to the water and believes Baptism to be something in which there is pure salvation and life, not through the water, as I have emphasised often enough, but because God's name is joined to it "
And so, as Disciples of Christ Jesus, we don’t so much concentrate on DOING something, rather we concentrate on BEING something. People of the Vine! Disciples connected and remaining in Christ, and He in us!
Here's a little illustration to help us in this. If you could ask an apple tree what its sole purpose and mission in life was, what do you think it would say? I don't think it would say that its focus and energy go into bearing fruit... I think it would say "my sole purpose and focus in this life is to set my roots deep into the soil and draw nourishment". The fruit bearing would simply happen. That's what it was created to do! As followers of Christ we don't concentrate on DOING fruit bearing, no! We concentrate on BEING disciples who sink our roots deep into the love of Christ. That's our job. We leave the fruit bearing up to God the Holy Spirit. That's His Job. Isn't that good news!
3. Disconnecting from Jesus results in Judgment
While the image of the vine and branches has powerful gospel promises to it, this analogy communicates a loving warning and plea from the Risen Lord Jesus: Stay connected to me; don't disconnect.
The text says that God the Father, who is the vine-grower, does one of two things: He either gives precision pruning to increase the branches fruitfulness, or He removes branches, cuts off branches that fail to produce fruit. (Remember these are folk who were connected to Christ at one time]. Maybe you recall someone who has rejected Christ and His means of Grace and has eventually lost their faith? They are those who once abided and then strayed from Christ (because of the love of money, or the world, or other worldly idols, may because in ignorance they rejection the church, the body of Christ, and and the command to worship God, etc) – and so they are cut off. It doesn’t say how the Father does this – it only says that He does.
My dear friend, brother and sister in Christ, I’m probably the most appropriate person in this place to give this message because I’m so prone to draw strength, at times, from things that give no strength whatsoever. So allow me just make this statement. There are men and women, young and old in every congregation who identify with the people of God, but are unbelieving and fruitless and they will experience the eternal judgment of fire. Jesus makes this clear in His Word to us today.
There are some in congregations that look like branches, and act like branches on a superficial level, but when you really look at them they are fruitless – they’re not connected to the vine. They’re not receiving from Christ. One thing you notice about these people is that they always look after themselves.They are selfish. They are never concerned about others, even those in their church. They play Christians; but there is no visible fruit in their lives. They don’t look any different to those in the world who are on the wide path to destruction. They talk the talk but don’t walk the talk.
This is why the Lord, the apostles, and faithful disciples admonish, reprove, rebuke and warn us constantly against the workings of the flesh. This is why we are called to examine ourselves honestly to see if we are bearing good fruit. Satan, the Word and the Flesh can make spiritual wrecks of those who are unfruitful and turn from Christ Jesus.
These words can cut deeply, but they must in order that the Spirit may triumph over the flesh and bring forth more fruit. How then can we make sure that we continue in Christ, abide with him; stay connected to vine? We will find ourselves in the places where Jesus said he can and will be found - in His means of Grace (The Gospel - the Word and the Sacraments (the enacted Word).
Believer, this is really the question: In a type of contemporary Christianity that makes comfort and entertainment its goal… you are going to have to make a decision. What is it going to be? Do you want to bear more good fruit? Or do you just want to be comfortable and grow wild.
In all honesty, as we count the cost of following Jesus consider this: to bear more fruit will involve a lifetime of training, a lifetime of discipleship, of discipline, a lifetime of pruning, a lifetime of cleaning until the day we close our eyes in this world.
Do you want that? I hope and pray that you do.
So remain in Christ, and keep believe by faith and receiving by faith the promise that Christ is in You! And will provide you with all that you need in this life. Amen.  Rev. 3:15-17: (To the church in Laodicea) ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish we were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired health and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.’
 Luther’s Large Catechism, 1978, pp 101-102