(Year B) Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-32; John 15:1-8; I John 4:7-21
Theme: That we are abiding in Christ (the Vine) is shown by our bearing fruit
Message: The Vine’s Branches Bear Fruit
Preaching these texts calls for balance. Preaching both/and is harder to do than preaching either/or – but the texts this week demand the preacher take up the task of proclaiming both/and.
Seven times in John 15:1-8 (NRSV) we are told to abide in Christ or Christ abides in us – and six times we are told that our purpose is to bear fruit. The link between the two is made explicit in John 15:5 – “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” The first danger for the preacher is to focus on only one part of this equation and shortchange the other part. It can be fun to talk about abiding – about being BFFs with Jesus. But that relationship has a purpose – a goal – bearing fruit. By the same token it can be fun to talk about bearing fruit – about living the outward life – and forget to say clearly that people need to be grafted into the vine – into Jesus – if they are going to bear any fruit. So we need to talk about both abiding and bearing fruit.
The Acts passage helps the preacher make that case. Philip, in tune with the Lord, recognizes and obeys the angel. People who abide in Jesus recognize and follow God’s instructions. Notice Philip overhears the eunuch reading the Bible and joins an already existing conversation. Often our evangelism will be not so much starting a conversation but rather joining a conversation that is already underway. We need to be open to follow the Spirit’s prompting and enter the conversation God has already begun. Philip’s abiding bears fruit as the Ethiopian eunuch is converted. Philip is used to help plant the first church outside of Palestine – the church in Africa. Bearing fruit is about proclaiming the good news of Jesus in word. It is about being ready to engage in spiritual conversations when the opportunity arrives. It is about being open to going to unexpected places when the Spirit guides. Going to those unexpected places may be about going somewhere geographically like Philip does – or those unexpected places may places may mean moving out of our comfort zones to connect with people very different than ourselves, people who live across the street or work in the next cubicle.
The passage from I John also helps us understand what bearing fruit means. God abides in those who love their brother and sister. Our love comes from abiding in the love God has for us – a love which casts out the fear that often accompanies the drive to love our sister/brother. Our love for God – abiding in God – is evidenced in our love for our brothers/sisters.
The second danger in preaching this text is that we might choose only one of these two examples of bearing fruit, and so depict fruit bearing as being either evangelism or loving sister/brother – rather than fruit bearing being both. In fact the two are linked – it would be unloving to not answer our sister/brother/fellow human being’s spiritual questions, not telling them about the good news of Jesus Christ – and it would be poor evangelism to not show love to our sister/brother/fellow human being.
When he calls himself “the true vine” he means, “I am truly the vine, and people who seek strength anywhere else are working in vain. Useful fruit will come only from the branches produced by me.”
…we begin to become “branches” when we are united to him [Christ]. Indeed, Scripture shows us elsewhere that we are useless, dry wood before we are in him.
Being the object of God’s love, we are to love one neighbor in Him and Him in our neighbor; and that is what it is to remain in His love.
C. H. Dodd
Notice that the verb menein in vv. 4ff. is in the present and continual tense. “Remaining” is an ongoing, not already completed, process. The Christian is unable to bear fruit outside Jesus, just as a branch that is severed from the vine is cut off from its source of life and hence its ability to bear fruit.
It is the angel whom we meet first, ordering Philip around, ordering him to do an absurd thing – travel down a deserted road at noon. This is not the first nor will it be the last time in Acts that someone will hear a seemingly absurd order from the Lord.
If the good news is bring preached out there [the desert], it is the world of God, not of people. No triumphal, crusading enthusiasm has motivated the church up to this point, no mushy all embracing desire to be inclusive of everyone and everything. Rather, in being obedient to the Spirit, preachers like Philip find themselves in the oddest of situations with the most surprising sorts of people.
The Spirit called on Philip – Daniel Merrick
Tell me the stories of Jesus
I am the vine, you are the branches – David Edwin Haas
I am the Vine – Ken Medema
Alleluia! Jesus is risen! – Herbert Brokering
I need Thee every hour
Like the murmur of the dove’s song
My song is love unknown
They will know we are Christians by our love
Gracious God, you give us the Word that turns us again and again to you. You give us Jesus who is the greatest manifestation of your word, your love and your purpose. Help us to live fully as baptized people, those grafted into Jesus the branch, the crucified and risen One.
God of the risen Jesus, hear our prayer.
God of all dominion and power, God of love; we can love only because you first loved us. Empower us by your Holy Spirit to be and do the same. When we rest in your love, fear—though present—cannot overpower us. Help us to rest there always.
God of the risen Jesus, hear our prayer.
(Bishop Telmor Sartison (ELCIC) posted on “Lift Up Your Hearts” website)
“I am the true vine, and my father is the vinedresser.” (John 15:1)
Father, thank you for grafting us into your son Jesus.
“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away; and every branch that bears fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2)
Father, prune us so that we can bear good fruit for you.
“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3)
Jesus, please let your words be a cleansing fire in our hearts and souls and bodies.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4)
Jesus, there are so many fruitless branches in the Episcopal Church, please graft them back into the vine and let your Holy Spirit flow through them.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Jesus, help us abide in you each day, keep us from stumbling or trying “to do it on our own.”
“If anyone does not abide in me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:6)
Jesus, prune away the withered parts of our lives so that we may bear fruit for you.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7)
Holy Spirit, please help us daily abide in Jesus, and let his words abide in us. Help us to desire and pray as we ought.
“By this my father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be my disciples.” (John 15:8)
Father, we want to be fruitful disciples of Jesus and bring you glory. Anoint us for this day’s service. Thank you.
(From “Lent and Beyond: An Anglican Prayer Blog”)