We’ll start today with a
brief reflection on the Biblical images of the Vine and the
Vinedresser. I’m going to limit what we look at to what is more
relevant to Spring – vines and vinedressing or pruning – rather than
to the fruit of the vine – grapes and wine. We will be tasting some
of that fruit of the vine later today, but I think we will leave the
biblical images of the fruit of the vine until the Fall harvest,
when, if the Wamboldts will have us, we hope to return.
I also want you to
think, not just about preparing of grape vines, but of the preparing
of our gardens in general, something which you are probably all
beginning to turn your interest to – the pruning of fruit trees, the
cutting back of the overgrowth from last year, the clearing away of
the dead branches.
The point is that these same principles that one finds in the
vineyard carry through with the tending to our gardens – and we have
a wonderful opportunity to meditate on the Biblical images as we
do our gardening.
Old Testament Images
The Bible is full of
references to vines from the beginning to the end – from Genesis to
In Genesis (9:20) we
read that “Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a
vineyard and drank of the wine (and became drunk!).”
In the law of Moses, in
Leviticus, the Israelites were commanded to have a Sabbath year, a
year of rest for all of the land – the vines were not to be dressed
(or pruned) nor were the grapes to be gathered from the undressed
vine (Lev. 25:5). This is from about 1200BC, so clearly the
practice of trimming the vines is very ancient, in fact we can
imagine that it was a well established practice for a long time
It is also clear that it
was commonplace in Israel for individuals to have grape vines at
least from the days of Solomon, about 900 BC. We are told in 1
Kings (4:23) that “Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under
his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the
days of Solomon.” The idea of dwelling under one’s own vine and
fig tree is an image of domesticity and of peace – that there would
be sufficient time for these things to grow undisturbed by wars.
And we see this image being used as part of a description of a time
of peace – in the prophets Isaiah, in Micah, and Zechariah - Mic
4:4 But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his
fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD
of hosts hath spoken it. I don’t know if you’ve been to the Italian
or the Greek neighbourhoods in Toronto, but you will often that this
is the case today in the back yards – families sitting in
their back yards under their
own vines. Maybe in a few years under the influence of the Wamboldts
we will all be sitting under our own vines!
The vine was used as an
image of Israel and of nations that were enemies to Israel. The
enemies of Israel in Deuteronomy are described by Moses as of the
vine of Sodom and the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes
of gall, their clusters are bitter, their wine is the poison of
serpents and the cruel venom of asps. Deut 32:32.
In Psalm 80:8-end it is
Israel itself that is described as a vine brought out of Egypt and
planted in the promised land:
8. Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt :
thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it.
9. Thou madest room for it : and when it had taken root it
filled the land.
10. The hills were covered with the shadow of it : and the
boughs thereof were like the goodly cedar-trees.
11. She stretched out her branches unto the sea : and her boughs
unto the river.
12. Why hast thou then broken down her hedge : that all they
that go by pluck off her grapes?
13. The wild boar out of the wood doth root it up : and the wild
beasts of the field devour it.
14. Turn thee again, thou God of hosts, look down from heaven :
behold, and visit this vine;
15. And the place of the vineyard that thy right hand hath
planted : and the branch that thou madest so strong for thyself.
16. It is burnt with fire, and cut down : and they shall perish
at the rebuke of thy countenance.
17. Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand : and upon
the son of man, whom thou madest so strong for thine own self.
18. And so will not we go back from thee : O let us live, and we
shall call upon thy Name.
19. Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts : show the light of thy
countenance, and we shall be whole.
You can read in this the
political enemies of Israel described as the natural enemies of
vines (the wild boar doth root it up, the beasts of the field
devouring it [no electric fence to keep away the deer, no gun to go
off and scare the birds], it is burnt with fire).
God speaks through the
prophets using this image of the vine in many places – Isaiah,
Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Micah, Nahum, Haggai, Zechariah,
Malachi. Usually the image is of Israel as a vine planted by
God, who expects to see good fruit brought forth, but it yields only
wild grapes. Consider Isaiah 5:1-7:
Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song
of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a
vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered
out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine,
and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress
therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it
brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of
Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and
my vineyard. What could have been done more to my
vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked
that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?
And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I
will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and
break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down:
And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but
there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the
clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of
the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah
his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold
oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
Questions – What do
wild grapes taste like?
Why has it become wild?
What would be its
Jeremiah 2:21 – Yet I
had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art
thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?
[the garden, the fall, original
Israel, God’s people,
and all of humanity, have become degenerate, are in need of some
transformation, not just some trimming, some vine-dressing, but also
We need some kind of
radical salvation – we need Christ!
There are a couple of
places in the Gospels where Jesus uses the imagery of the vine and
the vineyard. In Matthew (21:33-42) Jesus tells the parable of the
householder who planted a vineyard, but that is more appropriate to
our Fall study. The other place that is of greatest significance to
us this afternoon in springtime is the discourse in John 15:1-11.
I am the true
vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me
that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that
beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more
fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have
spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch
cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no
more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are
the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same
bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is
withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and
they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in
you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall
ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I
loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my
commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my
Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things
have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and
that your joy might be full.
Jesus says, I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vinedresser.
This is a wonderful image for us to
have before our minds as we think about our risen Lord Jesus during
this Easter season – we
His branches grafted not into a dead stump, but into the risen Lord
St. Augustine comments on this
passage - he says Christ’s human nature is the vine, and we become a
new humanity in Him - incorporated into His flesh, our flesh is
renewed – that wild degenerate vine has become regenerated. And His
divine nature is the life giving sap that flows into us - His
Spirit, the Holy Spirit.
How do we become engrafted into that
Vine that is Christ? [our baptism]
Every branch of mine that bears no
fruit, he takes away,
Here Jesus tells us that God the
Father is attentive to every Christian. He desires that we bring
forth fruit in our lives, that we allow the Spirit of God to dwell
in us, that we open our hearts to Christ - that we don't just sit on
the sidelines holding in our minds the great truths of our religion,
but that we put them into practice - the Love of God and the Love of
If we are not bearing fruit, we
cannot really call ourselves Christians. We need to be checking
whether we are really abiding in Christ. Would others know that we
are Christian? [we need to be careful here]
And every branch that
does bear fruit he prunes (King
James Version - he purgeth it), that it may bear more fruit.
This is a strange saying to our ears
I think when we first hear it. Surely Christ is happy with all the
fruit that is coming forth in our lives - why would he snip it off?
It seems counter intuitive – just like it is counter-intuitive that
if we snip the vine, it will grow better.
- What is this fruit that would be
pruned away by the Father?
As young or mature Christians we
know that our loves can be diffused. And there is this painful
process that continues, the purging of our souls. The passions of the flesh must be
restrained and redirected, or we will be destroyed by them. It is
the purifying of desire, the cutting away of misdirected love. Even
the best of earthly loves, friendships must be purified, human loves
within a family, between spouses, must be purified or we will be
destroyed by them. The Father prunes our loves, our desires,
painful though it be, so that much greater fruit might be brought
forth. Our disappointments at opportunities that close down
before us, unrequited loves, the ending of unhealthy friendships, painful losses can, if borne in faith,
lead to the bringing forth of more abundant fruit.
"Our worldly tribulations may
be altogether salutary: by the harsh disciplines of
disappointment and bewilderment and sorrow we may learn to find
our treasure elsewhere, and our sorrow may be turned to
joy." [Robert Crouse]
"Darkness and uncertainty, loneliness and
spiritual effort are necessary to us, and, taken right, they are
the growth of faith. They are as much the gifts of God as
certainty and comfort." [Austin Farrer]
In pruning of grape vines or fruit
trees we see this amazing principle. And what is more amazing is
that Christ does not just use this example that exists in nature
because it fits. The same Christ that points out this principle in
nature is the Christ who made the vines and the trees to have this
property. And when He made them with this property He knew at the
same time that He would in the fullness of time come down from
heaven to speak about it to us as a lesson about a spiritual
Our life in Christ seems sometimes
to diminish temporarily when we seek to cooperate with His grace and
put away sin, but then it bursts forth in new ways with abundant
fruitfulness - love and light that cannot be hidden.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the
branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine,
neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine you are the
branches. Whoever abides in me, and I in him, he it is that beareth
Jesus says - the branch cannot
bear fruit by itself. He's not saying your fruit will not be
as much or as good - but there will be no fruit
acceptable to God except that which comes forth through our union
with Him. [See Articles of Religion XII and XIII in the Book
of Common Prayer p. 703.]
Then Jesus gives a warning - If a
person does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and
withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and
The stark reality is that if we try
to live outside of God, outside of the giver of life, it is our
But, If you abide in me and my
words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for
If we are abiding in Christ we will
only want what is consistent with salvation, what is consistent with
love – and Jesus says, then we can have whatever we want.
So then, how do we abide in Christ?
and so bring forth much fruit?
1. Jesus says, If you abide in
me, and my words abide in you-
This is a call for us to meditate,
to think on His words to us, and the Spirit will bring to our minds
His words in our daily life. We are to abide in His way of
2. In the verses immediately
following this Gospel lesson Jesus says, abide in my love. If you
keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept
my Father's commandments and abide in His love.
We are to abide in His way of doing
things… taking hold of opportunities to forgive, to love, to give of
3. Elsewhere in John's Gospel, Jesus
says, "Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the
Son of man, and drink His blood, you have no life in you. . .
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in
Christ is the true vine – the fruit
of that vine is His body and blood given for us. Let us come often
to receive the Holy Communion, Christ's body and blood that we might
remain firmly grafted into that true vine, that we may evermore
abide or dwell in Him and He in us.
Finally, Jesus closes this
discourse on Himself as the true Vine and we His branches by saying,
"These things I have spoken to you,
that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
It is quite amazing what Jesus says
here - it is actually the Joy of God - His joy, not something we
have to fabricate, but His joy that is in us by our union with him.
And this is a joy that no person, that no circumstance however
painful, can take from us. We simply do our part to abide in Him,
and it comes to us.
"These things I have spoken to you,
that my joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be full.”