Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The True Vine!

OUR STUDY for the Fifth Sunday in Easter comes to us from the Gospel According to Saint John. The text for the day reminds us of words spoken by Jesus during the evening of the Last Supper. Within that gathering Jesus used a story example, an allegory. To explain his identity, our Lord said…
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
 You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. 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. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.
 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8)

On Being True
Our gospel writer recalled for his church that Jesus used the image of the vineyard to inform his disciples concerning his authority. Using self-description, our Lord said “I am the True Vine”.  Those disciples familiar with Hebrew scripture found that their minds could easily grasp that the symbol of the vine had historically represented Israel. As example, we cite…

Restore us, O God of hosts;
let thy face shine, that we may be saved!
Thou didst bring a vine out of Egypt;
thou didst drive out the nations and plant it.
Thou didst clear the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
it sent out its branches to the sea,
and its shoots to the River. (Psalm 80:7-11)

This same historical theme was also echoed many times in the writings of the prophets. Therefore, any of them immersed in the faith of Israel could note a subtle shift as Jesus spoke. You see, originally the vineyard keeper, the vinedresser. . . was God the Father, and Israel was the vine. Thus by saying that he was the True Vine, our Lord made a very bold claim.
 However we note that scriptures reveal that “Israel”, meant “man who wrestles with God”. Israel was the name initially given to one particular man and not an entire nation. The nation inherited the name as descendants of that one man. From words in Genesis, we find…

And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:27-28)

 Jesus, the Son of Man, then as an individual born of Mary, claimed that he is the "True Vine." This meant that no longer was that title fit for the nation of Israel.
 How so we may ask? The answer is found in that historically, Jesus stood as a direct descendant from Jacob. Where Israel had strayed again and again and destroyed the vineyard of God, our Creator did what was planned in divinity from the beginning of all things. The Father sent his Son to be the true vine. In the task of vineyard restoration, however, Jesus was and yet is revealed as equivalent to God the Father.
 Jesus said truly that it is not Israel as a corporate nation before God that is the vine, but it is he that is appointed as God’s faithful and true servant. Since our blessed writer had already established in the opening Prolog of this gospel that Jesus was the Word, and the Word was God. John set the stage that Jesus had come into the world to accomplish that which Israel could not do.
 Jesus then told his disciples that they were already cleansed and would be pruned. Consequently from the True Vine which is Christ Jesus our Lord, the disciples were grafted and cultivated to become leaders of the church. They learned and taught that the church is to bear fruit (In the Greek - karpos). As his disciples, we are therefore all grafted with them to provide the Word of God as fruit, so that graceful abundance grows. This was, and yet is... the primary purpose of those who labor in Christ.
 However, take care here! Persons or churches that are unfruitful in exhibiting the life of Christ will wither and die. These are burned up in the flow of history. John laid this stark message before his hard-pressed Christian community. In the infant church of his day were those faithful believers who were better off moving through the world without apostate interference. The withered ones falling away possessed a spirit that wilted beneath the heat of growing persecution. In the author’s day, those unfruitful branches represented lightly-rooted believers who had fallen away due to pressure from the synagogue and Roman authorities. Today this translates to us also within our own church and nation, for there are still those amid our ranks who fail to firmly state the primacy of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in all paths of life.
 In certainty then, the life of any believer is meant to glorify our loving and creative God. Just as in the time of the gospel writer, the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to establish the church. As the church working in the modern world through the baptized and active Christian, we are to use faith and love given by the Spirit to do mission and ministry. This must occur in order to work fruitfully against the demons of ignorance, tribalism, racism, principalities and competitive powers.

Firmly Attached!
To do this task well, however, we need to keep our grafted connection with Jesus tight by studying his Word. Remember! It is Jesus alone who was crucified for our sake. It is Jesus who yet lives as Resurrected from the dead. Our ethic then is to seriously study scripture and decide as the church what action love should take in our modern world.
 For example, within modern society many contend that the church of Christ should stand merely equal to, or separate from. . . other worldly powers. In their arguments, these forces attempt to satanically deceive and discourage us.
 We might ask, "How is this done?" I say by using elusive degeneration! Let me cite, for example, that in the U.S. we citizens allow subtle and devious degeneration and misinterpretation of our founding governmental documents. This malady negated the intent of the original Constitutional signatories concerning the freedom of religion. The Christian church is now perceived as forced by law to be separate from the state, subject to the state while having no direct, authoritative basis for input into the workings of our secular government. This legislative distortion has wormed its way firmly into American society. The subterfuge thus enabled the binding the Christian church amid tendrils of deceit. In this way, evil powers may work freely to bury the primacy established by Jesus. Through such blatant ignorance and prejudice now present against God and the Commandments, it is little wonder that we in this nation suffer gross disintegration of the family unit and an increasing breakdown of civil law. Our churches thus dwindle in both influence and population, described as a antiquated sideshow in society.
 However, the church of Christ shall not be silenced in the public square! Though we yet have unfruitful, withered Christians who willingly and passively accept many travesties that exist contrary to scriptural command, these too shall be cast out. A restorative spirit uproots these wandering tendrils of ignorance, casting them into great heretical bonfires of their own making. Recall that Jesus said, “…apart from me you can do nothing.”
 We of the Christian church yet experience strain under the power of sin. Therefore we must collectively and prayerfully remain attached to the good news of Jesus Christ. We must first stand before God and give account. We must realize our shortcomings and confess our failure to bloom and grow. Receiving forgiveness then only because of our being rooted in the grace given by God through Christ, we are reminded that we are privileged to abide in him. This restful essence shall guide us forward to receive the true administration of the Sacraments which were given to us for our forgiveness and empowerment.
As persons who have been mercifully grafted to the True Vine, we today need to go out into the unbelieving world as witnesses. Strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be the empowered bounty of God's everlasting love. Let us therefore be crushed in the wine press of the Almighty… proclaiming sweetly to all that Jesus… and only Jesus… is the True Vine. So it is written by John, and so it shall be… forevermore.

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