It doesn’t depend on us

                                                                                      Easter 5 – 2015

                                                                              John 15:1-8; Acts 8:26-40

                                                                                                                                                                         Marian Free

In the name of God in w  is the source of our being and of all our doing. Amen.

Abiding, discipleship and bearing fruit are among the themes of this short passage from John’s gospel. John’s gospel is both incredibly simply and amazingly complex. Interlocking themes weave their way through a variety of scenarios and images in a way that makes the text repetitive, but also difficult to untangle. This in turn makes the gospel easy to understand (because the ideas are repeated over and over again) and impossible to explain (because so many ideas are included in a very few verses). 

Take today’s gospel for example. It follows on from the discussion on the good shepherd and Jesus’ statement that he has other sheep to bring into the fold. A new image – that of the vine appears to be refer to this new community – one that includes both the original flock and the other sheep whom Jesus has brought in. This new community is described as the branches of the vine, Jesus, who is the source of their life and fruitfulness. By virtue of their decision to ‘abide’ in Jesus these branches have been ‘pruned’ or ‘made clean’ so that they will bear even more fruit. 

In contrast, those who have not responded to Jesus have lost their connection with the source. As a consequence they wither and die – not because they do not bear fruit, but because they do not abide in Jesus nor he in them. Abiding in Jesus, being connected to the vine allows the branches to bear fruit. Bearing fruit in this instance is not related to good works or what a person does or does not do. ‘Bearing fruit’ describes a person’s relationship to the vine – their connectedness or not. The reason for this, is that it is not the branch itself that produces fruit. On its own, the branch can do nothing. It requires the life giving nutrients that flow through the sap that comes from the vine. A grape vine can only produce grapes. A passion vine can only produce passion fruit. The source of life determines what is produced. 

It is this notion that is at the heart of the metaphor of the vine. Followers of Jesus, those who abide in Jesus and he in them, are so intimately connected to Jesus that their lives are not only empowered by him, but  they are, to all intents and purposes, him. What they ask for will be given to them, not because Jesus wants to indulge them or to reward them for their faithfulness, but because they abide in him. If they abide  in Jesus their lives will be so intimately connected with his, that they will want only what Jesus himself would want. 

The connection between Jesus and the disciples is as close as that between Jesus and the Father. By abiding in Jesus (abiding in the vine), the disciples become one with him and therefore one with the Father. Just as Jesus glorifies the Father, so the disciples, by abiding him will in their turn glorify the Father. Fruitfulness then, is not something we do, but something that God (Jesus) does through us. Bearing fruit is for us, as it is for the branch of the vine, something that it passive not active. It involves opening ourselves up to the life-giving power of Jesus so that Jesus can work through us. On our own we do not produce fruit, but if we allow God to work in us and through us, God’s purposes will be achieved through us and that purpose is that God will be glorified.

The story of Philip and the Eunuch is unrelated, but I believe it helps to demonstrate the point that Jesus is making here. Philip is one of the Greeks who has fled Jerusalem following the stoning of Stephen. Philip goes to the road between Jerusalem and Gaza, not to further some purpose of his own, but as a response to the voice of God. Once on the road, Philip again demonstrates his oneness with God. He hears the voice of the Spirit urging him to join the Eunuch who is confused by what he is reading in the book of Isaiah. Led by the Spirit, Philip asks if the Eunuch understands what he is reading. When the Eunuch says that he does not, Philip explains the gospel so convincingly that the Eunuch is brought to faith and seeks baptism. His task done, Philip is ‘snatched by the Spirit’ and finding himself in Azotus where he continues to share the gospel. 

What these two very different texts have in common is the concept that the spread of the  gospel is not dependent on us but on God. The gospel is spread, not by anything that we do, but by what God in us does. This means that more important than anything we do or do not do, is our relationship with God. God can only work in and through us, this is if we are intimately connected to God (the vine) and if our lives are fed and directed by the Spirit within us. In the language of today’s gospel: if we abide in Jesus and Jesus abides in us our lives will be so completely aligned with that of God that what we want will be what God wants and God’s will will be achieved through us and  fruit that we bear will be the spread of the good news.

For decades now we have been anxious  about declining congregation numbers and worried by the increasing secularisation of the world around us. As a result we have tried all kinds of programmes and invested huge amounts of energy in trying to attract people to the faith. In other words, we allow ourselves to think that the future of the gospel depends entirely on  us. Today’s readings remind us that the opposite is the case. It doesn’t depend on us. The gospel always was and always is in God’s hands. The very best that we can do to progress God’s mission in the world is to allow ourselves to be so utterly and completely swept up in God’s ambit that God can and will work in and through us. To further God’s kingdom in the world all that is necessary is for us to surrender ourselves to God’s greater wisdom and open ourselves to God’s life-giving, life-directing presence and leave the rest up to God.

How can we possibly allow ourselves to think that the kingdom of God depends entirely on us? All we need to do is abide in the vine and  leave it to God to do the rest.

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2 Responses to “It doesn’t depend on us”

  1. Betty Dingle Says:

    Dear Marian,

    Thank you for the deceptively simple truths in this beautiful sermon.

    My love,

    Betty

  2. swallowsrest Says:

    Thanks, there were some new insights for me.

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