Our gospel today is about the vine and the branches. This isn’t the book of Revelation here—this isn’t some mysterious passage where you need the preacher to decode it for you. We ask, What does it mean to be a Christian, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? And the answer is clear: Stay connected to Jesus, and then go out there and produce results. In verse 8, Jesus says, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourself to be my disciples.”
“Apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up and thrown into the fire and burned.”
Sounds harsh, but it’s the truth. Oh, I know, there are always people who worship on Sunday, only to turn around and do something nasty during the week. Sometimes they don’t even wait till Monday before snapping at someone. But I also know this: The surest way to fail in life is to cut yourself off from the vine, to cut yourself off from Jesus Christ.
This is literally science: In every measure of happiness, churchgoers score better. –
Even now, when “go” may mean nothing more than walking to a different room in your house! — Churchgoers are more likely to have a lasting marriage, and less apt to become roaring drunks. Churchgoers even live longer. So there’s the warning: If you cut yourself off from the vine, your life isn’t going to go anywhere good.
Showing up here is not a guarantee of success, but it increases the odds. There are a lot of frustrated, unhappy people out there; but there are fewer of them in here.
So there’s the warning. But let’s look more closely at this image of the fruit, the grapes. In verse 5, Jesus says, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” Jesus compares us to branches on a grapevine, bearing huge clusters of grapes.
So, let’s think about grapes….
(1) First, grapes are colorful. Remember when you could still just walk into a store and check out the grapes? Sometimes the Concord Grapes are so purple that they’re almost black. And sometimes the green grapes are so light that they’re nearly yellow. And there are lots of other colors in between—all kinds of reds and maroons and pinks.
The Christian is a colorful person. Jesus says to go out there and bear much fruit. Jesus wants us to go out and bring some color to the world. It’s ironic that some groups have thought that good Christians should avoid color, and just wear black and white, like the guy on the oatmeal box.
And it’s sad, because too much of our world is already drab and dreary on its own. Think back a couple of months: We get caught up in mechanical routines—the same thing, day-in, day-out. Get up, get dressed, go to school, go to work. The teacher yells at you. The boss chews you out. Some customer gives you a bad time. Yeah, yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah.
Jesus calls us to splash some color on that canvas. Bring a cluster of grapes to the table. If you have faith–if you trust God to do the heavy lifting in your life–then you can stop worrying so much. You can bring a smile and a sense of humor to those around you. You can brighten up their day.
We don’t always act like it, but Christians should be the happiest people in the world. Bring some color, bring some life. Bring some sparkle into the world—because the world really needs it. Grapes are colorful.
(2) Second, grapes are sweet. Remember Grape Nuts? It’s a funny name, because Grape Nuts doesn’t have either grapes or nuts. So why is it called “Grape Nuts”?
The cereal got its name from what happens when you bake wheat and barley. The starches break down into dextrose, which used to be called ”grape sugar.” So Grape Nuts—little baked nuggets–are sweeter than you’d expect. People don’t usually put sugar on their Grape Nuts. Grapes are sweet.
Jesus expects us to go out and bring some sugar, a little sweetness, into the world. So often, life leaves a sour taste in our mouths.
We bring that sweetness in two ways:
First, we behave. It doesn’t always happen, but Christians are supposed to avoid the verbal abuse that leaves a sour taste behind. We’re not supposed to be mouthy or snippy. We’re supposed to give up the insults, cheap shots, and name-calling. Instead, we’re supposed to bring the sweetness of words that are understanding, positive, and constructive.
And then we bring the word of forgiveness. We live in an unforgiving world, where everything you’ve ever said or done can and will be held against you. Jesus calls you to forgive and forget, to set people free, to let life go on and go ahead. Go out there and throw some sugar on all the sourness. Grapes are sweet.
(3) Third, grapes are juicy. Throughout history, in many parts of the world, people have used grapes as we use water: Grapes are used to quench the thirst. Without the benefit of modern chemistry, plain water is often unfit and dangerous to drink. Even in 2020, at least three and a half million people will die from a lack of clean water. So in the ancient world, grapes were valued for their juiciness, for their refreshment value.
Jesus expects us to be juicy Christians, a source of refreshment in a world gone dry. Life often leaves us feeling drained. Jesus calls us to bring the refreshment of compassion. Do you ever feel like nobody cares? Jesus calls us to care. Did you know that almost everything good in life, things we take for granted, can’t be explained apart from Christianity, apart from people trying to bring a little refreshment?
Most hospitals were started by churches seeking to bring refreshment from illness. Today, we’re told to ignore the sick and let them fend for themselves, but Christians believe in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We’re supposed to help, and help not only our friends, but people we don’t know, and maybe don’t even like.
Most colleges were started by churches seeking to bring refreshment from ignorance. Today, we’re told that schools are evil. In many schools, teachers are forbidden to talk about climate change or evolution. But Christians believe Romans 1:18: Paul says God is revealed in his creation. So you can’t know God if you’re afraid of science, and want to deny it or cover it up.
Churches help people in every part of the world. We bring food, health care, clothing and shelter to those in desperate need. Today, we’re told that helping people in other parts of the world is against the American way. But Christians believe that when we help the least of our brothers and sisters, we’re doing it for Jesus himself.
And what we do around the world, Jesus expects us to do in our daily life. Bring some refreshment to those in need. Reach out to someone who’s lonesome. Bring some comfort and support to someone who’s going through a rough time. Jesus calls us to be compassionate people who care about others. That’s a great way to bring some juiciness, some refreshment, to a world that’s always going stale and dry. Grapes are juicy.
(4) Now, grapes can be preserved by drying them as raisins, or by fermenting them into wine. You can make almost anything into alcohol. Barley makes beer, potatoes make vodka, sugar makes rum. But throughout history, the most valuable product has been wine made from grapes. Some will pay thousands of dollars for a single bottle of wine.
Those are the wines that have been allowed to age. When you put a wine bottle on the shelf, two things can happen. If it’s not corked properly, it will turn into vinegar.
And some Christians won’t put a cork in it either. As they get older, they turn into vinegar—old fools who gripe, and leave a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth.
But good wine is meant to mature and mellow, and become better than when it was first made. Jesus expects us to mature into fine, mellow people. In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul says that we are to “become mature” and attain “to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” He says, “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
How are you growing as a Christian? How are you developing? Are you becoming more mellow, or are you turning bitter? Are you becoming richer and fuller, or are you just getting sloppy in remembering to forgive and reach out?
Grapes make rich wine and can be extremely valuable. How valuable is your faith to others?
So think about the grapes. Remember their color, their sweetness, their juiciness, and think about what they can become. And then remember that that’s what Jesus expects from you. We ask it in his name.