I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just 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. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. John 15.1-6.
You may have noticed that I haven’t posted on this blog for a while, and that is because I have been on holiday in Crete and working on a new book. However, while on holiday and sitting in the little shady corner where I did my writing each day, something caught my eye from the very start, and I feel the need to write about it this morning.
I’d like to begin by asking you to look closely at this photograph I took of my writing corner and see if you can see what it was that I saw. Start in the bottom left-hand corner and work up towards the top-right.
Bunches of grapes? Yes – there are several of them, hanging there, half-hidden among the foliage that has draped itself over the patio wall.
Now I don’t know about you, but whenever I see a bunch of grapes my mind immediately jumps to the passage from John 15 that I have set out above; but when I saw these grapes on holiday I suddenly began to see that passage in a new light.
Until then, you see, I had started (as does John 15) with Jesus. ‘Do I know him as the True Vine?’ I would ask myself. The answer would be, ‘Yes;’ so, OK, I would then move on to me, a branch, and ask myself ‘Am I abiding in Jesus?’ Again I would answer,’Yes;’ and at that point I would conclude, ‘OK, so I have no need to worry about the fruit – the promise is right there in John 15 that there’ll be “much” of it – whether I can see it or not. I mean, I’m aware that I’m not always loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful or self-controlled; but I try to keep those deficiencies well-hidden and others presumably don’t notice them.’
Seeing the grapes on holiday turned my approach on it’s head. I started with the grapes. Yes, they were real – I picked one and tasted it. Full of pips (which I’m not used to in supermarket grapes) but quite sweet. Not perfect (I’ll come back to that) but real or ‘true’ grapes. So there must be a branch. I pulled the foliage aside until I found it; and there it was, coming over the wall from the adjoining property. But where was the vine? I still don’t know. Presumably, it was somewhere on the property to which I had no access, or even the property beyond that – I just don’t know. But what I do know is that, even though I couldn’t see it, the true vine was there somewhere because there were true grapes on the branch that had crept into the little courtyard where I was doing my writing.
And it began to dawn on me, looking at those grapes each day, that they are the proof of the branch ‘abiding’ in the vine. And they point to the reality of the vine itself. Do I want others to know that Jesus is real? Then I need to be bearing much fruit. Am I bearing much fruit? No? Then I need to get real – I’m kidding myself about my abiding in the vine.
I said earlier that the grapes were not perfect – you can see that for yourself from the second image. But they are recognisably grapes. They are not cherries or apples or bananas or figs. Jesus said: ‘You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?’ (Matthew 7.16).
Only when I am a branch abiding in the True Vine will I bear the true fruit – the fruit of the Spirit – and bear it in abundance; and Paul tells me what that fruit is: Jesus-like ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.’ (Galatians 5.22-23).
Moreover, he tells me it is a single fruit, not nine fruits – it is a bunch of nine grapes, if you like. And this morning, every morning, I need to be asking myself: Are there such bunches hanging in abundance all over my life?
If not, then I really do need to question and to re-assess the nature of my abiding in Christ.