Easter 5b -- Confirmation
Preached: May 6, 2012
No audio available.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which our risen Savior speaks to us is John 15
I am the genuine vine, and my Father is the gardener. Every branch in me not bearing fruit, he throws away. And every branch bearing fruit, he prunes clean so that it bears more fruit. You already are clean because of the words I have spoken to you.
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, so also you cannot, unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Anyone remaining in me and I in him -- that one bears much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he’s thrown out like a branch and dried up. They’re gathered together, thrown into the fire, and burnt.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will happen for you. My Father is glorified in this that you bear much fruit and show yourselves as my disciples. (John 15:1-8).
This is the word of our Lord.
We live in an interconnected world. You connect on Facebook with your friends. The Internet connect us in so many ways beyond social networks. How much of our shopping, emailing, banking, doctoring, even the power grid, touches the Internet even if you don’t own a computer? Or think of how phones connect us today, not only in our homes but wherever we’re in range of a cell tower. In this interconnected world we can lose track of the most important connection of all. You, confirmands, and Sunday school students have heard about it at the end of every Kid’s Connection video for years, as they close with the words: “Stay connected to Jesus.”
That’s one of the truths Jesus pictures when he calls himself the true, genuine Vine. You, dear confirmands, and fellow Christians here -- you are the branches. And Jesus’ picture brings home why it’s so important for you and me to stay connected to him. Let’s think about that question.
Why is it so important to stay connected to Jesus? Some might answer: To get to heaven. And there’s truth in that. Jesus is the only way to heaven. Anyone not connected to Jesus is a dead branch that will be thrown into the everlasting fires of hell, that ceaseless torture, separated from God’s love and cut off from all hope. Jesus clearly brings that out, doesn’t he? “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:6 NIV84). Only Jesus saves. There’s no other name under heaven given among mankind by which we must be saved. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus. He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Without faith in Jesus, you’re a dead branch cut off for the fire. Only those connected to Jesus, like branches to the vine, will be in heaven.
But if getting to heaven is your only motive, then you are a dead branch or soon will be. Yes, if you think getting to heaven someday is the only reason staying connected to Jesus is important, then your faith is quickly drying up if it hasn’t already. The Gardener will cut you off. That’s what happens to all too many confirmands, sometimes even before they get out of high school.
You see, if we imagine that Jesus is important only for getting us into heaven, why bother too much about him until death’s closer? And even when we realize we could die at any time even as a teenager, if we’re just concerned about having enough faith to slide into paradise, that’s an artificial faith. It’s a faith that knows God’s truth but does not really trust it, not only depending on God’s truth for the day we die, but also depending on it for our strength and life each and every moment until then. A branch needs the vine continuously. Only the vine brings the sap to nourish, strengthen, and keep the branches alive. A branch connected to Jesus continuously depends on his word of truth for strength and life.
Dear confirmands, depend on Jesus continuously. Keep feeding on his word of truth. Don’t live your life thinking that you just need enough faith to slide into heaven. Don’t live with the attitude that wants to get by with just enough church, just enough Bible study, just enough religion, so that you have just enough faith. That’s not faith. Faith depends on Jesus continuously, like a branch depending on the vine. Faith always draws its strength from his word of truth, eager to know him and his word better and better. Faith knows and believes that the importance of staying connected to Jesus is not just to get us into heaven someday.
So why then is it so important to stay connected to Jesus? Think about what Jesus says here. “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5 NIV84). What is it that branches do when they’re connected to the vine? They produce fruit -- and not just a little bit of fruit. “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit” (John 15:5 NIV84). That’s why it’s so important to stay connect to Jesus: not only so that you get to heaven but so that you bear fruit, much fruit, today and every day until then.
What’s the fruit all about? Think of the Christian virtues that the Apostle Paul lists as the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22 -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, an self-control. Think of how those virtues show themselves in your words and actions. Both those virtues and the works they produce are fruits. Unbelievers may imitate these actions to a certain extent, but that’s fake fruit. It might fool us human beings, but it doesn’t fool God. Real fruit comes only from branches connected to Jesus, branches that receive their strength and nourishment from the true, genuine Vine. Jesus says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4 NIV84). Remain in Jesus, dear confirmands. Stay connected to Jesus to bear much fruit.
The branch connected to Jesus doesn’t think, “I’ve already produced enough fruit. I can put aside Jesus and his word for the time being.” You don’t see branches taking time off from the vine, do you? Faith knows that we always have room to grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and the works that follow. There’s never too much fruit. Faith always wants to be producing more.
For your faith knows how great Jesus’ mercy toward you is. He took us dead in sin and made us alive in himself. He took us with our inborn filth and washed you and me clean through water and word of Baptism. He took us wild branches, rebellious against God, and grafted us on to himself, the true Vine. Through his death, you have life. Through his resurrection, you have reconciliation to God. His blood purifies you from all sin, and he presents holy, radiant, and clean, clothed with his righteousness. “You already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3 NIV84), Jesus says in the text. No wonder we want to stay connected to Jesus and bear much fruit! No wonder we want to grow closer to such a Savior! No wonder we want his word to flow from the Scriptures and Sacraments into our hearts always!
Even our view of troubles, hardships, and suffering changes. We know and believe that Jesus has suffered the full punishment for all our sins. For the Christian, troubles, hardships, and suffering aren’t extra punishments, as if Jesus’ sufferings weren’t quite enough to atone for us. Rather, think of how the Gardner treats the fruit-bearing branches. He prunes them so that they grow stronger and bear much fruit.
Sometimes that pruning cuts deep. The luxuries of this world as well as its cares and worries can sap our strength. Success and wealth can make us look like a healthy, leafy branch. But if the leaves are sapping all our time and energy, don’t they need to be pruned, as much as that might hurt? For no matter how good a branch might look, if it’s not producing fruit, it’s not worth keeping. So through troubles, hardships, and suffering the Father is at work so that you bear much fruit. Jesus says, “… my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:1 NIV84). Think about that, dear confirmands, when life hits you hard. Don’t despair. Your heavenly Father is at work, pruning you to bear much fruit.
Do you see how this also changes our prayers? Rather than telling God how we want life to be, we pray that he does whatever is necessary to keep us connected to Jesus so that we bear much fruit. Some have called that praying dangerously, because our old self won’t like the answers. Only as God’s Word fill us can we pray like that. For only God’s Word can bring our will in sync with his will. Only God’s Word can change our wants so that what we truly want matches what God wants. That’s why Jesus says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7 NIV84). That’s not a genie promising three wishes. That’s Jesus’ promise to you that as your prayers, wants, and wishes flow from God’s Word, which has been brought into your heart, they will be answered. As branches, we wish to bear much fruit as we stay connected to Jesus. That’s what we pray for, and that’s what he gives.
And finally why do we want to bear much fruit? Because it glorifies our Father in heaven. Jesus says, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8 NIV84). Two quick examples: As we bear the fruit of love, others glorify the Father who loved us first. “What a great God those Christians have who so loved the world that he gave his Son! How those Christians love one another, even as Jesus loved them! Can I ,too, know his love?” Second example, as we bear the fruit of patience in affliction, others glorify the Father and want to know what strength he gives to bring such endurance. “How those Christians bear up even as their Savior did! How important it must be to follow him!” On your own, consider how the fruit you bear glorifies the Father. Yes, dear confirmands, bear much fruit to bring him glory, showing yourselves to be Christ’s disciples.
So to wrap it up, Collin, Ryan, Morgan, stay connected to Jesus. Stay connected through his word and Sacraments. What a Savior you have, crucified for you and risen from the dead to give you his victory! In him alone you have forgiveness, life, and salvation. Cherish him, the true Vine. Relish his promises. Stay connected to Jesus as you remain in him and his word remains in you. Then you will bear much fruit. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.