Happy Thanksgiving, Rockpoint! Wherever our varying politics or our beliefs about Covid-19 have left us – grateful or despairing – I think we can agree on this: Thanksgiving 2020 will be unlike any other we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. So let’s run with that. Instead of meditating on the comforts of hearth, home and family, let’s consider some things that invigorate our gratitude at a deeper level.
Over the last several weeks, Pastor Doug has invited us to consider the brilliant metaphor of life in Christ that the Savior himself unpacks in John 15. This is the Vine and branches explanation that Jesus gives the disciples in the Upper Room, mere hours before his arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion. We have 2000 years of history and Bible study to inform our understanding of this event – but those who heard these words for the first time were a bunch of young guys in their teens and twenties, with varying levels of education and life experience and no real idea of what was soon to happen. They probably hadn’t studied the Old Testament Scriptures much, but they knew the mechanics of the world, so Jesus told them about himself in plain language with practical cross-pollination. He knew they needed to understand him in a new way in order to make it through the next 48 hours and live out their calling for the rest of their lives.
This is why this is a great chapter for fine-tuning our gratitude in 2020. We need that, too. We need to know that God is with and for us, and that the life of Jesus is moving in and through us. Quite possibly, you need these truths more now than you ever have.
We need to know that God is with and for us, and that the life of Jesus is moving in and through us. Quite possibly, you need these truths more now than you ever have.
So, before you read any further, grab your Bible, and read the short 27 verses in John 15. Seriously. This will mean more if you do. And keep your Bible open so you can refer back to verses as we go. I’m not kidding. I’ll wait.
Let’s start by thinking about PURPOSE.
Each participant in this story has a divine purpose. The purpose of the vine is to supply life – the vital nutrients that keep the branch alive. The purpose of the branch is to bear fruit. More than that, the branch is a conduit from the vine to the fruit, and the fruit receives the very same life that the branch does. The branch doesn’t give itself life (15:4), and the vine specifically uses the branch for fruit-bearing.
The vinedresser watches the branches closely and tends to them (15:2). If they’re dead, they’re removed. If they’re non-productive, they’re as good as dead and they’re removed. If they’re productive, they’re pruned – the process of removing things that inhibit production – so they can produce more. It’s important to remember that a living branch that spends its energy on leaves and length – but not fruit – is of no use to the vinedresser. Growth for the sake of growth and not for the sake of fruit brings pruning, and pruning can be painful.
PRUNING has to be done with wisdom, care, and a steady hand.
Only the vinedresser is qualified for this; branches don’t self-prune. Listen – pruning, while potentially painful, is ultimately for the benefit of the branch, because:
- the alternative is to be cut off altogether
- there is unburdening – dead weight is lifted off
- pruning helps the branch fulfill its purpose
There is no such thing as a self-sufficient branch. A branch on its own is called kindling, and the longer it’s on its own, the dryer it gets and the better kindling it is (15:6). The alternative to being kindling is bearing fruit – so fruit bearing is really and truly not optional. This means we’d better know what it looks like.
Abiding, says Jesus, is the PASSAGE into fruit-bearing (15:4), and it’s both active and passive.
The active part involves maintenance – keeping open to the connection with the vine and actively ready to receive from the vine and apply what is received. The passive part is simply resting and receiving; in effect, not standing in the way of the flow of nutrients. So abiding is actually cooperation with the purposes of both the vinedresser and the vine. Abiding is not optional if fruit-bearing is the goal (15:10) – part of bearing fruit is to gratefully receive what we need from the Vine and happily give glory to the Vinedresser.
One of the primary resources of abiding is joy (15:11). Joy is indeed a gift, and a holy delight, but not the goal. Joy is a motivator; it has nutritional value and attractional value. A happy believer has credibility that a morose one doesn’t – so just as the joy in the vine is reproduced in the branch, the joy of the branch produces joy in the fruit. The bottom line is that joy produces fruit and fruit produces joy – nothing is wasted! Fruit that is produced in this way also has the characteristic of abiding (15:16), and this abiding is exemplified in loving one another (15:17).
Joy is indeed a gift, and a holy delight, but not the goal. Joy is a motivator; it has nutritional value and attractional value.
When Jesus calls us to abide, he is calling us to be like him (15:10) – we are called to always be growing in Christ-likeness, and this characteristic has, at its core, increasing, confident resting in the Son and the Father. Confidence like this, trust like this, cannot help but produce love for one another. We think of love as a command, but love is the (super)natural fruit of obedience to the command to abide (15:17).
Let’s finish by talking about being PICKED.
Jesus is pretty blunt about this – he’s the One doing the choosing, not us (15:16). He goes on to say that the choice carries with it an appointment – a mission. Abiding is not in itself the mission – abiding is the supply-line. Bearing fruit is half of the mission, and the other half is that the fruit abides. We call this disciple-making, right? If we’re to have the privilege of being conduits of the life of Jesus to someone, we want that life in them to be healthy and strong, and ready to reproduce. We want to leave disciples, not just converts, in our missional wake!
OK – almost done. This is where gratitude ramps up to the next level.
Beloved, Jesus looked you over, held you in his hand like a diamond ring, let the sun catch your gleaming facets, saw the flaw deep down inside that might have made you less valuable to someone else, and chose you anyway (15:19). Because of his choice, you are
* separated from the world by it (vs 19)
* hated by the world because of it (vs 19)
* united to Jesus through it (vs 18)
* promised persecution in it (vs 20)
In the final analysis, gratitude is not a function of comfort or convenience or the absence of conflict. Rather, it’s the PRESENCE and POWER of the Lord Jesus, POURING his life into ours, doing in and through us what only he can do. There will be trials. It might get ugly – even uglier than a pandemic in an election year. But eternal life is in view (John 17:3) – God gave you to Jesus (17:6), and Jesus won’t let go. For this, we can be happy, and give thanks. Happy Thanksgiving!
There will be trials. It might get ugly – even uglier than a pandemic in an election year. But eternal life is in view.