John 15:5; John 14:23-33
Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
May 23, 2021
Joel Alexander Hallgren, your confirmation verse is found just a few verses after the end of our Gospel lesson, John 15:5, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” I pray that you learn this verse well and live by it until you die and inherit eternal life. May we all recognize that Jesus is our one true vine. We are but branches that live off of him. Without Jesus, we cannot live. Without Jesus we can do nothing good. Your faith in Christ is not just one of many tidbits about yourself, like that you enjoy playing soccer and running the 200-meter dash. Your faith in Christ is your everything. Your faith in Christ is your life. Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Your faith in Christ is not an appendage to your life. God lives within you. You are joined to Christ as a branch is to a vine.
This is most certainly true. Yet, how is it that we are joined to Christ as a branch is to a vine? Earlier in John chapter 15, Jesus tells us that the Father is the vinedresser. And Jesus tells us in our Gospel lesson that the Father sends to us the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name, who teaches us all things. And this is indeed how God the Father, our vinedresser joins us to Christ, our vine. He sends to us the Holy Spirit.
You are by nature a branch from a wild vine planted by the sin of our first father Adam, which produces bitter and sour grapes, that is, you are by nature a sinner, who cannot please God. When you were baptized, the Holy Spirit cut you off of that wild vine of Adam and grafted you into the true Vine, Jesus Christ. As long as you are joined to Jesus Christ, you will live. As a vine sends sap and nutrients into its branches, so Christ Jesus gives you his righteousness and life. Yet, just as when you cut a branch off of a stem, it shrivels up and dies unless it is grafted in again, so too would you dry out and die if you were cut off from Christ. Your leaves would wither. Your flowers and fruits would fall off. For apart from Christ, you can do nothing.
Yet, how is it that the Holy Spirit grafts you into the vine of Christ? And how is it that you remain attached to this Vine and are not cut off? Jesus tells us. He tells the disciples that when the Holy Spirit comes, he will teach them all things and bring to their remembrance the things that he had said to them. And this indeed was fulfilled. On that first Pentecost after Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit rushed upon the disciples and divided tongues of fire upon their heads and caused them to proclaim the mighty works of God in Christ Jesus in numerous languages, which they had not previously learned! And so, we also know that the Holy Spirit caused the apostles to write the New Testament, so that we know that the Bible is trustworthy and is indeed the Word of God. This means that the Holy Spirit speaks to us today. No, there are not tongues of fire on any of our heads. And I am preaching to you in the language I first learned as a child and which you all speak at home. Yet, the tongues of fire and the speaking in tongues were merely outward signs of the coming of the Holy Spirit. We still have the Holy Spirit with us today, working through the same Word of Christ, and igniting a flame in each of our hearts which burns through faith in Christ and produces love toward God and one another, as we will hear the children sing:
O Sweetest Love, Your grace on us bestow;
Set our hearts with sacred fire aglow
That with hearts united we love each other,
Ev’ry stranger, sister, and brother.
Lord, have mercy!
Through the proclamation of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit joins you to Christ Jesus by creating faith in your heart. And through the proclamation of the Gospel, Jesus gives you everything to survive. You live by faith in the forgiveness of sins, which Christ Jesus has won. Jesus has died to sin for you and is risen, never to die again. So, you having died to sin, being cut off from the wild and sinful stem of Adam now live forever attached to the imperishable vine of Christ.
You are cut off from the vine of Christ when you cease to hear Christ’s words and receive his Sacrament. You receive your nourishment from Christ through faith. Faith receives the promise. The promise is in the words of the Gospel and the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, which offer free forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake to all who believe it. But, if you stop hearing Christ’s word and if you stop receiving his Sacrament, then you cut yourself off from the Living Vine. In that case, your faith will dry out, your leaves will shrivel, your fruit will drop off prematurely, and you will die. You cannot have saving faith if you reject the Gospel of Christ. This is why you promise in your Confirmation vows that you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully. This is what Jesus means when he says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” To live without the Word of God and Christ’s Sacrament is to live apart from Christ, to be a severed vine that will dry up and be burned.
This again is why the children will sing these words:
To God the Holy Spirit let us pray
For the true faith needed on our way
That He may defend us when life is ending
And from exile home we are wending.
Lord, have mercy!
The Holy Spirit keeps you in the true faith by proclaiming Christ to you, by feeding you his body and blood. You need this true faith not just today, not just at your confirmation, but throughout your entire life, especially when you exit this life to enter the one to come. And so, this should be our constant prayer, that the Holy Spirit would tend to us, so that we are always attached to the Vine of Life.
Jesus says that whoever abides in him will bear much fruit, but that apart from him you can do nothing. To be grafted into Christ the Vine has a greater effect on you than when a branch is grafted into a regular stem. For when a branch is cut off from a tree and grafted into another tree, it continues to produce the fruit of its original tree. But the vine of Christ has such an effect on the branches grafted into him, that he actually changes the branch to be like him and changes the fruit to be good fruit like his. It is as St. Paul writes, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” So, you as a Christian, must consider the works you do as the works of Christ, which you perform through faith in Christ Jesus.
Yet, this is a hard thing to believe. We look at the fruits produced by the Holy Spirit that first Pentecost and in the years following. Men speaking the mighty works of God in tongues they never learned. Men and women prophesying and old men dreaming dreams. The apostles laid their hands on the sick and healed them and were bitten by poisonous snakes and survived. Our works are not nearly so splendid. And many have had this thought before us, so they made up mighty works to prove they had the fruit of the Spirit, by fasting, saying long prayers, going on long pilgrimages, and what is common today, trying to speak in tongues and giving heart-wrenching testimonials to prove their fruits.
Yet, you must stop looking at the fruit, that is, you must stop looking at your own works to determine whether you are attached to Christ. Rather, it is those who are joined to Christ who produce much fruit, not those who produce fruit who are then attached to Christ. It is Christ who works in you through faith. So, if it is Christ who works in you, then even your ordinary works are abundant fruit produced to the glory of God. So, when you obey your parents, do your homework and help clean-up around the house, you are bearing great fruit. When you say your prayers every day and go to church every Sunday; when you marry a Christian spouse, love your wife and support her, bring your children to be baptized, teach them to pray and bring them to church, when you do your job diligently and are honest, when you help your neighbor and humbly do what is right, these are abundant fruits of the Vine, which Christ has caused to be produced in you, his branch.
Yet, this offends the world. They see these works and find nothing special about them. They despise Baptism and the word of God. And many of the other works you do, they claim to do them themselves, and even better. How can Christ say that without him you can do nothing? Aren’t there many people who do not believe in Christ, and who without Christ do many and more of these things than you do? This is why we must not focus on the outward work, but on the faith, which trusts in Christ. What Christ Jesus does is far better. All that we do of ourselves is for selfish gain and following after the lusts of the flesh. But what we do through faith in Christ is holy, honors God, and even, as it is when we bring our children to Baptism and to church, results in eternal life. This is because Christ is perfect. He forgives our sins and even sanctifies our works. Our boasting is never in ourselves, but in Christ.
Having been grafted into Christ by the Holy Spirit through faith in the Gospel of Christ, we have peace with God. This peace is not the same peace as the peace given by the world. The peace of the world comes from obeying the world’s wicked commands. The peace of the world is slavery to sin. It is temporary comfort and shallow love. But the peace, which comes from Christ is reconciliation with God. It is to be forgiven. It is to know that even though your works are imperfect and riddled with sin, God is pleased with you on account of Christ. It is to know that you are joined to Christ Jesus so closely as a branch is to its vine, that you know that as long as Christ lives, so you too will live. As long as you are joined to Christ through faith, you will have this peace. Let us pray.
Shine in our hearts, O Spirit, precious light;
Teach us Jesus Christ to know aright
That we may abide in the Lord who bought us,
Till to our true home He has brought us.
Lord, have mercy! Amen.