“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. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15.5-7.
These words of Jesus came forcibly to mind … and remained there … when the main power circuit in our home tripped on Saturday evening and would not allow itself to be re-set. Suddenly, a houseful of potentially and hitherto useful, life-enhancing pieces of equipment were of no use at all. On that circuit were our digital telephones, our fridge, cooker, microwave, kettle, toaster and dishwasher, and also — most dismayingly of all so far as I was concerned — my PC that I use for all my accounting and web design work as well as for writing this blog. Through Sunday, Monday and part of yesterday, these pieces of equipment sat in their places, frustratingly silent and inactive — “unfruitful” in terms of John 15 — for one reason and for one reason only: they were no longer hooked into the mains power supply … they were no longer “abiding in the vine.”
This linking of an electrical circuit fault with Jesus’ metaphor of a branch’s failure to abide in the vine led me to three observations that I want to share this morning.
The first is quite simply how readily I accept a lack of power in my life as a Christian without questioning too much or too closely the quality and reality of my “abiding” in Christ. As soon as my PC is down, I am hopping around frantically until power is restored! I cannot do without it. But I have somehow, over the years, become resigned as a Christian to being just about as limited in my capabilities as anyone else in the world, Christian or not.
The second thought is closely linked to the first. I have come to realise that a belief that I can at least do something for Jesus without needing to address questions of how truly I am “abiding” have been preventing the issue becoming important or urgent. When my PC is not linked up to the mains it is dead — there is no half-aliveness about it. And that has made me realise that when Jesus says “apart from me you can do nothing,” he actually means nothing. It is not that I can do a little bit but not very much. No, I can do nothing. And the “something” that I think that I can do and that I think that I am doing is actually of zero worth and zero value in the eyes of God. The prayer prayed outside of Christ is so many empty words. The hands laid on the sick outside of Christ are just an empty touch.
And the third thought was this. Jesus talks about those who abide in the vine bearing “fruit” but he equates this with “doing”. I have always thought of the “fruit” of abiding in terms of “being” not “doing”. I think of Galatians 5.22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” — Christian aspects of being — and I’m sure that is included; but perhaps that is too narrow. Is “fruit” here not everything that happens when I am hooked in to the power circuit of Jesus himself.
When here on earth, Jesus was firmly and permanently hooked into the power circuit of God and this had various consequences. His “telephone” worked — he communicated perfectly with the Father and with the world, and he knew exactly what he should be doing … and when. His “washing machine” functioned — he made folk clean and gave them a fresh start. His “cooker” functioned — he fed the hungry. His ….
There my analogy breaks down (as all analogies do) because I don’t have a “healing” implement of any kind in my kitchen … but I’m sure you see what I’m getting at. There was more to Jesus than simply having love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He worked out of that character. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10.38). That surely is the “fruit” I too will bear if I am truly abiding in the vine.
Lord Jesus, teach me how to abide in you. I recognise that without you I really can do nothing. I recognise that all my something is really nothing. You once said, “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14.12). Please bring me, Lord, to a place where that will become true in my life — a place where I am truly hooked into your power and your love. Amen.