Message for April 29th, 2018.
Abiding, connecting and loving.
Based on John 15. 1-8
Another jam-packed theological lesson from John’s gospel for today. And there is so much to consider in these 8 verses that I had difficulty figuring out where to start, so, as the old axiom tells us, when in doubt, begin at the beginning.
So let’s begin with the ‘I AM’ in the “I am the vine”. Where do we hear ‘I am’ in the bible for the first time? Way back in the book of Exodus, in the time of Moses. The Lord God Almighty has told Moses that he was to lead the Israelite people out of slavery, and that God would be with them in this journey. 13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, “ What is his name?” what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “ I AM WHO I AM”. He said further, “ Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “ I AM has sent me to you “ (Ex 3. 13-15)
God is who God is. Think for a moment of the implications of that. God just is. It’s so simple and so huge! God is, always was, always will be. Now, let’s go to the beginning of John’s Gospel and see how he introduces Jesus to his readers: ‘ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.’ (John 1: 1-3)
For John there is no question that ‘God is’ and Jesus ‘is’ as well — and they are one and the same, and it has been so since the beginning of time. John’s entire gospel is the narrative of God in Christ and how Jesus embodies God; or Jesus is God in the flesh. And the many ‘I am’ statements John provides his readers throughout his gospel—about 20 by my count, give different visual images to help people understand who and what Jesus is to them. John’s use of ‘I am’ is not an accidental choice of terms!
The first time Jesus says “I am” is in Chapter 4, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. She at first reckons Jesus to be a prophet, and while in conversation with him, she tells Jesus she knows that the Messiah is coming. And Jesus’ response is “I am”. In the English translation Jesus says “I am he”. But in the Greek it’s simply “I am”. A very clear message here! As an aside, what is also of note is that Jesus reveals himself as Messiah first to a woman; and a Samaritan woman at that–before he even tells his own disciples.
Ok, do who recalls some of Jesus’ other ‘I am’ statements?
- The bread of life (6.35)
- The bread that came down from heaven (6.41)
- Living bread (6.51)
- From him (meaning God), he sent me (7.29)
- Light of the world (8.2)
- The son of man (8.38)
- Before Abraham was, I am (8.58)
- In the world … I am the light of the world (9.5)
- The gate for the sheep (10.7)
- God’s son (10.36)
- The resurrection and the life (11.25)
- Teacher and Lord (13.13)
- The way the truth and the life (14.6)
- I am in the Father and the Father is in me (14.10)
- I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you (14.20)
And the last ‘I am’ statement, today’s scripture; I am the vine (15.1). It is an interesting image particularly for farmers and gardeners to visualize, to help in understanding the relationship between God, Jesus and us.
God is the vine grower, which, you know, makes sense for the Creator, the maker of the garden. Jesus is the vine growing in God’s garden, and we are the branches. This is an image of relationship and connectedness. The Creator is the grower, the provider, the pruner, the farmer if you will, in whom the vine is planted, from whom the nourishment for the growth of the vine comes. From the vine the branches grow. Jesus tells his followers: “Abide in me as I abide in you”. When we abide in Jesus and Jesus in us, we’re connected to the Creator, the source of life, that’s when we are able to produce the most fruit.
‘Abide’: there’s another one of those words that makes you stop and think. It’s a word we don’t use much anymore. But incredibly important for this scripture passage—and for John’s gospel for that matter! In the entire gospel of John the word ‘abide’ is used about 45 times.1 Now, that’s a lot of abiding! And in this vine story alone we hear it eight times. Might be a bit important, eh? So it would make sense to understand what the word abide means.
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