Text: John 15:1-17
Once upon a time there was a great Vine with a very foolish branch. One day this foolish branch was thinking about how strong and thick he was, how green and shiny its leaves were, and how plump and juicy fruit always grew on its stems. Seeing all this, he decided that he didn’t need the Vine anymore. So he cut himself off from the Vine and set off on his own.
The foolish branch experienced all kinds of wild, exciting things in the days to come, and he knew that he had made a very wise decision. After all, these were experiences he had never had before, in places he had only dreamed of visiting. He felt sorry for all the other branches back in the vineyard, stuck firmly in place, rooted to the Vine. Oh, if only they knew what they were missing! A wave of superiority flooded over him as he compared his newly enlightened lifestyle with the boring, mundane life of his old friends.
However, these new experiences were taking their toll on the foolish branch, which he soon began to discover. His delicate leaves weren’t used the abuse of gallivanting all over the countryside, and he noticed after some time that his foliage wasn’t quite as thick as it had been when he was attached to the Vine. Many of his fine, shimmering leaves had fallen or been knocked off during his adventures outside the vineyard. He wisely concluded that he would just have to be more careful – but this was no crisis too terrible for one such as him.
At first, the foolish branch didn’t even notice the parching thirst that came over him – he was so distracted with all the fun he was having away from the Vine. He was not accustomed to this lack of water. All his life it had constantly been supplied to him through a constant and invisible mystery; but that was when he had been attached to the Vine, and its distended veins allowed the sweet, life-giving liquid to flow steadily into him. But now, his few remaining leaves lost their sheen, growing dry and brown around the edges. The foolish branch knew that he must find a water source on his own if he was to survive, but without the strong, deep roots of the Vine, this was proving very difficult indeed. When he finally did manage to locate a filthy little mud puddle, he was shocked to learn that the healthy veins that had connected him to the Vine were steadily closing up, as though an invisible firebrand had cauterized the place that had once secured him to life and health. The foolish branch became worried.
As the branch trudged along, no longer reveling in the liberty and excitement of his enlightened lifestyle, he stopped to rest against the fence behind the barn. Peering across the field, he saw something strange; the vineyard workers carried sad, dilapidated bundles of something brown and twisted. Squinting, the foolish branch recoiled in horror as he realized what it was; it was the branches that year after year produced no fruit and had been cut off from the Vine. When he had seen them last, they looked healthy enough; true, they had no fruit on their stems, but their leaves had been green and lustrous as his own…
He looked down at himself and almost withered on the spot. He was no longer bearing even the slightest bit of fruit. His leaves were wilted and dried up. Everything about him bore a striking exactitude to the branches now being carried by the vineyard workers, to…where were they taking them? The branch’s eyes were drawn toward a thick billowing cloud of inky black smoke on top of the hill. His eyes continued to follow the workers as they approached the burning heap, stopped, and promptly cast the great burden into the waiting flames! The horror, the shock of seeing it sent the foolish branch reeling. What was he doing here? Why did he leave the Vine in the first place? Who did he think he was? He was a branch, grown to produce fruit – not amble about the countryside idly enjoying the sights! There was only one thing to do; he must produce fruit, and now!
The foolish branch thought that perhaps he could produce fruit on his own, without the Vine. Yes! That’s it! The branch hunkered down where he lie and squeezed with all his might. He pushed and grunted and heaved, but it was no good. He suddenly came upon the terrible realization that he had no idea how to produce to a single grape. Sure, he had produced thousands before, while still attached to the Vine, but back then it had just sort of…happened. Now, now that he must perform this feat for himself or be destroyed, it was simply impossible. The same life-giving waters that the Vine had poured into him had been the very source of the nutrition that produced each and every grape on his stems. He realized now that – by himself – he had never been able to produce any fruit to begin with.
Parched, wilted, and despairing, the branch crawled its way back to the Vine. He could see, well up the Vine, the very place where he had cut himself off from life. The spot was healed over now. Even if he could reach it – which he knew was impossible – there would be no way to be grafted back onto the Vine at this point. He was as good as dead. He lay down on the ground and waited for the inevitable – when the vineyard workers came and made their rounds, picking up the dead branches to be cast into the fire.
Toward evening, he heard steps approaching. The footsteps stopped just next to where he lay. He felt himself being slowly lifted from the ground, saw the bundle of brown, twisted, fruitless branches a few yards away, and waited to be tossed atop the pile. But something happened then that he wasn’t expecting. As gentle hands turned him over, he found himself looking at no mere worker; it was the face of the very Gardener Himself. The Gardener just looked at him; looked at him for a long while with a very sad, compassionate look on his face. He then nodded to himself, took a knife out of his pocket, and trimmed away the crusted surface where the branch had once held onto the Vine. What was he doing? The foolish branch looked on apprehensively as the Gardener reached out to his own Vine, the Vine he had loved and cared for all these years, and sliced into the surface of that Vine directly where the branch had cut itself away. The branch could have cried out for pity’s sake – don’t hurt the Vine! It’s my fault! I was the fool! I deserve the fire!
The branch didn’t understand what was happening, but watched with shame and sorrow as the sap poured out of the Vine which had been wounded because of him. The Gardener continued to work, pressing the now clean surface of the branch to the freshly-wounded Vine, grafting the branch back in its very own place. He bound the foolish branch there with strong and gentle cloth, working with care and diligence. The foolish branch felt life flowing back into it once more through the wound of the Vine. In time, his leaves began to green once more and luscious fruits ripened and filled on his stems. And the once-foolish branch never again forgot that this miracle was only possible because of the ever-sustaining Vine and the love and sacrifice of the Vine and the Gardener.
My friends, it is a very dangerous thing to cut ourselves off from Jesus, the true Vine. We know that in Him, and in Him alone, is found life and salvation. Yet we neglect His Word, always finding something “better” to do with our time than read the life-giving Scriptures. We fail to pray, to call upon him in praise and thanksgiving, to put our every sorrow and need into His loving hands, opting instead to face the impossible in our own feeble power. We stray from our worship habits, relishing Sunday mornings as “our own time,” and not even noticing the slow withering of our leaves and the decay of our fruits as we distance ourselves from the Church that would feed and nourish us with His Word and Sacraments, cleansing our sinful wounds through the confession and absolution of sins.
We, like the branch, are all fools. We go our own way, looking for excitement and adventure even at the very cost of our own destruction. We cannot produce any good work that is pleasing to God apart from Jesus, for Jesus is ultimately all that matters in this world. We cannot even take credit for the growth of our faith, just a branch does not decide to grow itself, but starts as nothing and grows up out of the Vine, by its power and discretion. And when we fall away, it is only through the caring, gentle hands of the Father that we are brought back to life and salvation through the True Vine, Jesus Christ, who poured out His own blood on the cross that we might live in Him and through Him.
May Jesus sustain and nourish you always through His Word, and may you always rest in the loving hands of God the Father. Amen.