Year B Easter 5 John 15
I Am the True Vine
John 15:1-8




It is fascinating to me that in our Protestant religious culture, such a strong emphases is placed upon literal interpretation. Interestingly, Jesus so often did not speak literally, but figuratively. He spoke in allegories and images. He painted word pictures. Instead of literally coming out and saying what he meant, he so often would tell a story and let people draw their own conclusion. Indeed, these hidden messages of Jesus frequently frustrated his disciples. They wished that he would speak literally and not be quite so subtle.

This morning we take a look at one of the "I Am" sayings of Jesus. Jesus said: I am the true vine. Now, even the most ardent fundamentalist has to agree that when Jesus spoke these words he was not speaking literally.

Obviously, if we are to understand what Jesus was getting at here, we must look beyond the surface and do some exploring. We have to go beyond the actual words and discover Jesus’ meaning.

When Jesus spoke about vineyards, the people of Judea knew what he was talking about. It was an industry that had been carefully cultivated throughout the country for centuries. It was crucial because it was a cash crop as opposed to grain, which was raised purely for consumption. In early America the essential crop was corn, but the cash crop was tobacco. It was, therefore, vital to the economy of the land.

Quite frankly I must admit that I know very little about the particulars of the wine industry. In preparation for this sermon I did some reading in this area and it was really quite fascinating. The vines are a very rugged crop in a way and in another sense it is a very delicate fruit and requires being treated with kid gloves. A young vine is not permitted to bear fruit for the first three years. It is therefore drastically pruned in December and January to preserve its energy. The particular branches that do not bear fruit are cut out to further conserve the energy of the plant. If this constant cutting back was not done, the result would be a crop that was not up to its full potential.

So when Jesus spoke about vineyards certainly the people could identify with that metaphor, even as a person in Iowa would know about corn, or in Mississippi about cotton. It didn't make any difference whether or not you were in that business. You had grown up around it enough that you would still be familiar with it.

But there is something else that these listeners would most certainly know.

A vineyard was the symbol of the nation. In America we might think of amber waves of grain, but in Judea they thought of their nation as a vineyard. It was a kind of national identity. Over and over again in the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard of God.

Isaiah the prophet pictured Israel as the vineyard of God. He said: The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel. In Jeremiah, we read God referring to his chosen people in this way: I planted you as a choice vine. Hosea spoke a word of judgment when he said: Israel has become an empty vine. In the Psalms we read that God compares Israel to a vine that came out of Egypt. Josephus, the Roman historian, informs us that over the Temple in Jerusalem was carved an exquisite, gold leaf grapevine. It stood as a symbol of national unity. Israel itself was, in the eyes of its people, the true vine, whose roots ran all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In Jesus analogy, he likened himself to a vine, while the fruit bearing branches here are the disciples. God the farmer is depicted as the one who cultivates the vineyard. He waters and tends the soil, so that the vine is properly nourished. He takes pride in his crop. But this means that he also prunes the vines and removes the dead wood. The grapes hang on to the branches. What Jesus is saying is clear. The disciples should receive their strength from Jesus. He is the true vine. If they break away from him, they will be like unproductive branches and die and bear no fruit. They then will have to be pruned out.

What can we make of this analogy in terms of our daily life? What does it mean to be God’s vineyard?

  1. First, it means we must bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.
  2. Secondly, it means there is such a thing as an unproductive life.
  3. Third, it means we must cultivate a relationship with Jesus Christ.



I Love My Mother, But . . . . .
1 John 4:7-21

Want a quick test to know if someone is from the East or the West? Cross cultural researchers use this question to explore the nature of the differences between East and West, and their respective perceptions of life, language, and relationships? Here is the question: “I love my mother, but . . . .”


Ask a person raised in “Western” culture and a person who grew up with an “Eastern” world view to finish this sentence, “I love my mother, but . . .”

Even today, on Mother’s Day, every one of us can immediately come up with a “but.”

I love my mother, but . . . .
she can drive me crazy!”

I love my mother, but . . . .
she absolutely cannot cook.”

I love my mother, but . . . .
she has a gangrene thumb. She couldn’t grow a dandelion if her life depended on it.”

I love my mother, but . .
my mother’s love is smother love.”

In other words, in Western culture what comes after “I love my mother, but . . .” is usually a negative remark. Our love is tempered by our knowledge of our mother’s human foibles and frailties.

But the Eastern answer is typically quite different.

I love my mother, but . . . is finished with comments like this:

I love my mother, but . . .
I will never be able to show her how much.”

I love my mother, but . . .
I can never repay what she has done for me.”

I love my mother, but . . .
she has done so much for me all my life I can never thank her enough.”

I love my mother, but . . .
she works so hard for her family.”

The “Eastern” answer does not use “but” to water down the love. The “Eastern” answer does not use “but” as an eraser to what preceded it. Instead, the “but” adds more feeling and flavor to the love. The first expression of “I love my mother” issues in increased revelations about the belovedness of mother and the connectedness of the child.

Why is the Western tendency to dilute expressions of love with some sort of criticism? Why is the Western tendency to diminish our love by putting some distance between us and our mother? After revealing the vulnerability of great love, we seek shelter behind a wall that can keep the beloved at a distance.


Wait a minute: Love is not supposed to be. . .

sermons.com presents Leonard Sweet