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Already Clean

April 29, 2018
By Rev. David French

Today's Gospel again takes us back to the night Jesus was betrayed.  He has already instituted the Sacrament of the Altar and is again teaching as He and His disciples make their way to Gethsemane.

On the way He tells a parable that compares all who believe in Him to branches on a grape vine.  Jesus is the vine.  His Father is the vinedresser.  Just as a branch gets its sustenance from the vine, so also, He taught, we get our sustenance from Him.  Just as a branch dies when separated from the vine, so also we die spiritually when separated from Christ.  The point of course is that we are totally dependent on Jesus for everything and as we live in Jesus our heavenly Father, our vinedresser or gardener, prunes those made clean by His Word.

When Martin Luther wrote about today's Gospel, he wondered what kind of conversation you would have with the vinedresser if you were the vine.  Luther Writes: “Imagine that you are a vine and you see  the vinedresser coming along and chopping about [your] roots with his mattock or his hoe and cutting the wood from [your] branches with his clipper or his pruning hook, [you] would be prompted by what [you] saw and felt to say: "Ah, what are you doing? Now I must wither and decay, for you are removing the soil from my roots and are belaboring my branches with those iron teeth. You are tearing and pinching me everywhere, and I will have to stand in the ground bare and seared. You are treating me more cruelly than one treats any tree or plant." But the vinedresser would reply: "You are a fool and do not understand. For even if I do cut a branch from you, it is a totally useless branch; it takes away your strength and your sap. Then the other branches, which should bear fruit, must suffer. Therefore away with it! This is for your own good." You say: "But I do not understand it, and I have a different feeling about it." The vinedresser declares: "But I understand it well. I am doing this for your welfare, to keep the foreign and wild branches from sucking out the strength and the sap of the others. Now you will be able to yield more and better fruit and to produce good wine." The same thing is true when the vinedresser applies manure to the stock of the vine; this, too, he does for the benefit of the vine even though the vine might complain again and say: "What, pray (tell), is this for? Is it not enough that you are hacking and cutting me to pieces? Now with this filthy cow manure, which is intolerable in the barn and elsewhere, you are defiling my tender branches, which yield such delicious juice! Must I stand for this too?"

Luther continues with these words: That is how Christ interprets the suffering which He and His Christians are to endure on earth. This is to be an investment and a help rather than affliction and harm. Its purpose is to enable them to bear all the better fruit and all the more, in order that we may learn to impress this on ourselves as He impresses it on Himself. As though He were saying: "After all, this is the truth, and I cannot interpret it otherwise. I share the fate of the vine in every respect. The Jews will throw manure at Me and will hack away at Me. They will shamefully revile and blaspheme Me, will torture, scourge, crucify, and kill Me in the most disgraceful manner, so that all the world will suppose that I must finally perish and be destroyed. But the fertilizing and pruning I suffer will yield a richer fruit: that is, through My cross and death I shall come to My glory, begin My reign, and be acknowledged and believed throughout the world. Later on you will have the same experience. You, too, must be fertilized and cultivated in this way. The Father, who makes Me the Vine and you the branches, will not permit this Vine to lie unfertilized and unpruned. Otherwise it would degenerate into a wild and unfruitful vine which would finally perish entirely. But when it is well cultivated, fertilized, pruned, and stripped of its superfluous leaves, it develops its full strength and yields wine that is not only abundant but also good and delicious." [Luther's Works, John 15:2]

One of the best examples or foreshadowing’s is found in the Old Testament lessons from the patriarchs – or the twelve sons of Jacob who grew into the twelve tribes of Israel.  Eleven of the brothers all hated the one brother Joseph and eventually sold him into slavery to a caravan of Ishmaelites heading to Egypt.  God however used the experiences of Joseph as a slave to prune and prepare him for the work He had prepared for him to do. 

Eventually Joseph became the second most powerful man in Egypt and God then used Joseph to bring the Children of Israel out of Canaan into Egypt saving them from the physical and spiritual famine in the land.  And then God used Egypt as an incubator where the Israelites, His Children, would grow into a great nation.

The reality of that shadow is seen in the good God worked out of the evil endured by His only begotten Son Jesus who He called out of Egypt for all people. And what does this blind and sinful world do when it comes face to face with the Son of God?  As you well know, because of the sin we all bear we all had a hand in subjecting the Holy Son of God to a “so called” trial and there condemned Him to die on a cross. Sinful men used a crown of thorns to mock, rods to bruise, whips to shred, a spear to pierce, and nails to attach the body of God to a cross and there He was left to die.  Truly it is pure evil that hangs pure love on the cross of Calvary.

God however used the blood of Christ to accomplish His goal that was and is to bring sinful mankind back to Himself, to restore the relationship that had be shattered by that first sin.  The world in its wisdom thought it had defeated God, but God in His wisdom used Good Friday to pay for sin, overcome death and defeat the devil.  The world thought it had destroyed the Son of God, but God used His Sons destruction for our forgiveness and then raised Him from the dead for our justification. God the Father took the world’s most intense hate and used it to serve His love for you and me, to bring us back into His kingdom. My friends we live in a fallen, world - a world that hates Christ and so hates you. But take heart our God who never changes, continues to change the world's hate into blessings for His people.

Today's Gospel reading offers comfort when we’re feeling the weight of the world.  It reminds us that our God will use these times of sorrow for our good, that they are only a pruning for those who are already clean, that is all who are baptized in His name.  Know and believe that your pruning will lead to fruitfulness and the strengthening of your faith that you might hold ever tighter to His promises and share His gifts with all who come to know you in both word and deed.

All of us begin life as a branch separated from the vine … ready for the fire. Mercifully through the water and Word of our baptisms that fire is quenched as God the Holy Spirit, grafts us into His Son bringing us to life by giving us His life.  When Jesus tells us to abide in Him, He is simply telling us to live our baptism and to feast on the spiritual food that is His body and blood given and shed for you.  He’s telling you that He is all you will ever need to be with Him in heaven … forever.

In His Name, Amen.

Tags: John 15:1-8