This seems to be a recurring theme recently, both inside the classroom and out. What with guest speakers, early morning devotions, and even now in independent reading on Spring Break, it just keeps coming up. I speak of the passage in John where he quotes Christ,
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 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.” ( John 15: 1-2, 4-5)
It’s a passage we’ve heard many times. In Sunday school, in Bible Studies, in sermons. I’ve even heard it as quasi-threats for us to do devotions daily without fail. But I think we can often just read a passage and entirely miss the point. That we can ignore God’s guiding indwelling within us, and merely use the mind to “figure out what it says”.
And as we’ve been asked to read this passage so many times the past few weeks, and just let the words themselves speak, something new has stirred in my heart. Something more than good works and daily devotionals.
One of our guest speakers at Impact this past week was Hule Goddard. An incredible man of God, he had a tidbit about this passage that was new. He spoke of preaching this exact passage one day and having a botanist come up to him later. The botanist explained how for a branch to be connected to the vine, to be literally a part of the growing and living process, the absorption and distribution of sunshine, nutrients, and energy, it would be similar to the pressure of a dam let loose, shoving all the vitals from the vine to the branch. That when a branch is connected to the vine, it is literally pulsing with the essence of the vine.
As Christ is the vine, His essence, His life-giving force is pulsing through to us when we “abide in Him.”
But do we? Do we really abide in Him?
And perhaps I quote her too often, but Ann Voskamp never fails to hit it on the nail, as she did today,
”[quoting 1 Corinthians 6:17] ‘But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him,’ … He’s calling for a response; He’s calling for oneness … Jesus says there is no other way to take up the faith but complete union: ‘I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.’ [John 14:20] I think on being in Christ and Him being in me and He is wind whisperer and I am leaf and He stirs and I tremble: ‘Remain in me, and I will remain in you.’ He’s calling me to graft on, become one with the True Vine, the vine the biblical symbol of joy, festivity… fullness. He’s calling to come and celebrate being made one, and in Him, by Him, to bear the fruit of the full life round.”
Do we graft on? Do we take up complete union with the True Vine, abiding in Him, allowing Him to slam us full of His pulsing, life-giving essence?
Or are we the fig tree in Luke 13, who after being planted for three years still bore no fruit and was cut down? Are you barren in fruit? Have you no connecting, no grafting into the vine? Perhaps the fear of the dam being unleashed frightens us. It’s too overwhelming, too much. Walter Brueggemann says it eloquently,
“The shock of such a partner destabilizes us too much. The risk is too great, the discomfort so demanding. We much prefer to settle for a less demanding, less overwhelming meeting. Yet we are haunted by the awareness that only this overwhelming meeting gives life.”
Do we fear the pruning shears? The potential pain in the growth? The slow, aching perfecting by the Great Gardener? But did you expect your lone branch, unconnected, un-grafted to produce anything? Away from life to grow? No, you will be cut down, withered on the ground.
Ann Voskamp speaks from the heart, “Yes, God as partner shocks and I’m too ugly, spiritually, physically, too filthy, too … low to be courted by God and He lavishes His love, the uncontainable riches and can I trust His love and part of me is right anxious to flee. Yet I am haunted. Only this overwhelming meeting gives the fullest life…”
The uncontainable riches, the pulsing life-giving essence of the Creator. John Owen, the Puritan theologian says it best,
“Would a soul continually eye His everlasting tenderness and compassion … [then] it could not bear an hour’s absence from Him; whereas now, perhaps, it cannot watch with Him one hour…. Every other discovery of God, without this, will but make the soul fly from Him; but it the heart be once much taken with the eminency of the Father’s love, it cannot but choose to be overpowered, conquered, and endeared unto Him.”
For when the leaves of a tree in early morning light leave behind the dull, flat shades of the night, and burst forth in bright, translucent hues of lime and gold and vibrant citrine, I can’t help but be in awe. Are we leaves, that when we absorb the life-giving light, then change color? Then reflect the glorious light? The glorious grace and love and hope? Are these not our shades of color?
Do we absorb and reflect back the Light?