Download or listen to the Sixth Sunday of Easter: “The Fruit of the Vine” (John 15:9-17)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who abides in Me and I in him, that’s the one who bears much fruit.” And, then: “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and you will prove to be My disciples.” That’s what we heard Jesus say to us last week in the beginning of John 15. But we did not hear what that fruit is. What is the fruit that is produced by branches connected to the Vine of Christ? Today we hear in the second part of John 15 what that fruit is. “As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you. Remain in My love, Jesus says. This is the command: remain in My love; believe what I say about My love for you. Believe that My Body and Blood were given and shed for you and now delivered to you by Word and Baptism and Supper. This is His command: remain in My love for you, with the result that you will love one another. We pray it every time we receive the Sacrament: that God would strengthen us by the Supper in faith toward Him and fervent love toward one another (LSB 201). Love one another as I have loved you, Jesus says. St. John repeats the command in his first letter: “This is His commandment, that we believe in the Name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He has commanded us” (1 John 3:23). Believe in the Name of Jesus, and what does His Name mean? Yahshua: Yahweh, God, saves. Believe that Jesus is your Savior. And out of that belief comes love. Just as Jesus told His Apostles: “You did not choose Me for yourself, but I chose you for Myself, and I have appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” They were joined to Jesus, His resurrection changed them, and they went and proclaimed what they had seen from the beginning: His life, His death, His resurrection. And those who heard received the Holy Spirit, were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, and believed. And then they loved one another; whatever anyone needed, they did for them out of love, because they knew the all-encompassing love of Jesus for them.
Love is the very first fruit of the Holy Spirit that Paul identifies in Galatians 6:22. Love, then joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in those who are joined to Christ. Which means that if you are not connected to Jesus Christ, if you do not have the Holy Spirit, you cannot love. It is not possible. Everything else that we call love is only a pale imitation, only pretend. We talk and talk about love; I love chocolate, or my pet, or my wife, or my kids, or that TV show, or that movie, or that musician. We use the word all the time, but we have no idea what we’re talking about. We have adulterated the word ‘love,’ literally and figuratively, until we don’t even know what it means. It is understandable in the world, where people slap the label ‘love’ on any given thing, thinking it makes it okay, especially if someone disapproves, or if it is a sin. As long as I call it love, it must be okay; it’s a perversion of the Scripture, ‘love covers over a multitude of wrongs.’ I can understand how unbelievers do not understand love; they are not connected to the God who is love in Jesus Christ. But how can it be so in the Church, in the members of Christ’s Body, in the branches connected to the Vine of Christ? Only if we do not really believe in the Name of Jesus, or if we have been so influenced by the world, that we love the same way they do.
We also talk about love in the Church, but we “love” in the same way the world does. We love only those who are like us, only those we like, only those who are lovely or loveable, only those who are worthy or who have met our conditions, only those who have not offended us or sinned against us—or if they have sinned against us, they have to give us a reason, or an excuse, or a justification for themselves. Only then will we love them. But if this is true, if we love only those who can explain themselves, or those we believe have reasons for their sin, we do not love as Christ has loved us. This is not Christian love; by “loving” this way, we actually make Christ our enemy, because He loves precisely those who have no excuse, no reason, no justification for themselves or their sins. What unbeliever does not “love” those who give sufficient reason for their offenses? What unbeliever doesn’t “love” those who are loveable? What reason can we give for our lack of love? What justification do we, the members of the Body of Christ, have not to love everyone whom Christ loves? None. That’s the point. Christ dies exactly for those who are helpless, unlovable, who have no justification for themselves. Do we realize what it means that Christ dies out of love for the whole world? Do we realize what it means to be joined to this Christ? You and I have no justification, no righteousness. And the Gospel is that Christ gives you His own justification; He justifies you, because there is nothing you can say in defense of yourself. I have nothing with which to defend myself.
When I was in Los Angeles a week and a half ago, my aunt and uncle took me to the Museum of Tolerance there. We went through the Holocaust exhibit, and we heard and saw many of the atrocities committed by the Nazis against Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, etc. Horrible things that are difficult to imagine without tears. By the end, if you didn’t already know, the Holocaust was a Very Bad Thing, and the Nazis were Very Bad People. You easily sympathize with their victims, and you have nothing but hate for the people who could do such things. But let me ask you this: if Jesus, a Jew, were born in the midst of the Holocaust, whom would He love? The victims of the Holocaust? Absolutely. Jesus always takes the side of the helpless, the oppressed, the weak. He died to give such people hope. But that’s about as far as we can go. The fact is, Jesus died for the crimes of the Nazis, too. He shed His blood for the blood they shed. He suffered for the suffering they caused. If Jesus’ death does not cover the Nazis, it doesn’t cover you or me, either. It was to a criminal being executed for his crimes that Jesus said, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Jesus eats with sinners. He dies for sinners. He loves sinners. Real sinners, whose crimes we cannot imagine ourselves committing (because we’re good at deceiving ourselves and others). Real sinners, who don’t know how to love and don’t want to, for that matter. Sinners without reason, excuse, or justification. Nothing except Christ’s love, Christ’s choice, Christ’s gift of Himself.
Today, again, He does the things that keep us in His justification. Today He gives us the life without which we cannot live. Today He reminds us that we live from His life and from His love. And we will soon come down from this heaven like the rain that makes the earth fertile. We enter another kingdom, and we do good works whenever we have the opportunity. As Christ has loved us, let us love one another. If we are preachers, we preach the Word, comfort the saddened, and administer the sacraments. If we are fathers, we rule our households and families and train our children in piety and honesty. If we are mothers—and we especially thank God and pray for our mothers today—we nourish and guide our children in the fear and love of the Lord. If we are rulers, we do the office which has been entrusted to us. Whatever our vocation, we love fervently and actively, knowing that our righteousness before God has been guaranteed absolutely by Christ. He is our vine, and from His life the fruit of love is produced through us in this world. In these ways, let us love one another, without condition, without exception, without limit.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/12/12