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Background Text: Psalm 80:8-19

Devotional Text: John 15:1

This week, our subject is the fifth “I am” statement made by Jesus in the gospel of John.

As we come to the sixth week of Lent, known as Holy Week, our attention is drawn to the many things Jesus explained to his disciples following the Last Supper.

During the meal, Jesus instituted the sacrament of Communion. He taught his disciples about servant leadership as he washed the feet of Peter.

As he led the disciples into the garden, he taught them more about their role as his followers and what was to be expected of them. In 15:1, he began with, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.”

To understand the analogy of the grapevine, we need to know that many branches grow out of a single rooted vine.

Jesus is saying that those who believed and followed him were attached to him, as the branches are attached to the one rooted vine. The Father God, is the gardener, the one from whom all things come.

Let’s continue with the words of Jesus as he spoke to his disciples in verses 2-3. In these words, Jesus is referring to his father in the gardener analogy.

“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”

Let’s break down these sentences to discover their meaning for us today.

To begin with, the word “prune” can also be translated from the Greek as “clean.” God will prune the branches that bear good fruit so they will grow even more.

First, Jesus tells his disciples (and us), that as believers we are already clean because we have accepted the words of Christ.

Another way of looking at this verse is to know that when branches bear fruit, some are cut back so they will grow more fruit than they did at first.

In our biblical understanding, its meaning for followers of Jesus is that as we show God’s love for others and do good deeds (bear fruit), God will give us a time of deeper understanding followed by more opportunities to serve him in love and kindness toward others.

When Jesus spoke about cutting off branches that bear no fruit, he was referring to those who may read the word of God, but do not follow it.

We must be more than hearers or readers of the word only. The word of God needs to have meaning to our lives as it works to give us a new birth and make us loving people.

How can we be showing the love of God if we push people out of our way, or steal from them and then lie about it?

These are not acts of Christian teaching. These are acts of selfishness.

Jesus reminded his disciples, and us, to always live by the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40 and Mark 12:30-31): “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this, love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

Our neighbors are not only those who live next door to us, but everyone we meet, and especially people who need help.

We learn more about bearing fruit in the next verses, as Jesus calls himself once again, “the vine,” and those who believe in him, “the branches.”

In verses 5-8, Jesus speaks to us today as he said the only way to bear good fruit is to remain in his teachings. As long as we seek to show God’s love and help one another, we are bringing forth good fruit.

However, if we turn from his teaching about love and goodness and instead seek to only please ourselves, we then show the world actions that are contrary to God’s ways.

Matthew 7:20 tells us, “By their fruit you will recognize them.” And from Isaiah in the Old Testament 5:1-7, the prophet writes that “the chosen nation was to bear fruit, do good work, be righteous people ...”

As these Scriptures continue through John 15:9-17, Jesus reminds his disciples that as long as they remained followers of Christ, he would give them the ability to “bear much fruit.”

As written earlier in this column, we as believers are already made clean by following the word of God.

The cleaning may also refer to forgiveness of our sins as we are sometimes tempted by our old sinful nature. God’s forgiveness keeps us on the right path as we go throughout our lives.

In today’s world of pandemic, we unfortunately see some people at their worst.

Perhaps it is panic, or maybe plain selfishness, as we watch people take paper products (especially toilet paper) from store shelves, leaving them bare; and others taking more food than they will eat in months, leaving bread, egg, and meat counters depleted.

Even fights have broken out in stores when people begin stealing from another’s cart.

These are sad and sometimes just plain horrific scenes, as we witness people not showing love for their neighbor.

And then, thank God, there are the good stories, like the one about the helpful woman at a grocery store.

There was an elderly man standing in the store with his empty cart. He wasn’t moving, but standing there looking bewildered.

Meanwhile, other shoppers pushed past him but did not stop to help.

But one woman stopped. As she talked to the man, he stated he didn’t know what to do. Shelves were empty and there were so many people, and he was on the verge of tears.

This woman went shopping with the man, finding what he needed and even taking items from her own cart for him.

But that wasn’t all she did. She went through checkout with him, and because he had no car but had arrived by cab, she took him home with his groceries in her car.

Once at his house, she walked him in and brought in his groceries for him.

This is a prime example of showing God’s love.

The Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh is the pastor of the Schenevus United Methodist Church in Schenevus, New York.