May 6th: “Incorporation”

When we remain in Christ, we bear much fruit, for God removes both branches that bear no fruit and those that would drain energy from God’s mission.

This Week’s Passage: John 15:1-8

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for 5thSunday in Easter

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 God prunes the branches, not Christ, and certainly not other branches! The church is not tasked with discerning which branches to lop off.

2 The branches that bear no fruit get lopped off, the branches that bear fruit get pruned. What is the difference? In each case the branches are removed? But the vine improves all the more, producing even more fruit unburdened by the non-producing branches and strengthened by the new growth.

3 The vine dresser has already cleaned us for God’s work.

4 – 5 Just as a vine needs the root, so we need to remain attached to Christ.

6 But unlike a physical vine, we can opt to remain attached or to separate from the vine.

7 – 8 By opting to remain in the vine, we benefit from its sap and do not wither but produce much fruit to the glory of the unseen roots.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • This passage is part of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples anticipating his death.
  • It is followed by a similar teaching commending the disciples to stay in God’s love so they would bear much fruit.

II. Literary Study.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • /kaqairw/ traditionally translated as “prune” or “cleanse” is a compound verb /kaqa/ and /airw/ literally to “thoroughly remove.” O’Day, citing Beasley-Murray, recommends “cut off” or “cut clean.”

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • Simile, metaphor, figure. People are not physically grafted into a vine. Unlike a physical vine, people can remove themselves from the vine, and might not notice any loss of function.

III. Question the text.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

Pruning seems to be a difficult and hurtful task from a human point of view. But plants need pruning so they do not waste their energy doing useless tasks. Pruning is the essence for having and using a mission statement.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Remain in Christ for a fruitful life.
  • Emotional Center: God dresses the vine, removing dead and fruitless branches, and thinning buds from living branches so they will bear the most fruit.
  • Music: “The Church Is One Foundation”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • We are instructed to remain in the vine, yet those that do not bear fruit will be lopped off and those that do bear fruit will also be pruned. James Price in “Jesus the True Vine” The Presbyterian Outlook, April 19-26 suggests that “pruned” may also be translated as “cleansed” since the adjective with the same root in v. 3 is translated a “clean.” The vinedresser removes/cleanses extra buds from a branch so that selected remaining buds bear much fruit. So too are believers cleansed from wasting their energy in matters that do not give glory to the Triune God.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Fred B. Craddock (Knox Preaching Guides: John. John Knox Press, 1982.) while noting other possible partitions, considers verses 1-11 as a unit. He concludes: “Churches that move through hardship to inclreased devotion to the mission have, indeed, been pruned. Those that pull back in fear and resentment with attention only to their own comfort and safety have, indeed, been taken away.”

Gail R. O’Day (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of John.” Abingdon, 1995.) considers verses 1-17 as one unit, while noting that many consider verses 1-6 as an independent figure and the following as its interpretation. O’Day, concurring with C. H. Dodd, considers the word pictures used by the Fourth Evangelist inseparable from the theology he is communicating. She discerns Jesus’ use of the figure to reveal his position of the vine as connecting the gardener to the branches, and that all three are essential to the production of fruit. She reflects that “there are no free-standing individuals in community,” individuals rooted in Jesus give up their status as individuals to become a branch, and that “there is only one gift, to bear fruit, and any branch can do that if it remains with Jesus.

Carol Baldwin (Woman’s Devotional Bible. Zondervan, 1990.) abuses this text by removing verse 3 and confusing misfortune with divine pruning.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

  • When we remain in Christ, we bear much fruit, for God removes both branches that bear no fruit and those that would drain energy from God’s mission.

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