03 May 2015

Life on the Vine

The Holy Triune God has planted His people on earth to be a choice and productive Vineyard, that they might share in His divine Life and flourish in His loving care for them, bearing good fruits according to His own good and gracious will.  So it is that you are called to live by faith in Him, to receive His Life into yourself, and to bear the fruits of His Love by sharing His Life with others.

This is what it means, and this is what it looks like for you to be a branch of the true Vine and a part of the Lord’s Vineyard: To rely on Him and to receive your life from Him alone, to live in love for your neighbor, and so to bring forth the fruits of the Vine to the glory of God’s holy Name.

To withhold love from your brother or sister in Christ; to harbor bitterness or resentment against your neighbors in the world; to flatter and pamper yourself; or to serve yourself and seek your own glory — all such practices are evidence that you have severed yourself from the Vine and that you do not abide in the Vineyard.  For the Lord has planted His Vineyard to produce good grapes — not the sour grapes of wrath, but the good grapes of faithfulness, gentleness, kindness, and mercy.

But it hasn’t gone that way, has it?  Not for you, and not in general, either.  Take a look around.  Consider the daily news from all over the world and from the cities and towns of our own nation.  Think about your routines, and about your relationships: not just the ones you favor and prefer, but all of those roles and relationships to which the Lord has called you.  It isn’t all coming up roses, is it?  Nor is it the harvest of faith and love that God commands and requires of His Vineyard.

The soil has been cursed on account of sin.  The ground from which you have been taken is stained with blood, and the earth itself quakes with the weight of death.  Plants do not grow easily or well.  The grass withers and fades, and all flesh dies.  Thorns and thistles infest the Vineyard.  The whole world is polluted, the sun beclouded, and the rain insufficient.  The branches on the Vine produce more foliage than fruit, and the fruits they do produce are wild and sour, idolatrous and selfish.

The Lord looks for the fruits of faith and love in His Vineyard, and so also in you.  But you do not fear, love, and trust in Him, and you do not serve and care for your neighbor, not as you should.

Yet, the Father in heaven still cares for His Vine, and so He cultivates His Vineyard by pruning the branches and removing those that bear no fruit, casting them into the fire.  He does this cutting so that the Vine itself may survive and thrive, and that it should live and grow in faith and love.

But who, or what, or where is that true Vine which is able to survive the curse of sin and death?  Who, or what, or where is that Vine which can thrive and give life to the entire Vineyard?  For the curse is so complete, so comprehensive, and so devastating, surely the pruning and removing of branches must continue until there is nothing and no one left.  For there is no good in any of us.

But, no, there is hope and help to be found in Christ Jesus.  He is the true Vine, the planting of His Father, who willingly dies the death of sin and is buried like a Seed into the dust of the ground, in order to redeem and sanctify the soil, the earth, the whole creation.  He is the One who is cut off from the land of the living and cast into the deadly fires of God’s righteous wrath and judgment.  He Himself is pruned to the point of crucifixion, in order to purge the Vineyard of sin and death.

He removes what is wild and wrong in your body and life, and He bears it away in His own Body.

And this same Lord Jesus Christ also rises from death to life, to be a vital and productive Vine.  He abides in faith and love, and He bears good fruit to the glory of His Father and for your benefit.

The Cross He has suffered, upon which He died, has become the Tree of Life for all the nations.  Because His death has atoned for the sins of the world, His Blood does not stain but cleanses the earth, and His Body, crucified and risen from the dead, is the First Fruits of the New Creation.

It is into Him that you are grafted, both your body and your soul, into His Body of flesh and blood, to be a branch of the true Vine.  For you are buried with Him through your Baptism into His death, in order that, having been planted with Him in the dust of the ground, so do you live and grow and bear good fruit in Him, as well.  Like the Ethiopian eunuch, you have been baptized into the Cross and Resurrection of the same sacrificial Lamb of God, who was lead to the slaughter and slain for your sins, who has also risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, never to die again.

Abide in Him, therefore, as He abides in you with His Word of the Gospel; and so bear good fruit.  For apart from Him, you are dead.  The good fruits that you bear — the fruits of faith and love — are the produce of the Life that you receive and have and live in Him, as He Himself is your Life.

It is by His Word, by the hearing of His Word, that you abide in Him and live in Him; for it is by and with His Word, by the preaching of His Word, that He is with you always and abides in you.

It is by the washing of the water with His Word that you are grafted into Him in Holy Baptism.  So it is by His Word, by His preaching of repentance and forgiveness, that you are daily returned to the significance of your Baptism; and by His Word that you are “watered” with the living and Life-giving Spirit, who keeps you and the whole Church united with Christ in the one true faith.

You are already clean by the Word of the Gospel that Christ has spoken to you, but so does He daily “wash your feet” and “water your soil” with the catechesis of His Word.  With His Law and His Gospel, He teaches you the Way of Life — to be fruitful in faith and love, as He is fruitful.

Where you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment, He does not cut you off, cast you away from His presence, or destroy you.  He does prune your life with His Law, not for death but for the discipline of love, that you should rely upon His gifts of Life and so be nurtured and sustained by His grace.  For His Word of the Gospel, which is the forgiveness of your sins, fills you with the vitality — the life and health and strength — of His Resurrection from the dead.

By the merit and means of His own dying and rising, He does not remove you from the Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts, but He raises you up from death and the grave, from the dust of the earth, and from the idolatry and unbelief of your sin, to bear the fruits of peace and joy, of faith, hope, and love, to the glory of His God and Father.  As He Himself glorifies God with the abundant fruit of His Cross and Resurrection, so does He glorify the Father in you, and He glorifies you in Himself.

With that same Word of His Gospel, He also feeds you with the Fruits of His Cross, that is to say, with His sacred Body, crucified and risen for your Salvation, and with His holy and precious Blood, poured out for you from this true Vine as a better Vintage than this world has otherwise known.  So does He abide in you, both soul and body, and you abide in Him by faith in His Word.

This Sacrament of the Altar truly is the Feast of Holy Love, because these gifts of the incarnate Christ, His flesh and blood, are the Produce of His Propitiation, the Communion Meal of His Self-Sacrifice for Atonement, Absolution, Reconciliation with God, and the perfect Peace of His Spirit.

Therefore, by these Fruits of Christ the true Vine, you are enlivened in heart and mind, in body, soul, and spirit.  And as He thereby gives you life with God in Himself, so do His Fruits produce good fruits in you after their own kind: Not only in your thoughts and feelings, but in your words and actions, and with your hands and feet and lips and tongue.  So does He bring forth in you the fruits of faith and love toward God, with which you worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, and the fruits of love for your brothers and sisters in Christ and for all of your neighbors in the world.

Sometimes that requires speaking up when it is difficult or even dangerous to do so, in order to defend what is good and right, to decry what is wrong, and to protect one neighbor from another.  Never with a spirit of vengeance or violence, nor for the sake of destruction, animosity, or hatred, but by the Spirit of Christ Jesus, with the confidence and courage of His Resurrection, and with the charity and compassion of His Cross, for the sake of repentance and forgiveness in His Name.

All such fruits of faith and love are a confession of Christ the Crucified, specifically, that He is the one true God in the flesh, and that He is your Life and your Salvation.  By your speaking of His Word, and by your living in accordance with His Word — by what you patiently bear and suffer in steadfast faith, and by your tangible gifts and works of love for those you are called to serve — you testify of Christ Jesus, and you bear the fruits of His Cross and Resurrection in your place.

It is His Word that produces these fruits in you by forgiving you all of your sins, by granting you His own Life and love and faithfulness, and by lighting your path in the way that you should go.

That path of life is one of grace and mercy, of compassion and kindness.  Above all, it is the path of forgiveness, even as God in Christ forgives you.  Thus, you proceed along that path, bearing the Cross to the glory of God the Father, in the joyful hope of Christ and His Resurrection from the dead.  Abiding in Him, as He abides in you, so do you live, and so do you love as He loves you.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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