Fruitful Branches

John 15:1-8. Fifth Sunday of Easter.

Rev. David Domanski.

4/28/20243 min read

When I was growing up, my mother used to put out planters on our porches every spring, and geraniums were always a popular choice. They’re incredible plants. One of the most amazing things about these plants is how many times they can bloom over the course of a summer. If a bloom dies, it needs only to be pinched off, and a new bloom will instantly grow to take its place.

In our Gospel today, the Father prunes us as branches of His precious vine. He forgives our sins through the Word Jesus speaks to us. Pruned and made clean, we bear new fruit as we receive spiritual life through Jesus’ death and resurrection. But it is important for us to recognize that only forgiven “branches” bear God’s fruit. Connected to the vine of Christ through forgiveness and living His life, we are extensions of God’s love in Jesus.

In contrast to the world, in which lives are unconnected to Jesus, our Lord describes His Church as a well-cultivated vineyard. The sinful world is a wild and uncultivated vineyard inwhich wild branches produce sour fruit or no fruit at all.

But in the community of the Church, Jesus is the true vine and His Father is the vinedresser. God the Father loves Jesus with an eternal love. His love for the vine then extends to the branches. Without Jesus connecting you to the Father, you would be dead in your sins and doomed to everlasting death. By Baptism, you are grafted into Him so that what He has and IS—life—flows to you.

And what allows you to be attached to Jesus, the vine, is that you are forgiven by His cross (“clean,” v 3). We receive Jesus’ forgiveness through our Baptisms, the washing of water with the Word. And as forgiven branches, we bear fruit. The fruit Jesus is talking about includes love, joy, peace, and more (1 Jn 4:7–11; Gal 5:22–23). This sort of fruit is the product of being attached to and fed by Christ, the Vine.

But as our parable today teaches, branches that do not remain connected to Jesus (do not “abide” in Him) cannot bear fruit and are useless. Cut off from Christ, we would again be as dead and doomed in our sins as we once were from birth. This really can happen—our faith can die—if we separate ourselves from His Word, which is our connection to Him and His forgiveness. And if we become cut off from the vine by our rejection of God’s Word, Jesus warns us that branches that do not bear fruit are removed from the vine—eventually being cast into eternal fire (v 6).

But the Father prunes fruitful branches so that they can be even more fruitful (v 2). The Father may, for example, allow sufferings or disappointments that cause us to trust more fully in Him—or cause us to direct our lives to spiritual things and away from earthly ones. As difficult as these “prunings” may be to endure, we must always remember that Jesus experienced similar trials and setbacks that made Him a Savior who was familiar with all of our sufferings so that we could entrust our lives to Him in all matters. And even as the life of Jesus flows into you as forgiven branches, you may be surprised by the fruit you bear (vv 7–8). Jesus says if we continue as forgiven branches by remaining on the vine, we will receive whatever we wish. But what will we wish? Let God surprise you by opening your heart and mind to Him so that the old fruits of your past are nipped off and new and different fruits can bloom in their place!

But even if we don’t see or recognize much new fruit result from our continuing to be connected to the Vine of Jesus, we are assured that bearing any fruit as forgiven branches reveals us to be disciples of Christ. In our hearts, we branches know that we are connected to Jesus and we listen to and repeat all that our master speaks to us. As disciples, we have been changed so that we now desire what our master desires for us and the world—righteousness, mercy, and peace. Being Jesus’ disciples and bearing His fruit in our lives changes our wishes.

Jesus’ disciples really meant it when they prayed, “The Lord’s will be done.” And now, Jesus’ disciples know and declare that He has died for us on the cross and forgiven all our sins. Forgiven sinners delight in the will of the one who forgives them. Surprisingly, we even delight in the will of the Father in those times when God prunes us with sufferings and challenges. A disciple connected to Jesus always believes that God’s will is for good.

A geranium that isn’t cared for will soon be covered with dead blossoms. The beauty that God intended for His creation will be replaced with death and decay. Left to ourselves, our tragedy would be worse than just a dead flower or lost opportunity to bear beautiful and blessed fruit. But we are connected to Jesus, the true and living Vine. Forgiven and loved, Jesus nourishes us with His Word and Sacraments. In Him, we have forgiveness of all our sins, and we will bear fruit in His vineyard forever.