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Fall Quarter: Love for One Another
Unit 3: Godly Love Among Believers
Sunday school lesson for the week of Nov. 8, 2020
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Background Scripture: John 15: 4-17
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
- Why do the vine and branch create an understandable metaphor for the Christian walk?
- How do love and obedience work together make the Christian life possible?
- Define the ways that you and others can learn to walk more deeply into the Christian faith.
Life is about varying degrees of relationships. I can speak weekly on Facebook to a friend and it is a legitimate friendship. However, it is a shallow friendship compared to the face-to-face connections we share with others.
Not only is the Christian faith about relationships, it is about relationships of spiritual substance. There are many connections that create the life I embrace and enjoy. However, many of these are like thin threads holding various elements together. I enjoy great friendships with many in life. I refer to these relationships as “casual.” However, there is a group of 12 that I share the deepest parts of who I am as a follower of Jesus. We are a group of clergy who have shared a non-pretentious relationship in Christ. We share our joy and our deepest pains. We have been present for almost every significant moment in our lives. We named ourselves “The Order.” The original intent was to meet for two years. The connection in Jesus was so strong we are now beginning our 13th
year. All of us have such relationships. Some are casual and some are powerful conduits through which Jesus moves in and through our lives.
Privately, can you distinguish between the casual and deepest spiritual relationships in your life? How do you contribute to them? What do you receive? Why are they important to your faith?
The deepest spiritual relationships always involve journey. We do not walk more closely with Jesus and each other as quick little steps. Life’s experiences teach us, open the doors of understanding of wisdom, and create doors for relationships. Our walk with Jesus lasts an entire lifetime.
This one section of John’s Gospel comprises about 17 percent of the entire Gospel. This section offers us John’s insight into Jesus’ “goodbye prayers and teachings.” The prayer for Christian unity with Jesus and each other is often called the “High Priestly Prayer.”
It is not surprising that the metaphor of vine and branches is used. First, wine is a vital element to people in Jesus’ day. It did not spoil when traveling. It was often used along with olive oil medicinally. Remember, they did not have beverages like tea, cola, or purified water. Wine was an essential fluid for life. Isaiah expresses its importance by writing, “without wine there is no joy.” (Isaiah 16:10). Thus, the hills of Israel were covered with vineyards.
The wine is the product of a beautiful process that can begin with a single vine.
Often, we contemplate biblical metaphors through western thought. It is very important to remember the Bible is an eastern oriented sacred writing, read through western eyes. In some very import ways, the same words or metaphor may have a different intent for the reader. For example, years ago there was debate over an O.T. phrase. The text spoke of tents made of badger skins. However, few if any badgers lived in that part of the world. Later they found the word interpreted badger actually meant dolphin which did occupy the surrounding seas. The eyes through we which we read Scripture matter, and in some cases, matter significantly.
Another perspective needs to be examined. We often forget that parables, metaphors, and stories were used by Jesus and his disciples for simplicity. They involve the items, behaviors, cultural items, and language that the common Jewish person would know, understand and with which they would be familiar. Many often read parables and metaphors from a more complicated perspective. For example, the parable of the prodigal son has been taught with significant meaning attached to the ring, clothing, and other facets of the story that Jesus had little concern. His meaning was simpler, but just as powerful, and I believe, more powerful. Always remember that Jesus had one focused story or parable to convey an all-important spiritual life. The prodigal son, for example, is almost solely about a father who never gives up on his son, whose love never fails, and who holds out the hope of the son returning home. Thus, it is about the loving patience of God who is willing to take us back into his home in spite of our mistakes and sins.
One of my friends in pastoral ministry was preparing his sermon from this text in John related to the vine and the branches. He called a professional horticulturalist to be best prepared. I admired his determination to enliven the text and help his parish hear the text and all the truth it conveyed. He later shared with me that the lesson fell short in its intent to communicate truth. He informed me that if he was attempting to prepare a class of horticulturalist it would have been a meaningful, helpful sermon. However, Jesus was not training a class on how to grow a vineyard. Most knew their crafts through watching their family perform them as a part of daily life. The parable about the vine and the branch is most concerned with our fundamental relationship with Jesus and his disciples.
John wanted us to remember a basic truth Jesus taught in this “goodbye” section of his gospel. The Jewish man or woman listening would hear that our entire spiritual life, from birth to the production of the sweetest life God empowers us to create, began with the vine. One could envision a single vine, drawing life from every nutrient and source of life our creator provides. This vine’s intent is to begin a process to offer the world the sweetest gift they knew from the earth. From the vine springs the branches. Each branch draws life from the same source of life the vine uses to grow and reveal the wonderful, eternal life of God. When the wine had been depleted at a wedding, Jesus’ mother called upon him to help. Mary most likely was the wine steward. To run out of wine on such a festive day would have been embarrassing for her and the bride and groom. Notice John records that the new wine Jesus created from the water was the sweetest.
Bread provides life and sustenance. It is the source of our biological life. But sweetness and beauty are also important parts of life. The great artists in ancient Florence, Italy believed their task was to capture the beauty of God in their art. They perceived their work of art as their sermon. Beauty and sweetness are parts of the Kingdom of God. John shares with us Jesus’ metaphor which intends to say, “The most beautiful and sweet elements in life are gifts from God to us through Jesus himself.”
The pruning was done for the purpose of providing Israel with an abundance of fruit and the sweetest grapes possible. Jesus is God’s gift of sweet fruit. He is the gift of abundant life. As the vineyard grows through him the world can experience the wonder of God’s eternal life.
Where do you most experience the sweetness of life as a gift through Jesus? What is sweet to you as you walk with Jesus? What was the moment when you felt you were in relationship with the vine and began your journey towards becoming an expression of who Jesus desired us to be?
John reveals that Jesus is clearly stating we can never know just how sweet and wonderful life in Christ can be apart from that connection with the vine itself. Jesus said, “No branch can bear fruit by itself.” Likewise, we cannot grow into the beauty of Jesus’ eternal life apart from knowing Jesus.”
Personally, I interchange thoughts of life, eternal life, and sweetness. My intent is my opinion of the core truth I believe Jesus wanted to convey. Jesus was the full expression of all life. Our connection with him establishes a relationship that is eternal, filled with the sweetness and beauty of God.
Should we abandon our walk with Jesus and decide to create our own path through life, we have chosen our own understanding of sweetness, beauty, life, love, and eternal hope. Is there any person who can embody and create expressions of God’s Kingdom? The life Jesus offers is rooted in reality and spiritual substance. Being rooted in Jesus opens the way for us to embrace the life of Jesus, express that life, and become connected to all other branches of vineyard.
When Jesus says that if we remain in him and his words remain in us, we will have everything for which we ask. This is NOT an open bank account to all we desire. If I am really in Jesus, determined to live as Jesus lives, I will desire what Jesus wants, not my own wants.
Jesus, in verse 9, proclaims that the life streaming into and through him is love itself. The scripture proclaims that God doesn’t just love us. HE IS LOVE. Jesus has loved us as the eternal Lord of Life and asks us to move through life offering an abundance of this eternal love. Only then can the world understand the purpose of life, the richness of life, and the indescribable power of being connected to one another in Jesus. Our actions, behaviors, words, and everything about us is to spring from that remarkable relationship we have with the vine and lead us to live a life that the world desires and finds the truest, deepest love.
Jesus reveals the he is the divine expression of the eternal purpose. As we live and share the love of God together, we experience joy as wide, deep, and full as it can possibly be.
It is most beautiful that in offering us eternal beauty, Jesus does so by giving all he is to us. He sacrifices the riches of humanity that all of us might know and experience the wealth of everlasting life. As the vine, he is the greatest expression of love as he allows humanity to live through his death. What greater love can one give for another?
The concluding section of John is really an expression of the Maundy. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you. Then shall all men know you are my disciple.”
Verses 13 forward are quite revealing. Jesus distinguishes between a servant and a friend. It would be the greatest privilege just to be a servant of Jesus, but Jesus says we are more. We are friends. A servant is allowed only as much as the master wants them to know. The servant’s task is to do as the master asks. However, the friend is offered truth and wisdom only a loving friend would share with another. Through himself, we are the friends of Jesus. As his life moves from him into the branches we journey toward making the sweetest fruit.
All begins with Jesus. All of life is expressed and given through Jesus. All of our purpose lies in living as a true, faithful branch emerging from the one vine: Jesus! Our greatest joy and deepest connection in love are made possible only as we all live in relationship with Jesus and one another. This is rather a simple statement of Jesus. Yet, what it gives, accomplishes and makes possible is so profound it is beyond full understanding. At best we can experience his life, taste the sweetness of God’s love, and be gifted with the knowledge that we are moving toward the most beautiful life imaginable.
Almighty God, the fruit of your life nourishes our soul, our heart, and our spirit. Thank you for all the relationships and friendships we enjoy through you. They make our life so sweet. To love another, as Jesus loves us, and to be used by Jesus, is an existence far greater than our humanity can create alone. Empower us to live in the abundance of the fruit that is birthed in a relationship with Jesus Christ, the one true vine. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.