The Vine and the Branches

The Vine and the Branches

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me
and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
John 15:5, Roy’s confirmation verse.

Greetings to the holy people of St. Paul congregation and
holy people from other Christian congregations. We’re set aside in baptism to
be Christ’s own, entirely cleansed and freed from all stain, able to live in
joy, able to confess one’s sins every day and renew….renew the seal of it all.
Greetings to you, amen.

I have achieved some age, being yet quite young, so that I
am allowed, going around to various places, to ask questions to utter
strangers. No one thinks, I guess, very much of it or they don’t let on that
they think much of it, and I ask them what they think grace means. And,
usually, there’s not a lot of response. You know, we’ve seen people singing
this song and playing this song Amazing Grace everywhere. I just
wondered what people were thinking it meant, you know.

And, well, the best one that anyone came up with recently is
forgiveness, which isn’t really too close to the right answer. It follows the
right answer, but what grace is….saved by grace means is saved by gift. Saved
by gift.

I have this old story I carried around most of my ministry
of preaching in the jail and wearing a black shirt and collar, Sunday
afternoon, going in and preaching in the jail in Dawson County. And there was
a fellow that was in solitary, and he couldn’t get out of the tank with the
rest of us, and when I went by, he pushed this little box made of matchsticks
glued together on cardboard backing. It’s called prison art nowadays. Or used
to be called kind of hobo art. Anyway, he pushed this little jewelry box, I
guess that’s what it is, out through the bars to me. And I had, just like my
wife tells me not to, I had two one-dollar bills rolled up in my shirt pocket, and
so when he put the box out, I put the two… I knew he could buy more matches if
nothing else and Elmer’s glue. Put the two dollar bills through the bars and
he took the box back.

So, I made as if to go on down the way, and he put the box
back out there again. And I reached again, not being a real fast learner, for
my two dollars and put… to put them again through the bars, and he took it back
again. Which, the lesson is, you can have it as a gift, but you can’t have it
for something.

A lot of people… I do… use the holy law of God to notice in
there some things I’ve been doing pretty good, and I notice some others I have
been slipping up on, and I start depending on that as really being something
and some reason, for example, that my prayers ought to be heard or that I ought
to feel better about everything. And what I’ve done is build a bulwark between
myself and God’s grace. Because you can have it as a gift, but you can’t have
it for something. I mean, that’s to despise Christ and to make little His
sacrifice and resurrection, and that’s not at all a good idea.

Well, getting on with things. The true vine…. Jesus starts
out by saying, “I am the true vine,” meaning the vine that every other
vine that could ever be or was is inferior to. It’s a really, really, really
vine. And it has “exceeding vineness” on the basis of which I suppose some
people picture Jesus as green and wavy. He’s the connection, and it pretty
closely goes with, “There is one God and one Mediator between God and man, the
man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for all.” One go-between, one

And the Christ…Christian connection is just tremendously
important. It’s really nothing to be sneezed at, and when the Holy Spirit
taught you the Gospel, He showed you the crucifixion in living color in your
mind’s eye. You may not have wanted to have stayed there very long….turn the
page, so to speak, but there what we see really is my careless remarks and
unforgiving spirit and hateful talk, my covetousness is right up there pounding
the nails in with glee and pressing down on them with happiness and laughter
with the crown of thorns, because, aw, a little sin’s okay. Let’s not sweat
it. Let’s not, you know, get to be a bunch of puritans. Wouldn’t want to do

But the fact of the matter is when the Holy Spirit showed
you the crucifixion in living color and you realized that your self-allowed
sins, and willful therefore, were really spitting on Christ, spitting on Him
and mocking Him. Well, you had a change of heart. I had a change of heart.
Every day I’ve got to have the same change of heart. It’s all a gift. It’s
nothing but a gift, but don’t….don’t be making it trivial and of no importance
in your life for the sake of your confession and forgiveness every day.

Now, going on with things, how about the branches? The Holy
Spirit moved the members of the church called Saint Paul to make a move that
would in April 1945 work for the continuation of the holy Christian church when
all those people were no longer in this veil of tears, among those Roy’s
parents, sponsors. Because, you see, Christ put the burden for baptizing and
teaching on the church, not on people who need baptizing and teaching. You go
and do it. You baptize them.

And the first one to baptize, of course, is your children.
In Acts 2, “Repent and be baptized,” Peter’s holding forth, “every one of you
in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of…sins…[f]or the promise is
for you and for your children and [then for everyone who’s] far off….” But
don’t treat your children like pagans. The promise is to you and your children,
says the inspired Word, says the inerrant Word, and for everyone that the Lord
our God calls to Him. So it’s a burden of the Church to see about the upcoming

Talking about Noah’s ark in I Peter 3, and you know, they’re
pretty passive there on Noah’s ark. Eight people in all were there. There
wasn’t anything to do. You couldn’t even steer because there wasn’t anywhere to
go, and so it was that way with Roy when God’s holy name was put on him by the
power of the Holy Spirit. And Peter goes on to write about those people who
were in Noah’s ark. Baptism corresponds to this in which eight people were
brought to safety through water. Baptism now saves you, not as a removal of
dirt from the body. It isn’t how wet you get, but as an appeal to God for a
clear conscience. A gift, by grace through faith, a gift through the
resurrection of Jesus Christ who is at the right hand of God with angels and
authorities and powers subject to Him.

What’s subject to Him? Death. It’s under the feet of
Christ. I have an old crucifix somewhere, and under the corpus, the body, on
the cross is a skull on a crossbones, showing death and hell are under His feet
and His authority over it.

And our children, you know, that we baptize, I hate to tell
you this, but they’re going to do what you do, not what you say, so we all got
to stop being lazy and.…and get to the Eucharist and get to Bible class and
dust them off and drag them all to Sunday school or whatever it is for them and
not be lazy and complacent. You had enough doughnuts.

Well, what about then abiding? “Abide in me and I in you.”
Now, that “I in you,” there’s no problem. The Lord is perfectly willing to
abide in you. In fact, He puts it in you to be connected. He puts it into you
the capacity to pitch a tent there and stay.

And so, what does this look like? Again, in I Peter, “Like
newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up
into salvation if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” And it looks
like and sounds like, obviously, the body and blood of the Lord, the Eucharist,
and the written Old Testament, the Scripture, and the apostolic records that
beginning to be in circulation and oral reading of the Word and oral teaching
and proclamation. Here it is, believe it. Take it or leave it. That’s
proclamation. This is what it is.

God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, making
every one of His enemies His friends, not counting their trespasses against
them but against His own begotten Son.

Gift. Saved by gift. And so, yearn to get better
acquainted with your Lord. And, again, this requires not being lazy because
that’s out to get me just like it’s out to get you, so that believing God’s
holy Word, we might begin to love God and even to love His holy law, which is
pretty rough.

Ezekiel, the prophet, was handed a scroll to eat written on
both sides full of harsh statements and he was told to eat it and it tasted
sweet as honey. Because it may seem harsh, but it brings wholesome life,
happiness. So don’t despise God’s holy law. Even though there is no law given, that
can give eternal life to a person. It’s by gift, by grace through faith.

And then there’s the other one. How to abide. The branches
and the vine. How do you stick with things? Especially when everything goes
wrong. Don’t ever become interesting to doctors. Roy and I discussed this. You
don’t want to be interesting to doctors. Be boring and have common stuff,
everyday stuff. Stick with those. But what do you do? Give thanks in all
circumstances for this is the will of God for you who are in Christ Jesus. You
look it in the face and you chase self-pity out of the room by beginning to
give thanks.

Hebrews: “[L]et us consider….” now think about it…. “how to
stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as
some are getting in the habit of doing.”

It is kind of, you know, memory time and all of that. Roy
and Regina with children in tow, it was so encouraging to see them, and it’s
such a letdown to miss them. And you’re just like that to a lot of people.
Encourage one another by showing up, even show up early and leave last. “[N]ot
neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one
another”, and all the more as you see each of us our last day and our day of
the Lord drawing near, to encourage one another by being and greeting and, what
it says, “encouraging”.

This is continual abiding urgency of the connection between
Christ and the Christian that cannot be…the importance of it can never be
exaggerated, because without faith it is impossible to please God, and anyone
who keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of breaking
the whole. It’s important. You can have it as a gift. Believe on the Lord
Jesus Christ, repent of your sins anew, and every day forgive us as we forgive
those who sin against us.

Roy and I talked a lot about hope, and it’s these texts…. “Love…believes
all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Isn’t there a lot of
naiveté there? I mean, are you really going to be that open? All things? Let
her rip. But the one, you see, who “believes all things, hopes all things, and
endures all things” will never be disappointed because at the end, when all is
said and done, there’s God, who is right pleased with them for trusting in His
only begotten Son in whom He’s entirely pleased. “This is my beloved Son. In
Him, I am well pleased.”

So, everything turns out well, just for the sake of the
hoping. It’s not that everything arrived, believed, and hoped for and endured
for; it’s not even necessary. It’s just to keep on, stretch out your faith in
the face of everything.

My beloved Pastor Stenson, he skipped to my hymn that I was
going to conclude with. Thank you.


The King of love, my Shepherd is

Whose goodness faileth never.

I nothing lack as I am His

And He is mine forever.

In death’s dark veil, I fear no ill

With thee dear Lord beside me.

Thy rod and staff my comfort still

Thy cross before to guide me.

And so through all the length of days

Thy goodness faileth never.

Good shepherd, may I sing thy praise

Within thy house forever.