“I am the vine and you are the branches” (John 15:5).
This passage has been on my mind for the last few months because of our confirmation class.* Each week in Sunday School the 7 youth have been building a tree. For six weeks they added on branches; then for another six weeks they added leaves; and finally they added six weeks’ worth of fruit. The end result was a whole wall to remind us that Jesus is the vine (or in this case, the trunk), we are the branches, and in Christ we hope to bear fruit.
Paul says in Romans 11 that we “branches” are grafted on to the vine of Christ. One of our church members explained to me this week how to graft a branch onto a tree: make a V cut, apply the branch, surround the entry point with moss, and then cover it in a wrap. To state the obvious, grafting does not happen in nature; it requires a gardener.
Jesus tells us who the gardener is: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (John 15:1). When we are grafted in to this vine, God’s grace is what prepares us and changes us and grows us in Christ.
But I also know that God the Great Gardener has assistants.
When I was a kid, my parents were assistant gardeners. They brought me to church each Sunday. They led us in prayers before meals. They modeled what it’s like to follow Christ, 24/7/365.
When I was a teenager, my youth counselors were assistant gardeners. They taught me on Sunday nights and took me on life-changing trips. I still keep the 22-year-old note in my Bible that Pete, Kaylee, and Ann wrote after a trip to Lake Junaluska.
When I was in seminary, Rev. Jim was an assistant gardener. He guided me in ministry at Emmanuel United Methodist Church. He told me, “I think you are called to be a pastor.”
If you are a branch on this vine of Christ, I bet you have a few assistant gardeners as well.
And if you are a branch on this vine of Christ, then God is calling you to be an assistant for someone else.
To be God’s assistant you don’t have to be well-spoken or well-read. You don’t have to know the Bible backwards and forwards. You don’t have to be perfect in your faith. You simply need to be willing to spend careful time with someone else. You need to tell them how you experience God, and how you see God in them.
If you are not yet a branch on this vine – if you are still searching for and wondering about God – then I pray that God will lead an assistant your way. Going to church is a good first step, because you might find a good assistant there.
“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener,” Jesus said (15:1).
May the Holy Spirit guide you to your place both as a branch, and as an assistant gardener.
* In the United Methodist Church confirmation is the process by which youth study the basics of our Christian faith and our Methodist tradition so they may make an informed decision to claim Christ as their own and become official members of the church.