“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit”

25. September 2023
Funeral of Kelsie Marie Ernst
John 15:5

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ—Ron and Nancy, Andrea, Joshua, Katie, Kristie, family, friends, and fellow saints of God—grace, mercy, and peace are yours in Jesus Christ, your LORD and Savior. Amen. When Kelsie was baptized, Jesus joined Himself to her. He promised never to leave her or forsake her. He promised to sustain and preserve her in the faith. He promised to give her everything needed for her body and life. 

All that Jesus purchased and won by His suffering and death is Kelsie’s by promise and divine right. As He died once and for all to forgive sins, Kelsie’s trespasses and transgressions against God’s Holy Word are forgiven. As He abolished death by His death, Kelsie has not died but is sleeping in the Lord’s safekeeping. And as Christ rose from the dead, Kelsie lives with Christ, and we will see her again in the resurrection of all flesh. 

This is the glorious promise put into Kelsie’s ears when she was baptized and repeated to her with Confirmation blessing. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Her hope and trust are in Christ and Him alone. Apart from Him, she could do nothing. But grafted onto the vine, a holy branch of God’s making and redeeming, Kelsie was given to bear much fruit. 

The picture in the Scriptures of Israel, the people of God, had long been of vineyard. That image of a vine represented the covenant people of God, planted and tended by Him so they would produce fruit (Hos 10:1–2; Is 5:1–7; Jer 2:21; 12:10–11; Ezek 15:1–5, 17:1–6; 19:10–14; Ps 80:8–18). But most often, when Israel was depicted as a vine or vineyard, the nation was chastised for not bearing fruit as God expected. As Isaiah preached, “He [Yahweh] expected it to bring forth good grapes, But it brought forth wild grapes” (Is 5:2). God laments over us and how His people refuse His Word and Spirit to bear fruit. That’s a hard word for us to hear today. 

The people of God had forgotten the promises of God. They had walked away and thought they could be a holy vine without a gracious, merciful, and long-suffering God. Some believed they were God’s people, but it was not by way of gifted promise but by blood, claims of lineage, or land. They thought they deserved to be called the vine rather than the branches of God’s vine. They thought they could live apart from the Life-giver. They thought they could grow without the Grower. They thought themselves a vine without a vinedresser.

Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, tells us that Jesus’s audience believed it. They even crafted a massive golden vine to hang above the veil in Herod’s temple. Wealthy people would donate golden clusters of grapes, even as large as the height of a man. This was the visual representation of what they thought they had accomplished, with God having blessed them, but the fruit being their work. And their work was a massive golden vine hanging in Holy Place. But a little over forty years later, Rome destroyed the Temple; the golden vine was taken, melted down, and put into the Roman treasury.

It seems absurd they thought that way. But that’s the context of Jesus’s Word for today. First, the encouraging Word given to Kelsie on her confirmation day, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” That’s good news and a promise from Jesus for all who believe.

But He also spoke the Word, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” Jesus would rather not have had to say that. I’d rather have just skipped those verses. We’d not have heard it today, either. He’s speaking to those who have dismissed, ignored or rejected Him, even His own brothers and sisters. It’s not good for them. He came to give them life and give it abundantly. Jesus calls His hearers to repent, turn back to Him, trust in His Word, and live only in Him.

But Jesus won’t leave anyone for dead or cursed to the fire. The fire of judgment was never made for us. Jesus moves heaven and earth to keep you with Himself or restore you again to faithfulness to His Word and the gifts His Word gives. The Good News is that Jesus never stops calling you home, led by His Spirit, to walk in His Word, even as we pass through death’s dark valley. And until our last breath, He keeps pruning, redressing, and even restoring us to be branches of His vine. He does this because He loves us and has made us His own. 

Christ Jesus began His good work in Kelsie, much fruit, that we see now in part but will only fully see the last day. Jesus blessed us to see some of that fruit worked by the Spirit through the Word. She remained faithful in the hope that when her last hour came, Jesus would keep His promises—made at baptism, preached in Divine Service, learned in catechesis, put into her ears in absolution, and fed to her in the Lord’s Supper of Christ’s body and blood. 

None of these fruits of faith come from ourselves. They are Jesus’ workmanship. Apart from being branches grafted into the vine, we can do no good thing. As the Apostle spoke by the Spirit, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20). 

And despite her brief thirty-three years, you were given to see even more of the promised fruits of her baptismal bond to Jesus. From all I have heard and seen, the Holy Spirit worked many, if not all, of His promised fruits in her—“love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22). What a beautiful gift for Kelsie to have received Jesus but also for us to delight in the fruits of that faith worked in her! 

Jesus’s confession that He is the true vine and His Father is the vinedresser gives you even more comfort today. Because you, too, by baptism into Jesus, have been grafted as branches onto that same vine. You receive the same source of life, Jesus, from that vine. You share in Christ and thus, even now, share with Kelsie in all that Jesus promises. As you live in Jesus, Kelsie lives with Jesus and with you. 

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing… As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love… These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” 

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin