August 11, 2019

Baptism and Confirmation Sunday

John 15:1-17


In our Bible study group, we discussed about different types of writings that we can find in the Bible. We debated especially about the difference between a parable and an allegory. A parable is a short story with a message at the end of the story, usually in a short sentence. An allegory is similar to a parable, but it doesn’t have a message at the end. The message can be found within parts of the story. To over simplify it, if a parable is a story, an allegory is a story that contains many stories within. Jesus sayings often fall between these two categories.

 What do you think about his words today in John’s Gospel. Is it a parable or is it an allegory? None of these. It is a mashal, a Semitic literary form that uses an image and its application in real life.[1] I can see those who attended the study fuming. “Why didn’t you tell us that before!” they probably are saying right now. Well, to be honest, I didn’t know about it either before. And, there is always something new to learn, right?

 Now, this mashal of Jesus uses one of the most commonly used images in the Bible: the vine. Especially in the Old Testament, the vine is often used as a symbol for the people of Israel. The vine is planted by the gardener or the vine grower, which is the symbol of God.

 Jesus’ mashal is slightly different however. Here, God is still the gardener. But, this time, the vine does not represent the people of Israel; it represents Jesus himself. The people who follow him are the branches that are attached to the vine.

 Now, the main purpose of the branches is to produce grapes. But, the grapes are produced not for the branches themselves, but for people to enjoy. The mashal reminds us that, as Jesus’ followers, we are to produce fruits that others can benefit from.

 Sir Richard Branson, the founder and owner of the Virgin group, finds himself in hot water recently. He is accused of being a hypocrite when he says that material things will not bring happiness. Many people immediately point out that he is worth six billion Australian dollars. He owns a 300.000-sqm private island and all the fancy ‘toys’ that only a billionaire can afford.

 But, I actually agree with him. If someone like him says that none of those fancy stuffs make him happy, it is most likely right. He says that the things that really matter are family, friends, and good health. He then adds “the satisfaction that comes from making a positive difference”. In other words, he finds happiness when he bears fruit and help others to bear fruit.

 But, as Christians, we are not to bear any kind of fruit; we are to bear the right kind of fruit. And, we can only produce the right kind of fruit if we are connected to the right tree. After all, does the apple not fall far from the tree?

 In other words, fulfillment in life as Christians can only happen when we remain in Christ. This word, remain, appears nine times in this short passage. In the Gospel of John itself, it appears a staggering 40 times! There is no doubt that the word plays an important role in John’s Gospel.

 “But, how do we remain in Christ?” you may ask. To remain in Christ, we are to listen, keep, and follow his words, his commandment, and his teaching. Yes, we can learn from people that the world deems as successful, such as Sir Richard Branson. Many people listen to their words as if they are heavenly sanctioned. Warren Buffet, perhaps the greatest investor of all time, is even called as the oracle from Omaha. And, trust me, there are thousands of people out there who treat his words as some kind of prophecy.

 But, for us, the secret to a fruitful and productive life is not by listening to and following people like them; the secret to a fulfilling life as Christians is to listen and keep and follow the words of Jesus.

 Friends, we are all like branches that are attached to Jesus, the vine. Baptism is the outward sign of our spiritual connection to the vine. Today, we witness how this sign, once again, enriches the life of Dean, Jordan, and Oliver.

 But, baptism is not the end of the road: it is the beginning of the journey. Baptism is a call for us to stay connected to Christ and bear fruits for the world. Because, just like what Jesus says, we can do nothing apart from him.

Rev. Toby Keva

[1] John 15/1-8 Commentary by Osvaldo Vena - Working Preacher - Preaching This Week (RCL)