Fresh Start – Grafting

I’d like to start this post with a little story. Many of my colleagues have been eulogizing our District Superintendent, Dr. Donley on social media, sharing memories and photos. I had a handful of experiences with him. I want to share one of those with you. 

Believe it or not, coming up with a coherent 20-30 min biblical presentation each week is hard work. I’m not complaining, but I never realized how hard it could be to stay fresh and not repeat the same old passages. I also didn’t want to recycle old sermons from a different congregation and a different time. I find that more challenging than writing a brand new sermon. 

All this to be said, I had been here in Viroqua for a little while and I was concerned about hitting an inspirational wall as far as sermon writing goes. At a district event, I casually asked Dr. Donley for advice on this matter of sermon prep and I typed it down in my phone’s notepad. 

What’s it say
What’s it mean
What can I do with it?

What’s it say – what does the text say, In plain English. Read it. 

What’s it mean – go deeper, give some context from the world in which it was spoken. What’s at the heart of the passage. 

What can I do with it? – what is the call to action, how can someone live out or apply this thing we’ve learned about and from the scripture, apply it to their lives. 

Every time I hit a wall, I come back to this simple guidance. It is with this that we will be examining together, Romans 11:11-24. 

If you don’t have a bible on you right now, click here to read Romans 11:11-24

Verse by Verse breakdown

11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 

  • Jews stumbled, but they are still able to be recovered.
  • Because of their failure (to accept the gospel) the Gentiles have received salvation
    • This is because Paul would first go to the Jews, be kicked out of the synagogue and then go and preach to Gentiles. Gentiles would repent and be saved.
  • This salvation for the Gentiles – hopefully will show the jews what they are missing.

12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!

  • Jew’s loss = riches for all the world, how much greater will the riches be when the Jews do accept the good news?

13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 

  • Paul is addressing in this letter, and ministering to the Gentiles. His HOPE is that the Jews will wake up/become alert and desire what the gentiles have.
    • Essentially saying the same thing as the previous verses did.

15 For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 

  • Pretty much another way of saying verse 12

16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

  • Interesting take on this idea. Dough is mixed thoroughly and baked properly, and should taste the same no matter what piece you get. Similar logic, if one part is holy, all of the batch is holy. Then he uses this analogy to introduce the vine/branches and concept of grafting.

17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 

  • To properly graft, some parts must be cut.
    • one must cut down some of the growth from the rootstock to make room for the shoot (scion) to be connected to the root.
  • This makes sense that the “branches” had been broken off.
    • Today we would use a hand saw and cut the rootstock down to where we want it.
    • Then some cutting away, shaving and such will take place for the scion and some for the rootstock. (depending on the technique.)

19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

  • This is where Paul gets direct and personal with the Gentiles. Don’t get cocky. Yes, branches were broken off. Yes that makes way for you to be grafted in, receive the promise and blessing.

22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 

I repeat: Don’t get cocky.
Appreciate what God has done for you and continue in His kindness.

23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

Gratefulness for those who are grafted in. Hopefulness for those who can be grafted in/back in.


Let’s go a bit deeper into botany

Have you ever grafted one tree with another? One plant with another? Me neither. But I did some research this week and I want to share that with you. Perhaps it will shed some light on what Paul is talking about here.

  1. Grafting involves rootstock and scion (shoot)
    1. You need a good starting tree/plant. You then cut down a part of it, making a flat cut on the branch or root. It is the surface you’ll need to work with later. This is the root stock. Say you want to have a cross bred apple, start with the root system of one type of apple tree. (this is the base, May determine how much water it soaks in, whether its resistance to cold temperatures…)
    2. You will want to cut off budding branch ends of a different apple tree. Cut them smaller and then we prepare the two plants to be joined together as one. 
    3. There are numerous techniques for grafting root and scion together. The one I’ve read that is the most successful is the tongue and whip. You make a cut in the scion and the root stock that allows for the best possible connections between the most inner parts of each plant.
    4. All of this is done in winter or early spring. We want it to be done when both root and scion are dormant. Then as they begin to awaken from their dormant state, sap flows. It flows from the root to the scion, the shoot. It provides nutrients and the two pieces begin to scar or scab…healing together and joining together.
  2. If you are connecting the dots, you can see the analogy that Paul makes to his gentile Christians as he writes all this to them.
    1. You are not the root.
      1. You were carefully, painstakingly, grafted- cut into the root. You receive God’s holiness because you are connected to the root, like a scion receives sap from the root stock in spring. 
      2. So the Gentiles were not originally part of this olive tree Paul talks about, they were wild.
    2. Old, original branches had to be cut off to make way for you. But they can be grafted back in. The Jews still have an opportunity. You, gentiles, could just as easily be cut off too. Again- don’t get cocky. 

Fresh Start

“Helping you discover your Fresh Start in Jesus Christ!” It’s our local congregation’s slogan. It’s what we do here and it highlights one very important characteristic of God. His desire that none should perish. He bent over backwards for you and me and the whole human race.

As we looked at it last week, He left his father’s throne and came to earth to live among us. As a human baby. He lived and walked and taught and loved people, then he should show them how much more he loved them. Being arrested, tried and sentenced to death in just a short while. Never fighting back. Carrying his cross until he just couldn’t and then… needed the help of an out-of-towner. He was crucified. And disgracefully displayed for all to see.

All of this, so we could have a second chance, a fresh start. 

So we could be Grafted into his plan for the world. His plan of redemption.

In Romans, Paul clearly desires that his brethren will change their hearts and follow Christ. He will keep encouraging gentiles to live and continue on in the Kindness – the Grace of God.

The Gentiles didn’t do anything to get grafted.

A scion doesn’t say, “Hey I want to be cut down a little, and shoved over in that plant over there.

You know when a scion, a shoots response to being grafted is?

  • Receiving the Sap that flows from the close connection between the scion and the rootstock.
  • It takes time after grafting happens before the two join together and the sap begins to flow into the grafted-in scion. Before they become one branch, one vine. Patience.

And there is a noticeable mark left where the connection is formed. A scar. A scab. Evidence of healing, where cutting & chopping took place.

Today, you and I could say:
“Boy I’m glad I was grafted in!”
Or we might find ourselves saying…
“Am I the branch that got cut off?” 

In the book of Acts, Paul and Silas address their jailer after God miraculously shows his power, freeing all the prisoners…yet they did not leave. The Jailer is astonished at this. He asked what he must do to be saved. To be Grafted in. 

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

Acts 16:31 NIV

It’s 2023. Are you grafted in or are you cut off? 

If you feel cut off because of your own choices, walking away from the beautiful promise of God, the Good news of Jesus, you can come back. The door is open. His arms are open. He died to give you a fresh start. Just like the Jews Paul references in our reading today, you can be grafted back into the Vine.

Are you continuing in his kindness? Keep doing so.  Are you ready for your Fresh Start? 

He is too.


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