“Well-Connected Christians” John 15: 1-8 4.28.2018
Much of the modern debate on how one obtains spiritual growth or how one finds oneself, I believe, has led to the modern heresy of thinking of faith in individualistic terms as opposed to community terms.
We must remember that to follow Jesus Christ is a call to be a part of the Body of Christ the church. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name there I am in their midst.”
Today’s Gospel brings us a powerful image of the vine and the branches. The branches can only exist or bear fruit if they are connected through the vine. G.K. Chesterton (philosopher & lay theologian) wrote, “A person can no more possess a private religion than he or she can possess a private sun or moon.”
In being centered on self too many times, we no longer draw from the vine to produce, but only seek ways to be comforted. The danger is instead of looking how we can be a part of the body, how we can bear fruit, we look for what fills my needs – the danger of seeing the church as existing for its members instead of its members existing to serve the world.
All too often we think too much like consumers, putting our individual self first. The church is not a theme park. We must confront the danger of rating everything in terms of personal or entertainment value.
The measure of worship is not “What did I enjoy?” or even “What did I get out of it?” but “What was I inspired to seek and to do for Jesus?” Remember, worship isn’t always about you; what you like or dislike. Worship is about praising our God; and what we are to do in the world in the name of Jesus.
In the same way, the measure of stewardship is not “What did I receive for my gift of $$ or time?” but rather “What did I do for others?” – even the least of these my sisters and brothers.
Did you ever hear of the sign in West Texas that boasts Horses for Everyone? In small print it reads, “For skinny people we have skinny horses, for overweight people we have overweight horses, and for people who have never ridden horses, we have horses that have never been ridden.”
The risk is in losing our source of power and peace from Jesus by trying to make everything fit the individual. The true measure of church is not market share. There is danger of living by the philosophy of giving the customer/participant what they want instead of what they truly need.
Jesus in our Gospel challenges us, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself until it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”
When the church loses the vision to make disciples for Jesus Christ, we stop bearing the fruit of the vine and turn inward and cease to be the church God is calling for us to be. Evangelist Dwight L. Moody once said, “Most people talk of cream but live on skim milk.”
- Be honest. We sing about what a friend we have in Jesus but live as if we’re friendless.
- We sing about leaning on the everlasting arms but feel we are about to fall apart.
- We sing about Amazing Grace but fail to truly understand how amazing Grace really is.
If we really believe Jesus abides in us, and we abide in him, we can pass through the valley of the shadow of death; face up to our enemies; face up to our challenges; and feel secure.
We can live this way because we know we’re a part of the body of Christ, gathered with the people of God. We can live this way because Jesus Christ abides in us, and continues to invite us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to come together as the church.
The promise of Jesus is that we might abide in him and he in us assures us that we do not have to be alone. A young father was struggling the day of his wife’s funeral, trying to put his son to bed after the long day.
- Both were numb with sorrow. The little boy asked, “Daddy, where is Mommy?”
- Fighting back tears the father tried to answer the question, but the little boy kept asking, “Where is Mommy? When is she coming back?”
- After several attempts to satisfy his son, the father picked up the little boy and brought him to his own bed.
- Finally, the little boy reached out his hand through the darkness and placed it on his father’s face, asking, “Daddy, is your face toward me?”
- Given assurance by his Daddy, the boy said, “If your face is toward me, I think I can go to sleep.”
- The father lay beside the young son until he fell asleep and then he prayed, “O God, the way is dark and I do not see my way through right now, but if your face is toward me, somehow I think I can make it.”
That is what it means to know that we can abide in Jesus and Jesus in us. This awareness transforms the very fellowship of the church. With the power of Jesus as the vine, we the branches are joined together. We are one in and through the love of Jesus.
William Barclay, the Scottish Bible scholar, wrote, “Love is the binding power which holds the whole Christian body together. The tendency of any body of people is sooner or later to fly apart; and love is the one bond that will hold them together in unbreakable fellowship.”
When we know that we’re not alone, what does this mean for how we live? For one thing, to believe we’re a part of the ministry of Jesus and live in his love gives each of us a new way of living. What seemed impossible with our own limited strength and vision is now possible through God’s mercy and grace and the love and care of those joined with us in the body of Jesus Christ.
That is the power of the Holy Spirit at work. That is about abiding in Jesus. The challenge is to give that power to ourselves – to bear the fruit that today’s Gospel spoke of.
For Jesus calls us for a purpose.
- The invitation to abide is not self-serving.
- It is not to be free of the world but to be free to be in the world.
- It is not to be rewarded, but to be able to contribute.
- It is not to be by one’s self, but to be in community with one another.
It is biblically impossible to call oneself a Christian, and not be in a regular fellowship of believers called the church.
To truly believe in Jesus calls for us to bear fruit.
- It is then that we get past the idea of control and are able to share.
- It is then we begin to realize what it means to abide in the presence of Jesus.
- It is then that we truly begin to understand what it means to love one another.
Scott Peck, writing in The Different Drum, tells a story called “The Rabbi’s Gift.”
- A Catholic monastery had fallen on hard times. There were only five monks left.
- In desperation, the Abbot went to a neighboring Jewish rabbi for advice.
- The rabbi said, “I have no advice to give you really. The only thing I can tell is that one of you could well be the Messiah.”
- The abbot brought this thought back & shared it with his brothers, but he said he really didn’t know what to make of it.
- In the months that followed, the small community of monks pondered the thought.
- Without realizing, they began to treat each other differently.
- There was a new sense of love and respect.
- Others were attracted to their order.
- The monastery took on new life not only for themselves, but for the community around them.
It makes a difference in our relationship with others who follow Jesus when we see that Jesus abides in them as within us.
Our faith is based on the depth of God’s love, the promise of the presence of Jesus in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the knowledge that we’re not alone. Not only not alone in the sense that we have each other but, more importantly, that each of us and all of us abide in Jesus Christ.
Thus, we can give to the world with great strength as we draw from the power and presence of Jesus in our lives. Our value is in being a part of the vine that is the body of Christ.
Be honest. We all long for a sense of belonging, a place; a group. And to find that place or group to belong is particularly hard in a transient culture such as we live in. Most of us moved to where we are from somewhere else, and if we went home, we would discover that much of that place has probably moved too; it’s not the same.
To be a part of the church becomes the place where we can be rooted, where we can feel a part. The giant sequoia tree can measure hundreds of feet in height and 10 or more feet in girth and thousands of years in age, yet sequoias have very shallow root systems. The way they withstand the winds and stress of so many years is they intertwine their roots with others, thus drawing their strength from each other.
The challenge is to practice what we preach. We must continue to find a vision for ministry in this community of faith to which we belong.
William Easum in Dancing with Dinosaurs points out that to abide in Jesus, the church must be willing to be cut and pruned by Jesus. Sometimes a congregation’s most painful moments are, in the long run, times when it is driven closest to God.
Easum who studies churches in transition writes: “Adversity is often the window of opportunity for change. Few people or organizations want to change when there is prosperity and peace. Major changes are often precipitated by necessity.”
When we abide in Jesus, we find the strength of community. Joined together by our shared love for Jesus Christ, challenged together to bear fruit for that love in the world, we are connected together in and through Jesus.
Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches; we must continue to bear good fruit. It is as simple and yet important as that.
@Rev. Tim Wolbrecht, April, 2018
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 4-29-18” name of the sermon.