Posted on Mon, May 4, 2015
Gospel Text: John 15:1–8 “Mango’s, Faith & Love”
Jesus the True Vine
1 ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
What makes “church” relevant in today’s society? What is the difference between being a church, or some kind of country club? What makes church different than a country club, a socially minded club, or some other well-meaning group of people who also have a constitution or mission statement? Both churches and clubs have budgets, constitutions and by-laws, boards our councils, some even appear to have dress codes and their unique kind of jargon…
I am not the president of a country club. I am the shepherd of a faith community and this causes me to wake up each and every morning with a real sense of urgency and relevance … if I didn’t believe what I preached and taught wasn’t powerful enough to somehow change the world for the better, I would be doing something else. Our purpose and calling is life changing, and sometimes as important as life and death.
The most important act that we do is worship. Worship is a physical, emotional, spiritual, artistic way of acknowledging our thanks for what we believe God has done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Worship is our best attempt at saying “thank you” to God’s amazing grace and faithfulness. Some social groups and clubs may have unique initiation “rites,” causing a person to promise allegiance, but that is not worship.
The single most important requirement for someone to become a member, or participant of a church (our church), is knowing that we are all broken, and require an act of God to make right again… Or, we know that we have a deep down need to give thanks for the life we have received. And like so many journeys of healing and discovery, we know we can’t do it alone. Worship becomes a “LIFE and Living support group.” Each one of us comes to this holy place knowing that we are broken, or ‘have been’ broken by something or someone else, and we long to be healed. We bring to worship all of our burdens, secrets, regrets, wishes disguised as hope, fears known and unknown, and or disappointments that the human condition will never be able to fulfill.
The beautiful thing is that, somehow deep in our heart, mind and soul, we believe that God understands our situation and needs, good or bad, with more understanding and insight than we will ever have.
The metaphor of a branch being connected, or not, to the vine is truly about us being connected to God, our source of life, hope, joy and love… or not.
If we are the branches, and we foolishly cut ourselves off from the Vine, we cut ourselves off from the true source of life and meaning. Thankfully, even if we cut ourselves off from the vine, the vine doesn’t go anywhere… only we do. The promise of Baptism, the eternal promise of forgiveness and the identity of being a Child of God, will not change, and it will be God, the good vinedresser who will begin looking for ways of reattaching or grafting you back to the vine of life, love and hope. In this metaphor, consider “grafting” as a means of forgiveness, reconciliation, and being welcomed back into that great Mango Tree of Love, mercy, hope, joy and love!
God is the “Good Vinedresser.” God knows what is best for us, but if we don’t allow God to prune away all that is distracting and blinding to God’s goodness, we only continue to hold onto the garbage and toxic stuff that weighs us down or blinds us to the Truth and the cycle of being lost continues. The Truth is that we need to see ourselves honestly and let the toxic garbage go and repent in order to allow the great vinedresser to cut away the junk in our lives and burn it forever.
The fruit that Jesus is talking about can be all kinds of good things, but don’t over judge them. It is true, “Fruit” can be achieving world peace, solving the Climate Change problem, creating an equitable system of food distribution and educating all the hungry of the world, creating a world where all people are truly equal and valued as humans… not just by how much work they can do in order to make profits and collect taxes for others… these are all considered ‘good fruit,’ but they may be a little high on our standards bar. Let’s just begin with the fruit of being able to believe and allow the peace of God to enter your heart mind and soul. Let’s just let the Fruit of the Spirit, be that peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Let the Fruit of the Spirit be the comfort that only God can give… This may be small in comparison to the needs of the world, but believe me, that parable about having the faith of a mustard seed that can move mountains? Never belittle a simple faith, I have seen it carry people through an experience like hospice, the death of a child, the loss of a job. I have seen mustard seed like faith carry or inspire people to do some amazing and surprising things they didn’t believe they could do. Something I see lived out almost everyday.
Did you notice how many times Jesus uses the word, “abide,” in today’s text? I count eight times.
“4 Abide in me as I abide in you.” When Jesus is saying, “Abide in me,” notice he speaking in the imperative. For our sake, and for the sake of our relationship with God, the earth, neighbor, stranger or whatever, Jesus commands us to make our home within the Word of God, the love, mercy and promise of God. As Jesus says, “As I abide in you,” means that the Holy Spirit is already abiding in you, and surrounding you your neighbors and all that is around you with God’s peace and mercy… we just need to humble our hearts to witness it.
Abiding in God means to live in the (place where one is deeply at home and safe), and both the vine and the abiding places are ways of talking about love.
Jesus is calling out to a lost people, “Abide in me,” so that we can be reconnected to the Vine and fruit of the Spirit will be made known.
For example, when we are lost in our life journey, Jesus is calling out to us, “Abide in Me!” Jesus is saying, “return to living in me, this is the only place you will truly be at home, surrounded by my love.”
When a terrible, unexplainable event occurs and we feel confused, alone, betrayed or afraid, Jesus still beckons us “Abide in me!”
When people ask, why did so many good people spiritual people in Katmandu have to die in the earthquake? Why is racism tearing our country apart and people are fighting and dying for no good reason? Why is nobody doing anything when our oceans are acidifying, forests continue to be slaughtered and the only thing humans still care about in our suicidal rape of our environment are profits? Why does the violence in the Middle East just continue to grow and expand? How can Christians ever respond to the horrors and atrocities of ISIL? Especially when Jesus commands us to “love your enemy?” Difficult, almost impossible questions to answer adequately…
This week I read articles on all of these topics I just mentioned! All of these terrible issues filled my little mind within in one week! I felt overwhelmed and small… especially with the weight of the title, “pastor.” The one who is supposed to speak for God in a world we seem determined to destroy… and in my feelings of inadequacy, I heard Jesus call out to me in soft but clear tones, “Abide in Me.”
I don’t have the answers to these questions… all I know is that we live in a broken world, and bad things still happen to good people. But that doesn’t mean the peace, joy, hope, mercy and love of God is gone. It only means we need to repent, and let the Gospel remove all the fears that keep us from hearing the loving words of Jesus… “Abide in Me,” and let the hope of that promise guide us to hope and faith, receive God’s peace, and then go out and change the world.
The greatest fruit we can have is simple faith; Faith that becomes real when we no longer have the answers or the strength to fight on, yet we abide in Jesus. Faith that reveals our brokenness and carries us to a place like this where we can confess our sins, hear the Truth that we are forgiven and still be very much connected to the great mango tree of life! And then, we gather together as a Community of Faith for our humble worship and find meaning and identity at Children of God connected to the Vine of life, hope, joy, mercy and life. The best part of worship is that we are even given the meal of life… the greatest source of nutrients we could ever ask for… the body of Christ himself! Amen.
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