Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stay Connected (A sermon based on John 15:1-8)

Stay Connected

A sermon based on John 15:1-8
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Easter 5B (Mother's Day)

          The man stepped to the edge of the bridge and looked down. The water below seemed miles away. But he was ready. He'd rehearsed this moment in his head countless times. He took a deep breath and jumped. It felt like he was falling in slow motion. He didn't scream. he didn't cry out. But the moment he hit the water, the force broke his neck. The man was dead.
          The very next day another man stepped to the edge of the bridge. He too looked down to see the water so far away. He too had prepared for this moment, rehearsing it in his head. And he was ready. He took a deep breath and he jumped. He too felt like he was falling in slow motion. He didn't scream or cry out either. But as he neared the rushing river, his descent slowed. For a brief moment that seemed an eternity, he stopped, frozen just above the surface of the water. Then, in an instant he was pulled back toward the bridge. After bouncing a few times his friends pulled him back to the bridge by the bungee cord attached securely to his ankles.
          Two men jumped off the same bridge, hurtling toward the same deadly river. But there was one big difference, wasn't there? The one jumped free of all attachments, the other stayed connected to the bridge. One went out alone. The other securely fasted to something solid up above. And the difference of being connected was the difference between life and death.
          You've heard the maxim, "It's not what you know, but who you know that counts." It's a saying that reminds us of the importance of staying connected to the right people. And there's a lot of truth in that saying. When it comes to your salvation, it's not what you know, but who you know―Jesus―that really counts. This morning then we hear Jesus' words of encouragement to stay connected to him. Because the difference of being connected to him is the difference between eternal life and death. Listen to the words of our Savior recorded for us in John 15:1-8...


"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."


I. Stay Connected to Survive


          It's not really difficult to understand Jesus' picture here, is it? When a branch is connected to a tree, it gets the nutrients that it needs and lives. If the branch is cut off, it can't get what it needs and quickly dies. The point of comparison is really pretty simple: Connected to Jesus, one has what it takes to live spiritually and eternally. But separated from him and we're lifeless and worthless, fit only for the fire and eternal death in hell.

          So, Jesus warned his disciples to stay connected to him to survive. When Jesus met them, they were dead branches, trusting in their personal righteousness before God and their Jewish ancestry to save them. But over the next three years of his public ministry Jesus grafted them in to himself. He gave them the source of life that was knowing him and what he came to do.

          Now, on Maundy Thursday on the way from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus spoke these words \just hours before they would all scatter, abandon him and cut themselves off in spite of their oaths to never leave him and to die with Jesus.

          What comforting words these must have been for the disciples to remember as they were cut off from Jesus by his physical death and ascension: to know that they were still connected to him. And how comforting these words remain for us: "Remain in me, and I will remain in you..."

          By nature you and I were cut off from the vine. Born spiritually dead and unable to do a single good work in God's sight, let alone live the perfect life that he demands, we were fit for nothing but the fire. We were like the people Isaiah sang about in his book: "I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit."
Look at all the blessings God has showered upon us! He's blessed us in every way imaginable, but when he went to look for a crop of fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, what did he find? Nothing but, love of self, grumbling against him for what we don't have, turmoil and strive as we push to get ahead, impatience when we don't get the instant gratification we think we deserve... and we could go on and on, couldn't we? In other words he found only, bad, rotten and moldy fruit.
          But God grafted us in to the branch and made us his own. And even now as Christians, don't we still act selfishly? Don't we still complain against God? Don't we still act with cruelty, ingratitude and impatience? And by each of these sinful acts and rotten attitudes, we pick up the bungee cord and try to gnaw through it, hoping that it will still hold when we take the plunge at death. We saw into the very branch on which we're sitting, hoping it won't break and sever us from Christ forever.

          But Jesus warns us, friends, "If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." And that's exactly what we deserve―hell.
          And yet, though that's what the disciples deserved―to be abandoned to the fire for cutting themselves off from Jesus, that's not what they got. Instead Jesus told them, "You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you." With a bit of a play on words Jesus reminded them that they were different now. You see, the word pruned and the word cleaned are the same word in the Greek. He said, "You have been pruned, cleansed, your sin cut away by my Word."

          And he's done the same for us. We have been cleansed by God's Word. Through that message of Christ's death on the cross in our place, we have been pruned of every one of our sins. He cut them all away from us when he was thrown into the fire and burned up in the agony of hell that he endured on the cross in our place. And so now we are now clean and pruned, and though we were once dead in our sins, we are now alive in him. As Paul describes it in Romans 11, "you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root."

          Brothers and sisters, you have been given eternal life in Jesus, planted by him. Now, remain in him. And cultivate your faith. Recognize your weakness, that you can never survive this life on your own, let alone the judgment to come, and cling to the vine that is, Jesus. Draw life from that vine by staying connected to him in his Word. Stay connected to Jesus until you jump into death. And then, connected to him, you'll bounce back to life instead of crash at the bottom for all of eternity. Stay connected to Jesus and live.

          And as you stay connected to him you won't only survive, but you'll thrive, producing good fruit of faith...


II. Stay Connected to Thrive


          Jesus told his disciples, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit." Notice that there is no question about it. Remain in Jesus and his Word, and you will bear fruit. It's not optional. Fruit is a natural result of a good, healthy branch. If there's no life in the branch, it won't give fruit. But if there's life, there is fruit. It might not always be a bumper crop, but there will always be fruit. And what are the spiritual fruits of a believer connected to Jesus? They're good works. Those things done according to God's will and motivated by faith.

          Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." In Romans 15:28 he calls the offerings sent to Jerusalem a fruit of the Macedonians' faith. John the Baptist preached of the fruits of repentance: of giving to the poor, working faithfully and honestly, and serving others. After all, no branch eats its own fruit. Instead fruit feeds and nourishes others. In the same way, by our words and our works, our fruits serve others in love. And by those works God is praised (Jesus said, "This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit,") others are blessed and so are we.

          And, what's so great about this fruit of faith, is that we don't produce it ourselves. God helps us! Jesus told his disciples, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener... every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful."

          Luther said, "If only the vine could talk!" It might say, "What are you doing to me?! Setting these iron teeth to me, tearing and clipping me of my branches, so I stand bald and bare. You treat me more terribly than people treat any tree! ...[And] It's not enough you clip me and cut me to pieces?! Now you'll defile me with cow manure which people won't even tolerate in the barn?!"

          But God uses the pain and the suffering in your life to help you grow and produce bigger and better fruit. He cuts off the dead branches of your life―a relationship, a job, some hobby or blessing, so the valuable nutrients of your life―your time, your gifts and your energy―aren't wasted in meaningless pursuits. And he might let some manure pile up in your life to fertilize your faith and take your focus off those selfish pursuits that you might produce more fruit. So when the problems of life hit and God prunes you or fertilizes you, rejoice! What loving care the Gardener gives each vine, even if it sometimes seems like torture to the plant.

          And finally, pray that he will continue to prune you, and cut out those things that separate you from your Savior. Pray that you'll always remain connected to him. Pray that you'll recognize and make use of every opportunity he give you to produce more fruit. And Jesus promises that when we pray for these things―and in faith and thanks to Jesus, these that are really what we want most in life―he promises, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you."

          Dear friends, remain in him. Let his words remain in you. Rejoice that you've been grafted in to the branch, that you're securely connected to him, and that you live! And in thanksgiving boldly leap off the bridge of your comfort zone and go produce more and more fruit in thanks to him! you know that it won't end in death. "It's not what you know, but who you know that counts." You know Jesus. You're connected to him. Stay connected. Amen.

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