August 8, 2021
It's great to see all of you this morning. To those of you who may have just logged on to Facebook Live, it is great to have you with us as well. I shared this story with you all a couple years ago - it feels worthwhile to share this one again. Years ago I was a mountain guide for a Christian ministry in the remote coastal mountains of Canada. We would lead these weeklong backpacking trips primarily for high school students and as a guide it was my hope not only to keep the students safe and get them up and down the mountain in one piece, but also to make it as fun and as meaningful of a week as possible. And so if time allowed, we would take them rock climbing, we would go rappelling, swim in remote alpine lakes, we'd make snow cones on the summit, all sorts of fun stuff. As a guide, I wanted to do whatever I could to ensure that it was a great and memorable week.
I remember at the end of one trip we were coming off an incredible week and we had some time to kill before we got back to the trailhead. So we stopped and pulled out some song sheets and started singing a few hymns for maybe 15 minutes or so. At the time, I thought nothing of it. As we got back on the trail a few minutes later, I was debriefing with one of our students asking them, “What was your favorite part of the week?” Was it the rappelling, the swimming, the snow cones on the summit, what would it be? And then he tells me - it was the singing WE did just a few short minutes before. That was his favorite part of the week.
And I just couldn't believe it. I just was thinking, “Are you kidding me? After all I've done for you? That little moment was your favorite part? That impromptu singing that I really had nothing to do with that I couldn't take credit for it? That was your favorite part?
And as I began to process both this student’s response and my own internal reaction to it, a couple things became painfully clear to me.
That one, I was clearly focused on the wrong things. I had made creating a fun and memorable experience the most important value of our trip when all along this student was reminding me that the whole reason that we had put our packs on and summitted this mountain was to grow closer in our relationship with Jesus and with one another. Secondly, it also showed me in a very sobering way that the experience that I had tried to create was nowhere near as fruitful and meaningful and as lasting as I would have thought, and that in fact through my lack of prayer and not making the trip about growing our love and relationship with Jesus, that I had kind of disconnected the trip with growing closer to God itself.
And it's with that in mind that I share with you Jesus’s words today, where he says, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit because apart from me you can do nothing.”
As many of you know, this summer we are doing a sermon series on the “I am” statements of Jesus, reflecting on some of the metaphors that Jesus uses to describe himself and in turn describing who we are and what it looks like to follow him. And today we come to yet another one of these famous “I am” statements - were about halfway through the series at this point yet today's “I am” statement is chronologically the last one that Jesus shares with his disciples. And here briefly is the scene: it's the night before Jesus dies, he’s with his disciples for the final time before he goes to the cross and throughout this night Jesus gives his disciples a final charge, final words of encouragement and instruction as he prepares to depart from them, first dying and rising from the grave and then later ascending to be with the Father. Jesus knows that he will not be with the disciples much longer and so he gives them this final charge. He's taught them all sorts of incredible and important things and here he uses this simple but powerful metaphor to communicate their charge going forward.
He says, “I am the vine end you are the branches. Those who abide in me will bear much fruit but apart from me you will do nothing. That just as the branches of a plant cannot survive and cannot be fruitful unless they are continually connected to the main vine or trunk or root system, Jesus saying, “I am that vine for you to truly be able to carry out this mission that I am giving you. You've got to be constantly connected to me, the source of life itself.
in many ways Jesus’s statement there is somewhat provocative, saying, “If you're not abiding in me you will do nothing.” We might find that somewhat offensive. Because we think we can do many things apart from Jesus - whether it's launching a successful career or building up our stock portfolio or raising of kids that flourish and are law binding citizens. Sure, we can do those things apart from Jesus, but notice the context here. Jesus is with his disciples right before he dies: he is giving them this mission this charge to go and make disciples of all nations, to show them what it looks like to love and follow Jesus with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. In order for them to accomplish that - in order for them to do that and carry out that mission, they are going have to be connected to Jesus.
In this scripture Jesus uses this word “abide” over and over again. It's kind of an abstract word that first probably doesn't seem all that helpful. I remember when Callie and I were first moving here we were staying in an Airbnb, it was the actually this Sunday I was about to preach here for the first time. And I was telling Alden Cashmore, he was asking, “Hey, where did you stay last night?” And I said, “I don't know, somewhere on some dirt road,” as if I was giving like specific details that was really going to narrow down where that house was. Little did I know there are a few dirt roads around here.
This word abide kind of seems rather abstract, it doesn't seem to give us a whole lot of specifics but let's see what we can do with this some of the things Jesus says about abiding in him.
He says, “my word abides in you,” saying, “if you abide in me and my word abides in you.” He’s telling us to be connected to God's Word, to be immersed and saturated in God's word. He even gives us more specifics, saying, “abide in my love and if you keep my commandments you will abide in my love.” Maybe the connection might be that we abide through connecting with Jesus through his word - both in obedience to his commands, doing what he calls us and tells us to do and by also reflecting on Jesus’s love for us as told to us throughout scripture.
I know we talk often about the importance of Bible reading and prayer, but it might be helpful to connect those dots even a little bit more closely - the relationship between Bible reading and prayer. I think Jesus’s hope for us and the charge throughout scripture is that Bible reading and prayer would be tethered together, that they would be linked and in relationship together.
This might be an oversimplification, but we can think of God's Word as God speaking to us and prayer as us speaking to God, and the two ought to be interconnected. In fact, in some ways bible reading sets up the conversation, it sets the terms of our prayer life. After all, how we can pray to God, how can we know who to pray to and what to pray unless we first know what God has revealed to us about himself?
Eugene Peterson, he passed away a couple years ago, a famous Presbyterian pastor, actually had ties to Montana for many years. He says this, “Language is spoken in to us and that we learn language only as we are spoken to. That we are plunged into a sea of language.” In many ways our relationship with God is working in the same way - we learn language, we learn how to speak to God because God has spoken to us. When we are teaching our kids how to speak they are learning through an immersion of language. In many ways, that is true with our prayer life. It is a reflection of language being spoken to us God, through his word. In fact, notice the connection Jesus makes he says, “If you abide in me and my words abide in you ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” if God's word abides in us, his holy word, saturated and immersed in our lives, then we will pray more God honoring prayers that are actually in line with God’s will for us. Our Bible reading kind of dictates the conversation for our prayer life.
Now here might be another question that we need to think through, and that is, what does it mean to bear fruit? Like what does that actually look like? There's so much abstraction and metaphor kind of language being used here in this passage, vine and branches, abiding, bearing fruit. In some ways it can be like what we described with the kids sermon - where it might be the Fruit of the Spirit - that by abiding in Jesus, we grow in the Fruit of the Spirit, growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. It may also be more generally speaking in terms of evangelism - in terms of sharing the gospel with people and telling people about Jesus. It might be about making disciples and helping others grow in their love and knowledge of Jesus. In addition, it also seems as if there's kind of a specific tie to the command to love - you'll notice that Jesus specifically mentions in verse 12, he says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” That one of the ways in which we bear fruit is through acts of love and life giving service. You'll notice in that commandment Jesus says that you love one another, meaning their fellow disciples. Now it's true that we are called to love everybody but notice how Jesus specifically says love one another, that we would love our fellow Christians and brothers and sisters in Christ. It's something that Jesus shared just a couple chapters before on this same Thursday night after washing the disciples feet, where he says, “This is my new commandment that I give you - love one another as I have loved you. By this, by your love for one another, by the church’s love for its fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, the world will know that you are my disciples.”
There are some interesting studies of new strategies in terms of evangelism. In years past and throughout the past century, many times evangelism kind of happened one on one, where a Christian would speak to a non Christian and share the gospel with them and that can still be very effective. But yet, often times these days what people are finding is that the most effective forms of evangelism, the most fruit bearing forms of evangelism actually have a more relational component, where it's multiple Christians going out at the same time, also being in community with other Christians. The idea being, when you are just one on one, one Christian and one non Christian, that non Christian isn't seeing Christians in community, they're just seeing you. But yet, if we're there together in community, if they're seeing how you treat your spouse if they're seeing how you're raising your kids, how you discipline them, how you encourage them, how you teach them, that will rub off on them. They will see how you love one another through relational dynamic. So maybe one action item could be to get together with other families from church maybe three other families, and then invite two non Christian families to join you. That way non Christians are seeing you in community with other Christians. They will know that you are my disciples by your love for one another.
That might be one of the ways in which we can bear fruit, here is one more. I don't have a specific date for this but I think there's a very real chance in the next couple weeks that we will have an opportunity to serve our fellow teachers at Parkview Elementary. We didn't do this last year but we did it a couple years ago in 2019, where one of the final Saturdays in August we as a church rallied together and to serve our fellow teachers. We have a handful of teachers who serve at Parkview Elementary, we can help them get their classrooms ready for a new year. Lord knows, teachers have plenty on their mind and on their place as get ready for a new school year. And if we can organize papers, hang banners, sharpen pencils so that they can focus on curriculum and getting to know their students, then all the better. That's one way in which we can serve our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Of course, it doesn't have to be only those who attend our church that we serve their classrooms and help them get their classrooms ready. It could be any teacher, any classroom at Parkview. Hopefully we'll have a date in the next couple weeks in which we can serve in that way. What was so cool about that event a couple years ago is that other teachers were watching us serve our fellow teachers and kind of noticing from afar thinking, “Why are they doing that? Why would they give up their Saturday like that? Well, it's because we love one another.
Alright, I will finish with this: After using this “I am” metaphor Jesus says, “I have said these things to you so that my joy might maybe in you and that your joy may be complete.” And that's kind of intriguing, right? That Jesus hasn't shared this metaphor that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches not only for the purpose of bearing fruit but also to increase our joy. That our joy may be complete. And so, in what sense might that be true, that our joy would be complete through this charge? On one sense, it might be simply because you and I, we have this God given innate desire to want to live a meaningful and purposeful and fruitful life. We all want that. That gets 100% approval rating every time. And if Jesus is showing us how to do that by abiding in him, well my goodness, that is going to bring us joy.
But also consider this, and that is, Jesus’s words here are incredibly, incredibly freeing. You see, in some sense the pressure is kind of off. Because the path to living a fruitful and God glorifying life isn't ultimately produced by us. The real charge from Jesus here isn't to bear fruit per se but rather to abide in him, that just as fruit hangs off a branch, just as that is the natural byproduct and result of a branch connected to a vine, we can trust that our fruit and good works will be the natural byproduct and result of abiding in Jesus. So often there's this pressure to do more, be more, love more, produce more. But I think Jesus is saying, you can't relax, you can rest. Simply abide in me, let my word abide in you, abide in my love, rest in me. Because if you as a branch are connected to me, well, a healthy branch produces good fruit. That’s just want healthy, vine connected branches do. Friends, let's continue to allow Jesus to work in and through us as his Jesus connected followers.