Sermon “Abide in Christ” May 2nd, 2021

Gospel Reading:
John 15: 1-8
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 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.

This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Praise to you Lord Christ.

Ripe grapes close-up in fall. autumn harvest.

Sermon, “Abide in Christ”
It’s good to be outside again for worship! It’s good to be here, to be together, and to sing together in the midst of God’s creation. Even though you and the preacher might be distracted by the occasional flying bird or running squirrel, it’s good to be here!
One of the things I have really enjoyed since moving to northern Indiana is being so close to Lake Michigan. We get up to the lake often during the summer and occasionally even when the temperatures are a little colder. One thing I have noticed as we have driven north into Michigan is all the wineries. They are everywhere. While we never stop, you can always see them from the road. There are rows and rows of grapevines. Occasionally you’ll see wild grapevines that have been left to grow as they please. They are a tangled mess. They are wrapped around the fences and one another. There are also the more cultivated grapevines usually taken care of by the wineries. The vine grower has taken the time to sort out, train, and discipline these branches. What’s unhealthy is removed and all that’s left is the healthy branches bearing fruit.
This image of the vine and the branches remind us that Jesus is the source of life and we are ultimately dependent on God, the vine grower, who prunes, nurtures and cultivates us. It’s no wonder Jesus used this image to describe himself and his followers. “I am the true vine (and you are the branches), and my Father is the vine grower. Abide in me,” Jesus said. “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”
Too often our lives can look a lot like a grapevine. The question is which one? It could be that our lives look a lot like those wild grapevines that are messy. It’s hard to know in the tangled mess what’s bearing fruit and what’s not. It’s on its own. It’s independent. It can take care of itself. That’s how many of our lives tend to look too. They are messy. And I think we all can resonate with this “I’m independent”, “do it yourself” mentality.
My favorite Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, wrote, “I’m nothing if not independent. Reportedly my first sentence was “do it self!” Yes, I will do it myself, thank you. See I want choices. And I want independence. What I wish Jesus said is: “I am whatever you want me to be. And you can be whatever you want to be: vine, pruner, branch, soil…knock yourself out.” What Jesus actually said is: “I am the vine. My Father is the vine grower. You are the branches. Dang. The casting has already been finalized. Vines, and branches off of vines, are all tangled and messy and it’s just too hard to know what is what… Not only are we dependent on Jesus, but our lives are uncomfortably tangled up together. The Christian life is a vine-y, branch-y, jumbled mess of us and Jesus and others. Christianity is a lousy religion for the “do it self!” set.”
I agree with Pastor Nadia. It would have been nice if Jesus would have said that we can be whatever we want: the vine, nope, that’s Jesus. The pruner, nope, that’s God. We are the branches bearing fruit for the kingdom. We can only do this when we “abide” in Jesus, the true vine. The secret of being a fruitful branch is to be fully attached or connected to the vine, to Jesus and his body or the church community. To abide is to remain, reside, to live within Jesus and his body. The word “abide” appears 8 times in this short reading in John and 40 times overall in the Gospel of John. It’s all about loyalty and this deep attachment to Jesus.
In those times in life when we feel like a jumbled mess, a wild grapevine, it would be good to remember that we are to “abide” and remain in Jesus, the true vine. The word abide/dwell/move in are found throughout the Gospel of John. In order for us to grow and bear fruit, we have to abide/dwell/move in/reside/and stay with Jesus and his community. We can’t do it by ourselves. We need Jesus, we need each other, we need the church. That’s why during this pandemic, we have found different ways to stay connected, to remain with one another. In person, online, over the phone, it’s essential that we don’t try to go it alone. Instead, we bear fruit only when we remain connected.
When we abide in Christ we admit that in a “do-it-yourself” “my way” culture, we are wholly dependent on the Good Shepherd like sheep, using last week’s image. We are dependent on Christ and Christ’s church. It means that we receive the support the church offers us while also caring for our siblings within the body. The challenging part of being a branch is allowing ourselves to be pruned. To let go of all that hinders our growth in love, as we read in 1 John. That’s the ultimate goal here. Abiding is not a place, but a place of the heart where the love of God dwells, lives, and grows in us.
I don’t think I’ve said this directly before, but that’s my ultimate hope and goal for all of us. As your pastor, I want you to be able to abide in Jesus, to grow in your love of God as we discover God’s presence and love in us and among us every single day. It’s all about growth, bearing fruit, and abiding in Jesus and his body. Our challenge is to abide in a way where God can prune us, those little branches, and we can let go of fear, hatred, greed, jealousy, grudges, resentment, shame, guilt, and all those other things that keep us from abundantly living attached to the true vine. The only way we get to that place is to abide, remain, and to dwell within Jesus and his body. It’s always about belonging and the only person who can decide how much you will belong is you.
Now the challenge I have as a pastor is that I can’t decide for you how much you will abide in Jesus or his community, I can only encourage you and invite you to do so. What I can tell you is that it is essential for our spiritual lives to remain connected. I have found this to be absolutely true in my life and you probably have too. We need the body of Christ, the church. We need to be connected, because we can’t do this thing along, this faith thing, this life thing, we can’t go it alone.
It’s something referenced many times throughout the New Testament. In fact, Paul, in his letter to the Church in Corinth speaks to a relational faith when writes, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” We are the branches of the vine, bearing fruit for the kingdom. Those branches are all distinct and slightly different, but they are all connected. Another way to say it is that we’re not just any body – we’re the Body of Christ – and we bear fruit when we pray, worship, serve, learn, and grow together.
I can’t say it better than young adult writer Leah Wise who wrote, “Jesus is not present on earth as an individual entity — we can’t hold onto him like branches on God’s vine — but we do have the church. Through the church — Christ’s Body — we may find a life source, and a connection to God our planter and sustainer, while simultaneously offering the love of Christ to others.
A rewording of John 15:1–11, replacing the pronouns for Jesus with “the church,” becomes a powerful statement of the church’s relationship to us:
“Abide in the church 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 the church. The church is the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in the church and the church in them bear much fruit, because apart from the church you can do nothing.
…if you abide in the church, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you
…abide in the church’s love
…I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
It’s hard work, but it’s the work of the Gospel and it brings life. This understanding of community, the vine, and the branches, flies in the face of a “do-it-yourself” go it alone culture. Instead, the church simply stands as a witness to the power of community where long ago that community witnessed the death and resurrection of Jesus and were sent by the power of the Holy Spirit to remain connected to one another and to the True Vine in a way that all may have life and have it abundantly in Christ.
The Gospel is lived out when we live in relationship with Christ, the True Vine, and his body, the church community. “We prune off the bad fruit in each other’s lives when we ask hard questions and hold each other accountable. We bear new fruit by creating welcoming spaces for everyone — not just the people who are easy to get along with — and by joining together to solve issues within our congregation and the larger community.”
It’s good to be here and when I say here I don’t just mean in the park with all of you, even though it is good. What I mean is that it’s good to be here, to be in community, to be connected to the True Vine and to one another. We are invited and called to abide here, in each other and in Christ, the True Vine.
Let’s pray together and I’ll be using a Contemporary Welsh Prayer:
Lord, we would grow with you
New shoots reaching out
Hands stretched upward
Like leaves newly formed
Soaking up your light and warmth
Lord, we would grow with you

Lord, we would grow with you
In sunshine and rain
In darkness and light
In cold days and summer days
From Springtime to Winter
Lord, we would grow with you

Lord, we would grow with you
And bring forth fruit
That is pleasing to you
Fed by your living water
Giving sustenance to others
Lord, we would grow with you

~ contemporary Welsh prayer

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