Pastor Galen, March 17th, 2019
Would you rather spend a quiet Friday evening at home, or have a weekend of action-packed adventure?
Which do you like more: a new technological gadget, or a faithful old tool?
How many of you would rather try an exotic new food that you’ve never tried before, or eat your all-time favorite home-cooked meal?
For me, I’m drawn to the new, shiny gizmo, the action-packed adventure, the newest latest thing (although most of my friends don’t know it, because I’m too frugal to go out and by the latest technological ga. And, although I definitely have my favorite foods, it’s difficult for me to turn down the opportunity to try something new.
A while back, I was eating at one my favorite restaurants in Midtown, and I was all prepared to order my all-time favorite food — chicken tacos — when the waitress came past and told us that the burgers were half price that day. That changed everything! I quickly scanned down the list of burgers. And of course, I couldn’t resist trying something I had never tried before — the duck burger (yup, a burger made from duck meat). Why? Because I already knew I liked chicken tacos, but I didn’t know if I like duck burgers or not, and there was only one way to find out! (turns out that it wasn’t my favorite — but hey, now I know!)
“Abiding” Doesn’t Sound Very Exciting. But it is!
So with my tendency to want to try new things, and my inclination towards excitement and adventure, it’s no wonder that when I used to read John 15, the central word of this passage did not evoke a lot of excitement for me. The word that is repeated seven times in these first eight verses of John 15, is “remain,” also translated “abide” or “dwell.”
Now, even if you’re not drawn to the shiny, the new, or the adventurous like I am, these words probably don’t evoke a lot of excitement in you either. Why? Well, the word “remain” or abide usually has the connotation of stagnancy or complacency. Standing still. Staying the same. And who really wants to just stay in one place, and do the same thing over and over again?
But I want to suggest to us this morning that the idea of “remaining” or “abiding” in Christ, is anything but boring. And I want to propose that if we as a church were to really grasp ahold of this concept and to really implement it into our lives, it would have radical, earth-shattering consequences for both us as individuals, and for us as a church.
Grape Vines and Branches
But first, we have to understand something about grape vines and branches.
The vine is what comes up out of the ground and is connected to roots under the ground. It’s kind of like the trunk of a tree. The branches are where the grapes grow.
In verse 2 of chapter 15 Jesus says that the gardener will “cut off” the branches that don’t bear fruit. What is the fruit that Jesus is talking about here?
In a spiritual sense, the fruit that Jesus is talking about can refer to good works. It can also refer to a change in your character, or an outpouring of goodness to others. If you’re someone who has an angry temper — the fruit of being connected to Jesus is that you may start to become more patient. If you’re a naturally selfish person, the fruit might be that you start to become more focused on others.
But here in John 15 Jesus says that the gardener — referring to God — will “cut off” (or some translations say “remove”) any branch that is not bearing fruit
This passage has caused a lot of fear in people – fear that if they’re not performing well enough that they will be cut off. That if they’re not doing enough good works, then maybe they’re not saved.
But the word “cut off” here is actually better translated “take up” or “lift up.” It’s the same word that’s used when the disciples “take up” the 12 baskets of food that are left over after Jesus feeds the 5,000, and when Simon “takes up” Jesus’s cross.
You see, when a branch is not bearing fruit, it’s normally because it is sagging down in the mud. It’s not receiving the air and sunlight that it needs. But the gardener doesn’t cut it off or throw it away – vines are much too valuable for that! Instead, the gardener lifts it up — washes off the mud, and ties it to the trellis so that it can receive the sunlight and air that it needs.
God Lifts Us Up Where We Belong
Isn’t that a beautiful picture of what God does for us? When we are not bearing fruit, God comes alongside us and lifts us up, cleans us off so that we can bear fruit. God is a compassionate, gentle gardener who wants us to have abundant life, and to bear abundant fruit! God knows there will be seasons when we’re not going to bear fruit. But rather than cast us aside, God picks us up, wipes off the dirt and makes it possible for us to bear fruit again.
Some of you might not feel like you’re bearing fruit right now because you’ve been beaten down by life. You’ve had challenges and difficulties. The worries and cares of this world are weighing down heavily on you.
You don’t need to beat yourself up over this. You don’t need to live in constant fear that God is going to cut you off. You just need to allow Jesus to pick you up, dust you off, and get you started back in the right direction. That’s what this season of Lent is all about — remembering our need and dependence on God, and asking God to forgive us and restore us.
Later in verse 2, Jesus also talks about branches that are bearing some fruit, but they need to be pruned. If you’ve ever gardened, you know that when there are dead branches on a plant they need to be cut off. Dead branches will never bear fruit ever again — but if they’re left on the plant they can block the live branches from receiving the sunlight that they need. Dead branches need to be cleared away so that the fruitful branches can become even more fruitful.
What does pruning look like in our lives? Pruning might be painful experiences in our lives — trials and temptations that we go through that God uses to make us stronger.
Galatians 5:22 says “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.These are good things! But most often we grow into each of these things when we’ve gone through challenges and hard times in life. It’s hard to learn patience when everything happens exactly when you want it to happen! It’s hard to learn self-control when you’re not facing any temptations. And so God uses the challenges that we go through in life to help us grow to be more loving, more kind, more joy-filled people.
And so now we move into this part about “remaining,” or “abiding,” in the vine.
Now in the analogy about grape vines and branches, this part seems rather obvious, right? I mean, just imagine a branch of a tree that just decided it was going to separate itself from the trunk. How long would it survive? Or pretend that the branch of a grapevine separated itself from the roots. Not only would it not be able to bear fruit — it would die. Branches have to be connected to the vine in order to live and bear fruit.
Now, when Jesus told this parable about grapes, he was probably literally walking past a vineyard, pointing at grapes. His disciples were extremely familiar with grapevines. But I’m guessing that some of us here in the room have never even seen a grapevine in person, and most of us probably haven’t grown up on farms. So I think if Jesus were here speaking to us today, he would have probably used an analogy that we are all familiar.
He might have used the analogy of a toaster.
How many of you love fresh toasted bread? What about poptarts, or bagels? When I was growing up we would use our toaster to toast frozen waffles and have these wonderfully toasted waffles with syrup and butter.
A toaster is a wonderful thing. But imagine trying to use your toaster without plugging it into the electric outlet.
It wouldn’t work, right?
You can only get fresh, wonderfully toasted bread when your toaster is plugged in. Apart from that, it won’t work.
Well, in the same way that grape branches need to be connected to the vine in order to produce grapes, and your toaster needs to be connected to the power supply in order to make toast, in order for us to function the way we are supposed to, we have to constantly stay connected to our power supply. And what is that? Or rather, who is that?
The Real Adventure
Jesus says in verse 5 that he is the grapevine, and that we are the branches. Or in other words, Jesus is the power supply, and we are the toaster. We cannot make toast without being constantly connected to Jesus as our power supply. And if we’re not abiding in Christ, we’re going to have to live with frozen waffles that aren’t toasted, cold poptarts, and regular bread instead of toast!
Now, you may think going off and doing your own thing, or starting something new on your own strength might be where the real adventure is, but the reality is that without being connected to Jesus, you won’t get very far. Your passion will die, you’ll burn out. You will run out of energy.
It’s only when we are connected to Jesus as our power supply that we can truly become who we were meant to be. It’s only when we’re remaining or abiding in Christ that we can truly live. Abiding and remaining is where the real adventure is at!
I think this story about Mother Teresa illustrates well what it looks like to Abide in Christ.
An interviewer once asked Mother Teresa what she said to God when she prayed. “I don’t say much,” replied Mother Teresa, “mostly I just listen.” “And what does God say to you?” asked the interviewer. “He doesn’t say much,” she replied. “Mostly He just listens too.”
That’s what it looks like to abide in Christ. You don’t have to say much, you just have to be with Jesus and invite Jesus into every part of your life. Stay constantly connected. And when you do fall short, come to God in prayer and repentance and ask Jesus to pick you back up, dust you off, and set you back on the right path.
So let’s remain and abide. Let’s stay constantly connected to the power supply, and let’s allow God’s love, joy, and peace flow through you. That’s when the real adventure can begin!