John 15:1-8 • April 29, 2018
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Well done brothers and sisters. It is still Easter!
I heard a story recently about a man who ordered a tree house for his kids from an online company. After several days of anticipation, the day finally came when the box containing the tree house arrived. A box that revealed every parent’s worst nightmare. In large bold red letters on the outside of the box, it said, “Some assembly required.”
Not to be deterred, with a tool-belt around his waist and an unrealistic goal in sight, the confident dad began to assemble the tree house. He spread all the parts across the backyard and began to read the instructions, soon to realize that the parts and instructions were not for a tree house, but for a sailboat!
His confidence gone and the tool-belt lying in a dark corner of the garage once again, the now frustrated and slightly angry dad quickly sent an email to the company complaining about his order.
The next day, he received this reply from the company. “We are truly sorry for the error and the mix-up and the inconvenience. However, it might make you feel better to consider the fascinating possibility that somewhere today there is a man out on a lake trying to sail your tree house.” [James W. Moore, Collected Sermons]
Jesus says to us in today’s gospel reading, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” You and I cannot live our lives in Christ and bear good fruit in the world apart from Christ, any more than a backyard tree house can make a good sailboat on a lake. Our gospel reading today reminds us that our identity in every way begins, and ends, as we are connected to the vine. A vine which is Christ abiding in us. A vine that is possible because God, the vine-grower, makes it possible in the first place.
Occasionally when I read and study scripture, I get stuck on a word or phrase. I hear it a little differently than I’ve heard it before. It’s really one of the main reasons why I believe we call scripture the Living Word. Scripture is constantly meeting us where we are. Transforming us and making us new every time we receive it. God abides in us. Jesus abides in us. Scripture abides in us. We abide in God. And we abide in each other.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the word that stuck with me this week was the word abide. I’m guessing that the word abide is not a regular part of your conversation or vocabulary. To be honest, I can’t recall the last time I actually used the word abide in any conversations I’ve had or written communication I’ve shared.
Abide, as defined by dictionary.com, means “to remain; continue; stay:”; “to be able to live with, or stand.” The important part of the word abide to take note of is that it is a verb. It is not passive, but active. And it always requires a relationship.
So when Jesus says, “Abide in me as I abide in you.”, this mutual abiding is not something that we can do independent of anyone or any other part of God’s good creation. Like it or not, as children of God – children of God who are created in the image of the vine-grower – we are connected to each other. Abiding in each other.
This section of the gospel of Saint John is known as Jesus’ farewell discourse. It begins in chapter 14 right after the disciples have celebrated what we now know as The Last Supper and concludes in chapter 17 with Jesus praying for his disciples. Which leads directly to the time of the crucifixion.
Jesus is trying to prepare his disciples for what’s about to happen. He is also trying to assure them that he will be with them always – even when life gets hard. And we all know because of the experiences we walk through each year in Holy Week, it’s about to get really hard for the disciples. I want to also note that John’s gospel is written for a community that has likely been thrown out, rejected their by friends and family, and probably feeling pretty isolated and alone. They are probably feeling like they have been cut down, not simply pruned.
There are dozens of times when the word abide is used in Holy Scripture. In every single verse where the word abide is used, it is used in ways that speak about relationship. Relationship with other people. Relationship with creation. Relationship with God.
There are times in our own relationships when we might feel like the people who are first hearing these words from John. When we feel left out, alone, even abandoned. It’s precisely in those times that we need to hear Jesus say to us again, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” It’s a reminder that we are never alone because of the relationship we have with God through Jesus.
And there will be times in all of our relationships when a little pruning needs to be done. Pruning not to disconnect or destroy or cut down, but pruning in order for good fruit to come forth. Pruning that happens – or maybe needs to happen in spite of our opposition to it – from time to time. Pruning that will result in much fruit being produced and God being glorified.
One of the central purposes for John’s gospel is to show this early community of Jesus followers who have been shunned and thrown out from the lives in which they have always lived is that, even as they feel shunned and cut off from the community they’ve always known, they are now called to witness to the presence of the Word in the world even after Jesus has returned to the father. They are called to witness to the fact that this Word – this Jesus – abides in them as they abide in him. Always. Forever.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, even in 2018, you and I are called to do the same thing. Called to abide and bear fruit. And as Jesus promises, we abiding in Jesus and Jesus abiding in us – fruit is harvested abundantly because of this abiding. Fruit that was described by Mother Teresa in this way. In her words, today’s sermon comes to a close, “Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand. Anyone may gather it and no limit is set.” [Love: A Fruit Always in Season, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987]
One of the ways that we show each other in worship each week that we abide in God and God abides in us is through the sharing of the peace. “Within reach of every hand” as Mother Teresa reminded us, we abide with one another in the peace and love of the risen savior Jesus the Christ.
And so as we abide with one another today, I invite you to stand as you are able. Please take a moment to share the fruit of our branches as we share the peace of Christ with one another. A sign of peace and love that is a sign of our abiding in one another as brothers and sisters in the one body of Christ.
May the peace of our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be with you all. And also with you.