A Whole Lot of Abiding Goin’ On” 04.29.2018 Sermon

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.”

Image result for tree house sailboatNot 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.

Image result for abide in meSo 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.

 

Image result for feeling aloneThere 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.

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“Resurrection Life” – 04.15.2018 Sermon

3rd Sunday of Easter * Luke 24:36b-48 * April 15, 2018

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the RISEN Christ. Amen.

For the most part, all of the Easter lilies and azaleas are gone. Which for those of us with pollen allergies, we proclaim through runny noses and watery eyes, “Thanks be to God!” I imagine the last bites of Easter dinner have long been consumed. In many respects, I’m guessing that Easter gatherings are a dim and distant memory for many of us.

That’s really too bad. It’s too bad because we are STILL in the Easter season. And it’s too bad because we always are Easter people – people of the resurrection every day of our life in Christ. Not just on Easter Sunday or in the Easter season.

Image result for christ is risen he is risen indeedSo the ancient greeting that we shared with one another on Easter Sunday – at Good Shepherd or somewhere else – is still a greeting that we can share today.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Awesome – you remembered! And you better pay attention today, because we aren’t done with that greeting yet.  Is that greeting, just a greeting? Like saying hi to someone? Or maybe we think of it only as a greeting that symbolizes a philosophical or Image result for jesus country clubmetaphorical idea that people outside the church no longer understand. It’s become a way for Christians, after 20 centuries of using it, to be our secret knock or handshake to get into the Jesus country club so to speak.

Here’s the entire point of this sermon today. The greeting Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Is NOT a metaphor. It’s NOT a secret handshake. And it’s NOT simply another way to say HI to one another.

This sacred, ancient, and holy greeting is an invitation into a way of life that will change you – in this life and beyond. And maybe even more important than that, is that this way of life – following the risen savior Jesus – will bless your neighbor and change the world in ways that we can’t possibly imagine today.

You see, if the disciples were looking for a philosophical argument or a spiritual metaphor for what happened to them as they followed Jesus, that’s not what they got in the resurrection. Jesus wasn’t a metaphor. And Jesus didn’t rise from death so he could show off a clever magic trick by flying off on a fluffy white cloud into the sky.

Jesus appeared over and over and over again to his closest friends and said, “Touch me and see. Peace be with you. You know what, I’ve been dead for a few days. I’m kind of hungry, do you have anything to eat.”

“If the disciples are looking for God to be some wispy spiritual being, or philosophical concept, or metaphor, or ghost, what they get instead is the Lord of heaven and earth chewing on tilapia Galilaea.” That’s how Pastor Peter Marty describes the disciples encounter with Jesus in today’s gospel reading. He goes on to say, “Their God and ours proves to be a flesh and blood God, not a disembodied spirit. This God is vulnerable to everything that is human, including the capability of being hurt and spilling tears.” [Christian Century, March 28, 2018, pg. 24]

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

The problem I see though is that, most people in our community, even our own congregation really, and throughout every corner of the Christian world today don’t believe that truth anymore. Or at least live their lives like they don’t believe that truth.

Either they don’t know the story of Jesus or the story of Jesus has been so diluted in their life that it has no impact on how they actually live a resurrection life each day. We continue to be disbelieving and wondering as today’s gospel reading reminds us. Or even worse than that, we don’t believe anything we say or do or give effort toward is good enough or part of God working through us. God can’t possibly use me to live the resurrection – we say – I’m just an ordinary little speck in the universe. Jesus resurrection from the dead is nothing more an incredible literary metaphor from some ancient author’s story that has nothing to do with me as I struggle to live out my life in 2018.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that greeting carries with it a responsibility. A responsibility that extends far beyond simply saying hi to one another or trying to be good to yourself or someone else or successful in your school or professional career. And that greeting carries with it the weight that God’s ability to conquer death in the resurrection of Jesus has changed the world forever and will continue to change the world until the end of time.

Image result for original ideaOriginal is the title of a chapter in a great little book by Pastor Rob Bell. In it, Bell writes, “Sometimes we hold back from throwing ourselves into it” (the resurrection life) “because we think that the only work worth doing is something completely original that’s never been done before.”

And then Bell goes on to share the story of a conversation he had with someone who introduced himself to Pastor Rob by saying that he was just an insurance agent.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Bell’s story of his conversation with just an insurance agent illustrates how I believe that EVERYONE is called to live a resurrection life – because of what God has already done for us and continues to do for us through the birth, life, death AND resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“Have you ever been in a car accident and had to call your insurance agent?” Pastor Bell recalls of the conversation. “When you’re standing by the side of the road staring at the smoldering wreck of what was formerly your primary mode of transportation, you don’t want just an insurance agent to answer the phone. You want someone to answer who has given himself (or herself) to being the best insurance agent they can possibly be.

No one is just a mom, just a construction worker, just a salesperson, just a clerk – because you doing your work in your place at this time is highly original and desperately needed.

It may have been done or said by someone else. That’s a distinct possibility. It may have been done or said before.

But it hasn’t been done or said by you. It hasn’t come through your unique flesh and blood, through your life, through your experience and insight and perspective.” [How to be Here, by Rob Bell, pg. 139-140]

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

“You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus says to you and me today. Witnesses in whatever way or place or person God places in your path. Witnesses of the resurrected Jesus who is alive in the world today, tomorrow, and every other day to come. Alive in the world through you and me, just as we are and just where we are right now.

If you don’t subscribe to our church’s magazine yet or even know that the ELCA has a magazine called Living Lutheran, you really should take a look at it. There are several free copies available in the information carousels around the church each month.Image result for resurrection life

In an article from this month’s edition, ELCA Pastor Dave Daubert further points to what I believe God is trying to say through this sermon today. Daubert writes, “Be more excited about your faith; help people love Jesus more; be more active in the community; share your faith with others; love God; love people, and make sure people know why you’re doing the whole thing.” [Living Lutheran, April 2018, pg. 19]

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Thanks be to God that we get to be part of this whole thing known as resurrection life. Amen.