Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Lent Midweek Sermon

Lent Midweek 5 – John 15 – I Am the Vine.

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
One more set of I AM statements remain for us this Lenten season. John 15. I am the Vine. And let us note where this takes place in John's Gospel. Once again, we are in the upper room – it is Maundy Thursday evening – these are words from the last bit of teaching that Jesus gives to the disciples before His death and resurrection. In fact, on the Sundays after Easter and before Pentecost, we'll be spending a lot of time in John 15 and 16 – but that's for then. Tonight, as our Lord is preparing the disciples and us for life in the world after the Crucifixion, He says, “I Am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Now, let's be honest – doesn't this sound a bit intimidating? Maybe even a bit scary? We're talking about branches being taken away (and later on in the text we hear about those being thrown into the fire and burned). And even if we do bear fruit, we are going to get pruned. Being pruned doesn't sound like fun. What's going on Jesus – are You talking here in order to give us the willies, to freak us out?

No. Jesus explains reality. Jesus tells us what our lives really are. He says, “Already you are clean, because of the Word that I have spoken to you.” We can miss it – but when you are pruning a tree, what are you doing? You are cleaning it. You're making it neat. I had an apple tree back in Oklahoma, and I didn't prune it like I should. I'd do a bit, but never give it the thorough pruning it needed. And it was a chaotic mess. A good treeman would have gone on in, pruned the branches back, and then the fruit would have grown thick and strong. I didn't... and let's just say in the 5 years I had the tree, I never got enough apples for a single pie. That's not the tree's fault; it's mine. God, though, is much better at tending you than I am at tending fruit trees. See, here's the reality for you, O Christian. As you live your life, you are going to see dead branches all around you – you are going to see people who fall away from Christ, who begin to ignore His Word that is preached in His Church. And they are going to fall away. And it's going to be sad, lousy, uncomfortable. But that's not you, not you here who are listening to His Word, because right now, God's Word is pruning you, cleaning you, preparing you to be fruitful.

There are times in our lives that God is going to prune us. For our own good. There will be times that God is going to let us struggle, so that we grow and develop, so that we grow in the directions that He wants rather than what the desires of our hearts dictate. There are going to be times that His Word lays bear our sin, our guilt, our pride, our arrogance. And we aren't really going to like it. But here's the thing – it really is for our own good. When St. Paul says that all things work together for our good, he's not saying “oh, someday it will all work out.” No – even now, in the midst of trouble and trial, God is shaping you, doing good to you, preparing you for fruit. Even as He prunes you, even as He cleanses you, even if it is hard, especially if it is hard, He is doing good for you. And how and why?

Well, here's the verse from this text that we all know. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in Him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Here's the simple, blunt truth about you and your life. It's not about you – it's really about Christ. Everything. Apart from Christ, you can do nothing. Even your good works – these aren't about you. They are about Christ, they are what Christ Jesus is doing in you and through you for your neighbor. As Lutherans we will talk about our vocations, the various callings that God has called us to – did you hear how that works... that God called us to, that God has placed us in; God is doing it. I get reminded of this as a Pastor all the time – I, as a called and ordained servant of the Word – called and ordained, ordered by God. It holds true for marriage - God gives spouses (therefore what God has joined together, let not man put asunder). It holds true for kids - God gives children. It holds true for our God-given talents, it holds true for jobs, for neighbors, for the people God puts into our lives – it all centers around what God has done, and what He will in turn accomplish through us for others.

You see, God is in control. Really. Really really. You don't have to try to figure out what God wants you to do, you don't have to try to plot out the future. He is in control. If He's placed you somewhere – well, He'll give the fruit. The fruit will flow, will come, will happen as you are in Christ. And see, that's the kicker. That's the hinge. Everything hinges upon Christ and how you are attached to Him. How you remain in Him. And that's by the Word, by abiding in Him, hearing His Word again and again, being shaped by it. And it really is as simple as that, as wondrous as that, as difficult as that. Consider what we hear in verse seven - “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Okay folks, here's the danger. “Whatever you wish.” We hear that, and our old sinful flesh wants to run wild. God's given me carte blanc for whatever I want, and I want a pony. God, how come you haven't given me my pony yet. Well, dang it, I wanted a pony, I haven't gotten it, God, why are you being so mean to me, why aren't you being faithful. The verse doesn't start, doesn't begin with what you wish – If you abide in Me and My words abide in you... that's where it starts. And if Jesus' Words abide in us... um... what's our prayer going to be? What is it that we will wish for? Jesus and what His Word says.

Jesus doesn't promise a pony. He didn't even get one Himself, He had to borrow one come Palm Sunday. And Jesus didn't come just doing whatever random thing He wanted – instead He prayed “Thy Will be Done.” And this is why we are pointed to Jesus and His Word – why we are taught to abide, not in our whims, not in our desires, but to abide in Him and His Word, to be constantly receiving from Him His good Word. Why? Because that is how we are pruned away from foolish desires. Because that is how we are cleansed. Because that is how we are given strength and life. God's Word talks a ton about love, about patience, about kindness and gentleness... about all those “fruits” of the Spirit. I Am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in Him, he it is that bears much... fruit. Fruits of the Spirit. Because when we are in Christ and in His Word – we see that a lot of our wants are off, and they get pruned. And we see and understand that we are called by God to love people, to be patient and kind with them, to be gentle, to exercise self control for them. And we learn to pray for these things – we learn to pray that God's name be hallowed, that His kingdom would come (even to us and for us and through us), that His will be done, that we be content with our daily bread. That we even learn to forgive the people God has put in our lives to be forgiven by us. And that we would be kept from temptation, that they would be pruned out of our lives, that we would be delivered from evil.

Because here's the crux of the matter, literally. Jesus is going to the Cross, to die and rise so that you receive forgiveness and life – and when you are in His Word, you receive forgiveness... and that forgiveness wells out of you and through you and bears fruit. If you want to forgive, you receive His forgiveness. If you want to be patient, you receive Christ's patience with you. All the fruit is what the Vine brings forth in you and through you – and apart from Him, nothing. And here is the wonder, the comfort. Jesus has prepared you for your life – and He gives you all that you need, He makes you to be fruitful in His Word. Really. It's the sin and fear of your old sinful flesh that tells you otherwise. But you, you're not mere sinful flesh. You aren't dried up branches waiting to be burned. You are alive in Christ, you are in His Word, you are baptized, you are forgiven, and when you are in Him, good works will flow, will blossom and fruit out – in ways in which our sinful flesh has no means of guessing or predicting. Because it's not about you. It doesn't rest up on you. We don't sing “The Church's one foundation is me, myself, and I.” It's all upon Christ, Christ for you and in you and through you – and whenever you are in His Word, you see this, you know this more and more. Because He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion – indeed, Christ Jesus will give you good works to do even throughout all eternity in the life of the world to come. Because they are His Works, and He is with you always, tied to you, even unto the end of the Age. He does the work, the work of the Cross; and He gives it to you. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

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