Scripture: John 15:1-10
I am filled with what some might call avoidant behavior. I want to jump right into the sermon and ignore the announcement that is so difficult to make. I am sure you have either read or heard that I will be retiring, beginning October 1. It was a very difficult decision to make and, in fact, I was surprised when my wife, Kathy, suggested that I bring it up with my medical doctors. I have lots of doctors. Lots. And to a person, they agreed that the “assumed” rest that comes with retirement would be a great benefit to my body and my overall health. After a year of thinking and praying about it, I decided to take the Nestea Plunge and shared my thoughts with Hamilton. Hamilton has a great ear for hearing our stories. He once said in a sermon that if we listen to the stories of others long enough, we will soon begin to hear their pain. His compassion and support have helped me immensely. Thanks Hamilton!
I know you have questions about what direction Federated will take with my departure and I assure you, our Moderators, our Director of People and Operations, and our dedicated Church Council are looking at this as part of our Convergence study and discussions. Answers will be forthcoming as the soon as decisions are made. We are in very good leadership hands and while any departure of a staff person is stressful and painful, our leaders are prayerful, spirit led people who will keep central to all discussions and solutions the reason why we are together as a church – and that is to glorify God and to make the expansion of God’s dominion on earth a joyfully overflowing of the wells of love in our hearts. Pray for our leaders.
And finally, for now, thanks to the many of you who have emailed or texted your kind words of support. I was so happy not to get even one note, thus far, that said “About Time!” You are all too good and I love you all very much. Thank you.
Scripture: John 15:1-8
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. 2 God removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit God 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 Mother is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
Many of you will remember the 1998 movie, The Big Lebowski, which starred Jeff Bridges as The Dude. The movie database, IMDb, describes the movie with these words, “Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire of the same name, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it. Aided and hindered by his pals Walter Sobchak, a Vietnam vet, and Donny, a master of stupidity”. I know – that kind of makes you want to log off from church this morning and watch the movie. It is a very funny movie, but I am not recommending it, per se, due to moments, lots of moments, of questionable language and behavior.
Here is a picture of the Dude, played by Jeff Bridges. (see video)
Here are the Dude’s bowling buddies played by John Goodman and Steve Buscemi. (see video)
Here is why I mention the movie this morning. While the movie is a goofy comedy that has a strong feel of an old western movie, the main are characters are lightly disguised as being God, Jesus, Mary and Satan. And the non-millionaire, leftover hippy Lebowski, or The Dude, sums up his determination and quest for justice by referring to himself, as Jesus did in the Gospel of John, as one who abides. He says, “The Dude Abides.”
This passage in John is one small section of the more than four full chapters in the Gospel of John that comprises Jesus’ farewell discourse, which he shared with his disciples on the night before his crucifixion. Jesus is preparing them for their life after his death and resurrection.
The Greek word used by Jesus seven times in today’s Gospel reading is the verb meno. Meno has many shades of meaning and could be translated as remain, abide, or dwell. The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel could be understood as his definitive answer to a question that the disciples’ asked earlier, in John 1:38. “Jesus, Where do you stay?” It is the same verb, meno. Jesus took the first disciples and showed them where he was staying. Now, many chapters later, he seems to return to the idea of where he dwells in this beautiful portion of scripture.
Jesus uses the image of a grape farmer as an illustration to his disciples concerning the costs and joys of following him. He notes that the vine grower cuts and trims off the branches that do not bear fruit. He said that the vineyard is cleaned of that which is not fruitful, leaving only healthy, vibrant plants which yield the finest fruit.
Jesus encourages them to “Abide in me as I abide in you.” He makes it clear that there is a fruit-bearing relationship as we find not only Christ in us, but also, we find ourselves in Christ. What can this be like? It sounds cosmic and out there.
This week I was going through some old pictures from a box we have not opened for probably 25 years. There were pictures of my kids and grandkids when they were tiny peanuts. Vacation shots and photos from Federated Colorado trips and work camps. Lots of pictures from South Africa and some of our long-gone pets. And then a photo dropped on my lap and my heart lurched. It was an unexpected picture of my mother. A bit later, I found a picture of my grandma and another of my mother-in-law, all now in the care of God. I could feel each of these moms in my heart and I missed each one of them almost physically. And even though they are all gone, some for many years, I could feel the love they held for me. I abided in them, and they still dwell in me. This is what it is like to abide in Christ.
Further, Jesus moves from a relationship with him and includes other branches which grow from the vine. He says, “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 – all of you, can do nothing.”
Sometimes I uses the online resources of The Hymn Society as I look for hymns to match the lectionary lesson. Executive Director, Rev. Dr. Mike (mic-man) McMahon, often has some insights for the Bible lesson. For today’s lesson, Dr. McMahon put forth the question, “Where does Jesus abide?” That is a great question. He says, “The kind of abiding that Jesus is speaking about is far more than hanging out or sharing a place; it is deeply relational. Jesus “stays” or “abides” both in God and in those who follow him. Jesus abides in the Father and the Father abides in him. Just so, he commands them, they should abide in him just as he abides in them.”
And just how does Jesus abide in us who are his disciples? Using a beautiful image from the garden, Jesus utters the last of his “I am” statements found in the Gospel of John: “I am the true vine” (15:1, 5). God is the vine grower, Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches.
When we live in Jesus, we also live in God and God lives in us. Just as God is at times portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures as tending the vine, which is Israel, the chosen people, so here Jesus declares that he is the true vine that God cultivates. As branches on the vine, abiding in Christ, we receive our very life from the nutrients that flow into us from Christ. Nutrients like the bread and the drink we will share in a few moments. We prosper in all things because we grow on and through the Christ-branch.
Jesus continues with a caution, “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” Is Jesus saying that if we mess up we are cast into Hell for eternal burning? Is he drawing some line in the sand to confine us or limit us?
I don’t think so. But I do believe and have experienced this pruning in my life many times. Behaviors, attitudes, how I treated others and many more have been the point of conflict with my host branch. I have had to change as I grew upon the vine. Not because Jesus is a hardcase and want to ruin all of my fun. But rather, as I already said, so I can prosper and grow to a fuller potential. Which is why Kathy and I just agreed this morning that our grapevine needs to be cut back and trimmed later today. We love the plant and we want it to be healthy.
This is where the Easter Gift of Bearing Fruit comes into play. Jesus sees us as worthy of the investment of time and attention. He loves us so much that his desire for each one who follows him, each who abides in the vine, is to bring fruit for the world and blessing to our own lives.
“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 Mother is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
God as our Father and Mother, our very creator flows within and through the revealed and risen Jesus into our own lives. We bear fruit because of the care we receive by the Holy Spirit.
In the Big Lebowski, when The Dude said that he abides, that pretty much meant in the bowling alley where he basically lived. When Jesus says he abides, it is within us, wherever we go, over all time and space.
And that connection is renewed each time we gather at the Table for Communion. We remember that our union is with Christ and with all humanity through the body and the blood. Here we abide and her Jesus once again refreshes us with his presence and love.