Abide in Me

The following message was shared at Centerville UMC in Centerville, IN on Sunday, May 3, 2015. The Scripture for the morning was John 15:1-8.

In this morning’s passage of Scripture Jesus paints a glorious picture that his Jewish audience would have been able to fully understand. Jesus proclaims to be the true vine, God is the vine-grower, and we are the branches.

Speaking about vineyards, vines, and branches had a deeper meaning for the Jewish people than we might realize. The idea of vines, branches, and vineyards were woven into the religious heritage of the Jewish people. A quick walk through the Hebrew Scriptures reveals that Israel is often referred to as the vine or vineyard of God. Isaiah 5 refers to Israel as the vineyard of the Lord. Jeremiah 2 says that God planted Israel as a choice vine. Ezekiel 15 & 19 makes references to Israel being the vine. Hosea 10 calls Israel a luxuriant vine. Psalm 80 also refers to Israel as a vine. These references actually led to the vine becoming one of the symbols of the nation of Israel. In this passage, Jesus calls himself the true vine. In the Old Testament, many of the references to the vine have to do with the vine running wild. When Jesus refers to himself as the true vine, he is proclaiming to be the perfect image of the perfect vine. Also, in this passage, he makes it clear that it is not their Jewish heritage that will save them, but their faith in Jesus. The Jews of Jesus day were heavily leaning on their bloodline to save them. Jesus indicates that only faith in Him and remaining in Him has the power to save.

So, Jesus talks about caring for the branches:

  • We should prune branches producing fruit so they will flourish and bear more fruit.
  • The branches not producing fruit are drastically cut back so that they will not drain away any of the plant’s strength.
  • What about from a personal account? Where do you need to be pruned? What needs cut off?

Those branches that need to be cut off and thrown into the fire, remember at one time they were fruitful. However, they have run their course and it’s time for new branches to emerge.

We have to be careful not to confuse a young branch that has yet to produce fruit and an old branch that has run its course. A young vine is generally not allowed to fruit for the first three years and each year is cut drastically back to develop and conserve its life and energy. It has to be given time to mature.

That’s why we don’t just try something new one time and determine whether or not it’s fruitful. We have to give it some time to mature. Of course, some things in the church and our personal lives have been given more than enough time to mature and just need to be cut off!

There are times when the pruning process is about finding new ways to do old things. When we talk about this process in the church, we often say “the message stays the same, but the methods change.” (think about technological advances that have changed how we communicate; think about how aging bodies & aging facilities have caused us to find new ways to communicate)

This summer, we’re going to be doing VBS in a new way. Summer Camp Saturdays is an exciting new program to reach young people and families in our community. It will take every single one of us doing our part to help this ministry succeed. We need you to pray, to give your time, talents, and treasures to support the ministry, and we’ll need your presence to lend a helping hand. Everyone can help because, at the very least, everyone can pray! Last week, Melinda gave us a quick overview and an opportunity to start prayerfully considering how you can help. She asked for 40 people. I’m asking for every single person who calls this their church home to step up to the plate.

After the summer, we’ll review the program. We’ll do some pruning so that next summer it will bear even more fruit. Melinda’s goal for this summer is that we have the opportunity to interact and share Jesus with 100 students. Maybe we should be planning for 200 next year! Even if we only have 20 kids, that will be a success because last year we didn’t have VBS. Even if we only have 20 kids, we will still need every single person to get behind this ministry.

How many of you are familiar with the story of Medway, Ohio UMC. (You can learn more about Medway at: http://www.medwaychurch.org/)

Now, in churches, we have the tendency to attempt to prune branches that need to be cut off and thrown in the fire. Some of you might be asking, “why did they throw them into the fire?” The branches aren’t good for anything else…not strong enough to build with, so fuel the fire.

Let’s be honest, there are times when we are too attached to old branches. There are times our attachment to old branches is unhealthy. It’s difficult because we remember these old vines in their glory days. They used to be fruitful, but no longer bear fruit. Deep down, we know pruning will end up being a waste of time. Cutting them off and throwing them into the fire is the only option.

If a branch has not produced fruit for 5, 10, 15, 30, 50 years…cut it off!  When something has run its course, we need to give it an appropriate send off! Celebrate what it accomplished when it was bearing fruit. But do the hard work of making the cut!

It’s like my hair. That hair cut had run its course and it was time for some pruning. Let’s all pray that the pruning process will lead to more fruit!

How many of us would be willing to honestly admit that we are often all too excited to point out where others need to be pruned, but not so willing to prune ourselves?

Some of us are afraid to take the risk of pruning. We are fearful to take the risk of giving up what is for what could be. So, we’ll hold onto things that aren’t working because we don’t want to face the uncertainty of the unknown.

Jesus gives us the path towards fruitfulness. In this passage, He tells us the secret to bearing fruit is abiding in Him. To abide = to keep contact with; constant communion with Christ. We do this through:

  • Intentional faith development (SS, BS, devotions, small groups, etc)
  • Wesley’s Three Simple Rules:
    • Do good
    • Do no harm
    • Stay in love with God (or as Wesley put it “attending upon all the ordinances of God”)

Abiding in Christ isn’t just about getting closer to Jesus. Sure, that’s part of it. But, here, Jesus tells us the practice of abiding in Him will develop us into healthy, fruit-bearing branches. So, where’s our fruit?

John Wesley encouraged a number of practices that would help us abide or “attend upon all the ordinances of God”. Sometimes, we refer to these as spiritual disciplines.

  1. The public worship of God;
  2. The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded;
  3. Communion: The Supper of the Lord;
  4. Family and private prayer;
  5. Searching the Scriptures;
  6. Fasting or abstinence.

The public worship of God refers to worship in your local congregation. The ministry of the Word refers to the Word being read and expounded upon through preaching. The Supper of the Lord refers to Holy Communion. Wesley encouraged regular participation in Communion. Pastor Mark Gough – Every time you eat or drink, give thanks and remember. Family and private prayer is the time you commit to praying when you are not at church. Searching the Scriptures might happen at home, in Sunday school, or other small group studies. . And fasting or abstinence was a personal practice of refraining from certain practices in order to focus more fully on God.

In reference to Wesley’s ordinances, Bishop Rueben Job wrote that, “We may name our spiritual disciplines differently, but we too must find our way of living and practicing those disciplines that will keep us in love with God – practices that will help keep us positioned in a way that we may hear and be responsive to God’s slightest whisper of direction and receive God’s promised presence and power every day and in every situation.” (Job, “Three Simple Rules”, page 55)

In the UMC, our members make a commitment to uphold the church through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. By attending to these ordinances, these spiritual disciplines and practices, we find the strength, courage, and direction to faithfully follow Jesus. The result will be fruit! (Do numbers matter? Absolutely! They are evidence of our fruit! What we measure matters!)

Maybe we have made previous attempts to attend to these ordinances. Maybe we have attempted to make good on our commitment to Jesus and His church and have failed. The good news is that we call have the opportunity to start again. No matter how many times we fail, we can get back up and start all over again. Our past failures can be forgiven. God’s love never fails and never gives up! God loves you, no matter what!

Biblical scholar William Barclay, in his reflections on John 15:1-8 wrote that, “The secret of the life of Jesus was his contact with God; again and again he withdrew into a solitary place to meet him. We must keep constant contact with Jesus. We cannot do that unless we deliberately take steps to do it.” (Barclay, “Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of John: Volume 2”, page 176)

At CUMC, our mission is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”. We believe that a disciple is a follower of Jesus who is committed to grow, give, and go together. The steps we take to grow, give, and go are the keys to abiding in Christ. We grow through intentional faith development and passionate worship. We give through radical hospitality and extravagant generosity. We go through risk-taking mission and service.

As we take deliberate and proactive steps to grow, give, and go, we will abide in Christ and bear fruit. We take these steps in order to grow in our love for God and for one another. By abiding in Him, we will develop the strength and courage necessary to share God’s love with the world around us and “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

As we abide in Christ, we will view our church as a mission station, view ourselves as missionaries, and view our surrounding community as our mission field. May we be fruit-bearing missionaries!

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