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Saint John the Baptist Lutheran

4/29/18

John 15:1-8

“Remain in Me”

In 2005, the commencement speaker at the Stanford University graduation service took the podium and talked about how to live before you die.  He said, “You’ve got to find what you love… Your work is going to fill a large part of your life.  And the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.  And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.  If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking and don’t settle.  As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.  And like any great relationship, it gets better and better as the years roll on.  So keep looking.  Don’t settle for anything less.  That speaker was Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple.  In that same speech about doing what you love to do in life, Steve shared the question he asked himself each day to make sure he was living life to its fullest.  “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?”

How would you answer the question? Are you satisfied with today’s activities? Do you have “great work” to do today? Would you change anything on your schedule if this were the last day of your life?  Don’t answer yet.  Listen to what Jesus says about what it means to live life to its fullest. 

Jesus has a vision for your life.  He has a vision for your happiness.  He shares with us today his vision with this story of the vine and the branches.  Steve Jobs advised that until you find great work that you love to do, you should keep looking.  That is the only way to true happiness. Today, Jesus says the opposite which shouldn’t surprise us, for his way to happiness is not humanities way to happiness.  Jesus says, “Stop looking. I am the only Vine to a life that bears great fruit.  In other words, look no further than me if you want to find true happiness.

One reason why Jesus calls us to remain in him is that, as he says,apart from him you can do nothing.”  This is easy for us to understand when it comes to a branch.  We’ve all seen how a branch that is cut off slowly withers, dries up, and dies.  We use it for firewood.  None of us has ever seen a branch lying on the ground alive and well, bearing fruit.  No, fruit only comes from a branch connected to the vine.

But what’s not so easy to understand or to accept, is that Jesus is talking about us.  Without Jesus, all people are unfruitful, dead branches.  It’s not easy to agree with Jesus because we see lots of good people out there, doing “good things.  We see ourselves doing “good things.” We see charity and kindness, even in people who don’t believe God exists.All you have to be is a decent human being.  Look at all that Steve Jobs did to help us improve our lives.  You’d be in the minority if you did not agree with that. But Jesus says everything done apart from him is like nothing done.  As another verse says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”  (Hebrews 11:6)

That verse changes how we think about what it means to be great and fruitful in this life.  It brings to the surface all sorts of questions. What fruit does God recognize and value?  What does Jesus’ Father, the Gardener, work in us to will and do?  What does he cultivate to get more and more, constantly pruning away the suckers so that he can get bigger and better fruit?

Two things make good works good works in God’s eyes.  One is that it’s something done that agrees with God’s will. It’s something we know he commands us and wants us to do.  And secondly, it is a good work because of its connection to Jesus, the true Vine.

Compare being connected to the true vine to a computer.  It does many wonderful things.  It has its own power button.  But it won’t do anything unless … what?  unless it’s plugged into a power source.  Without power, it is, as they say today, usually phones who quit functioning a brick.  

That is why we are here this morning celebrating a powerful Jesus, the source of our power; he stands before us alive after he died, perfect and glorious after taking upon himself all the imperfections, guilt and shame of the world upon himself.  Sin paid for.  Death conquered.  And now he calls to the ends of the earth, “Believe and be saved.  Receive my victory as your own that you might not die.  Take my death to sin and live for righteousness.”  (1 Peter 2:24)  He is the only power for fruitful living.  He is the true Vine from which comes the vital sap branches need to produce and bear fruit.  The source for all good fruit is the connection to the Vine!!!

He tells us that, “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…  If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

Jesus warns Christians about being disconnected from him, the Vine.  You’ve seen branches that have not remained in Jesus, haven’t you?  Maybe you have  even experienced being disconnected from him yourself in some way

This being disconnected shows when some Christians quit attending worship services for a time.  Life goes on, as usual, maybe it even gets better, and they think less and less of the importance of being attached to Jesus the Vine. They forget that Jesus said in his holy Word, “Remain in me.  Let my words remain in you.”  My Father so loved you that he gave me up for your benefit, so that no one who believes in me would perish, but that all who believe would be saved!  Don’t forget that your nourishment, your ability to do good works comes from me.  Simply give thanks for the gift that has been given!  I myself have risen and give you eternal life in my name. I have done that for you. 

We, faithful church members start to disconnect ourselves from the Vine when we seek credit for what we do.  Or perhaps we get disappointed or frustrated, and even become unloving, if we offer a kind word or act of service but are not thanked for being nice or helpful.   Or when we treat this life as our world, made up of our time, our strength, our accomplishments, our reputation we lose sight of Jesus the Word – “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.”(Psalm 24:1) But such thinking must die in us, or it will ruin any connection to Jesus.

Jesus says to us: I am the Vine.  In my great mercy and love, I supply you with every good and perfect gift for your body and soul.  It is I who works in you to will and to act according to my purpose.  It is I who have redeemed you with my blood so that you would be purified and be eager to do what is good.   (Titus 2:13-14)

Do you see how precious a picture it is that Jesus says he is the vine, you, the branches?  Do you hear how great a promise is made that whoever remains in him, he will remain in you?  Do you see Jesus’ vision for you, toward which his Father, the Gardener, works and prunes away for your benefit?

All Jesus wants is for you to grow as his disciple.  All he wants is for you to be cultivated and pruned, corrected and trained by his Word, encouraged by his washing in Baptism, and sharing the blessings of his death with you in his Supper.  “Remain in me; he says” for in me you, as he told the disciples “you are clean.”

Talk about a message that not only “applies to your life” – it is your life, just as it is my life.  So, I ask you again the same questions I asked at the beginning of the sermon.  “Are you satisfied with today’s activities? Do you have “great work” to do today? Would you change anything on your schedule if this were the last day of your life?”  It doesn’t matter what’s on your schedule, how great it is or how small.  For whatever you are doing (vacuuming the floor, washing the dishes, pouring a glass of water, talking over a coffee break) whatever you are saying, the attitude you have, the words you speak and how you say them, the things you do are all opportunities to bear not just good fruit, but great fruit.  For Jesus has promised that those that remain in him will bear much fruit.  More fruitful words have never been spoken!  Amen

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