"Vines and Branches: The Low-Tech Outreach of the Church" – John 15:1-8
[Jesus said,] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch from in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.
“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. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them will bear much fruit because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
I’m a little worried about this seeming a bit cliché, because I suspect many of you have seen this, or other videos like it, before. And even if you haven’t, I suspect you’ve at least heard the message or the sentiment, right? That we’re too tied to our phones and our devices… That the connections we pretend are real, aren’t all they’re cracked up to be… That we’re missing out on so much and so many real relationships because we’re bound, in too many ways, to the phones and tablets and social media technologies that have changed the way we experience one another even and the world, itself.
Well, I’ve heard all of that stuff before, too. And, while I think it’s true in too many ways, the last thing I want to do is sound like that crotchety old-fogey, yelling at “the kids these days” to put down their phones and “get off of my lawn.” I’m not that old, yet. And I’m a big fan of my phone and Facebook and my Kindle and all the rest, for lots of reasons.
But I couldn’t read this Gospel this time around without thinking about what it means to “be connected” in our day and age – and about how dramatically that has changed since Jesus was around. And I kind of think Jesus was hip to all of this, in his own way back in the day, when he was talking about what it means for us to be branches, connected to the vine; and about how, apart from that vine – apart from each other, really – we can do nothing.
My point is, I think we kid ourselves about the value of our “connections” to one another and to the world around us, because we are easily tricked and manipulated – intentionally or not – by experiences that take place from the distance we put between ourselves. And technology is only one of the more obvious ways we create that distance it seems to me. I think we put distance between ourselves and others when we pick our political parties; when we refuse to forgive someone we love; when we ignore or deny the needs of others in the world; and even when we choose our churches, or stake a claim with our theology, some of the time.
There are all kinds of ways – known and unknown to us – that we build walls and that create distance and that keep us further apart from our brothers and sisters in this world than God ever intended for us to be.
And I think what Jesus is calling us to – just like he was calling those first disciples, back in the day – is a way of living and moving and being in the world that is counter-culturally different; that is diametrically opposed to; that is profoundly distinct from the way so much of the world finds itself living. And I think it’s one of the highest callings of the Church, in our day and age.
Because Jesus is calling us to abide. That’s the word he uses today, anyway. And if abide means (as my dictionary tells me it does) “to endure without yielding” or “to bear patiently,” or to “remain in a place,” that’s stuff that is really hard to do. And it’s something so many are missing in the world as they know it – the sense that anything or anyone can or will or does abide with them, in any real, meaningful, lasting way.
As cool as it is to carry around 12,000 songs in your pocket, nothing beats a live performance by your favorite musician. (Especially, if that means KISS, or the Indigo Girls, or Mumford and Sons, or Bruce Springsteen.) As convenient as it is to SKYPE your way through a business meeting, there’s nothing like a handshake to close the deal. As lovely as it is to FACE TIME with the grandkids, it will never compare to sitting on Grandpa’s lap or holding Grandma’s hand at the dinner table. As easy as it is to text or tweet our opinion about something, we never get the full story without looking into each others' eyes and hearing the voice of another.
And I hope we see the Church – that we experience Cross of Grace – as an antidote to all of this disconnection and distance. Here is a place where we are called to be connected, one to another, and all of us to the vine of God’s love and grace and mercy through Jesus Christ. We gather here to be fed and nourished and even pruned, from time to time – challenged and changed, I mean, even when that’s hard – by the worship and fellowship and teaching that finds us here.
This place means to be the root system from which the body of Christ that is you and me – grows and goes into the world. And I hope we all realize what a special blessing we have here. …
This place isn’t perfect – no church ever can be, being made up of people, such as they are. But Cross of Grace, as a church in this community, is a place of uncommon welcome and grace and acceptance and openness and hospitality that is unique and needed in our neck of the woods.
So, I realize that for too many of us, especially those of us who’ve been around Cross of Grace for awhile, another round of General Fund commitments and another pile of Time and Talent Sheets to be completed can feel like another way of going through the motions; another way of taking care of business; another way of being asked to “give this” or “do that” or add “one more thing” to our already busy, stretched-thin lives and wallets. But it really is about more than that.
I hope, as we make our commitments to the General Fund, as we make our offerings to worship and learn and serve around here, we see all of that as a commitment to abide in as many ways as this congregation does that in the world. Our presence here is a counter-cultural way of living and moving and breathing, every time we gather to do what we do:
to confess our sins, in community, and to receive our forgiveness;
to share the peace, in worship, with a handshake or a hug;
to touch the waters of baptism and to cross ourselves in celebration of what those promises mean for us;
to break and take the bread, to sip and swallow the wine of holy communion and receive, weekly, our fullness of our salvation;
and even to drop our commitment cards and our offerings into the offering plate, too.
All of that is the holy stuff of what it means to be the Church in the world; to make deliberate, faithful choices to be connected as the body of Christ; to be the abiding, real presence of God’s grace for the sake of a world – a world that may only receive and experience it, when we become like so many branches, reaching out – extending ourselves – to share what has first been shared with us in more ways than we can count.