Devotional Message: The Fifth Sunday of Easter; Year B (4/29/2018)

REVISED COMMON LECTIONARY TEXTS

Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:25-31
1st John 4:7-21
St. John 15:1-8

Prayer of the Day

O God, you give us your Son as the vine apart from whom we cannot live. Nourish our life in his resurrection, that we may bear the fruit of love and know the fullness of your joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Text for This Sunday

15:1 [Jesus said,] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide 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 Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

St. John 15:1-8, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: "Threat or Comfort"

I prepare to preach in a variety of ways. I study the Bible passages on my own. I meet with colleagues and congregational members to discuss how these texts might apply to our lives. I read a few web- and email-based commentaries from scholars and renown preachers. Often this approach provides a wide variety of insights into the texts appointed for the day.

This week, however, it seems that almost everybody is asking the same question: In this image of branches and vine, is Jesus seeking to threaten us or comfort us?

On the one hand, there is a good bit of talk here about destruction. Every branch not bearing fruit is removed. Someone who does not “abide in Jesus” is thrown away — into the fire to be burned. There is threat here: if we are not “fruitful” in the way we live and witness to our faith, we will face destruction. On the other hand, Jesus speaks of the life and vitality that one receives when connected to him. Branches bear fruit when they are well connected to the vine. Pruning leads to more fruit. With Jesus, we can do so much more than without him. And all of this glorifies God. There is comfort here: The one who calls us to faithfulness provides the means by which we can succeed in being faithful.

So what is it? Threat or comfort? It may be that we are asking the wrong question. Instead, perhaps we ought to ask: “How is Jesus present in our lives, and what difference does it make for us? 

Jesus says, “I am the true vine… Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” The English word “abide” is a rendering of the Greek word μένω (meno). It is a word often used in the New Testament. It means “to hold out,” “to stand fast,” “to stay still,” “to remain,” and “to endure.” It has to do with the permanence of God in our lives. God is not one who is with us when we are performing well, and who abandons us when we struggle. No, God is always with us; sometimes challenging, sometimes comforting, sometimes strengthening, but always with us. It reminds us that Jesus is referred to as “Emmanuel” — which literally means “God with us.” The very nature of Jesus is to be an expression of God’s constant and passionate desire to abide with us.

The sayings of Jesus we are studying this week are actually more descriptive than proscriptive. He is not commanding us to get and stay connected to him (or else!), but reminding us that we are meant to connect with him just as he desires to connect with us. It is his presence in our lives, and the way it strengthens us spiritually and emotionally and even physically, that makes all the difference in the world. When he abides with us, and we abide in him, we become new beings. We bear more fruit. Our prayers are answered. God is glorified. We become his disciples.

Now lest we become too impressed with ourselves, remember the flip side of this coin. It is when we strike off on our own, ignoring our need to be connected with the branch that gives us life — that is when we stop bearing fruit. When we lose our connection to God, our lives whither and die. We become less than we are meant to be; less than what we can be.

I’m convinced that these are comforting words; descriptive words; words that seek to help us understand how the presence of God in our lives creates the possibility of our faithfulness. “I am the true vine… Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” May we draw near to the Christ who draws near to us. And as we stay connected with him, may our lives become fruitful — a blessing to those who surround us in this world; an encouragement of their faith and their faithfulness.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why is it important for Jesus to share these words with his followers, as he prepares to leave them?
  2. How did these words be sources of strength and encouragement for the early church?
  3. How did God remain with the people who were part of the early church?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How have I experienced God being present to me?
  2. What might I do to draw near to God’s presence in my life?
  3. When have I experienced a faithfulness that I never could have mustered up on my own?