Know When to Hold Em, When to Fold Em, and When to Just Walk Away- John 15

[Jesus said:] 1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You 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. 5I 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. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
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Tools to prune branches.

I didn’t think that the yard work I did last Monday would turn into the subject of a sermon, but it fits perfectly with Jesus metaphor of vines and branches. My lilac shrub and this vine plant that I can barely stand needed to a cut, so with the beautiful weather, I didn’t want to miss my chance to trim a little of the plants. Here is a piece of the branch that I cut.

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What Jesus is talking about as fruit is faith. We can be confident he is talking about faith because he gives a clue. He says that those who are not bringing forth fruit will have to be pruned and thrown away. This is because they apparently are not drawing their life from Christ who is the Vine. They are cut off from Christ. Consequently, they are cut off from life. Their lives are fruitless and dead. They must be pruned and taken away and ultimately thrown into the fire. On the other hand, Jesus says to his disciples, “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.” This is to say that Jesus has already cleansed, pruned, and trimmed his disciples that they might be able to yield the proper fruit. This is an essential point in the text…. They did not cleanse themselves. They did not make themselves fit branches for bearing fruit. Jesus himself furnished them with the righteousness to produce their fruit acceptable to the Divine Vinedresser.

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The point of all this pruning work is so that we “abide” in God. Really, the heart of John’s gospel message is to abide in Christ love.

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So, this week, I want us to think about the fruits of our faith. Jesus says it like this, a good tree bears good fruit. And in our text, Jesus is the vine. God is the vine grower. We are the branches and expected to bear fruit. We cannot do so unless we abide in the vine.

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Like the shrubs I trimmed, God removes branches that don’t bear fruit. God prunes those that do. God is glorified when we become disciples and bear fruit. And what this fruit is not spelled out.

But, we might take a cue from Paul, who wrote about bearing fruit long before John wrote his gospel: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…”(Galatians 5:22) If we consider this interpretation of fruit, love, peace, joy and such as the fruit, then John is saying we find these by dwelling in Christ.

Here’s this morning’s take away – the branches (disciples) cannot bear fruit (good works) apart from the vine. Our good deeds come from God. And if the branch tries to bear fruit apart from the vine, it will wither. Focus in abiding in Christ first, and the branch will eventually bear fruit.

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Being connected to Christ is the only way we can honestly know we are connected to the source which provides life.

It seems to me that in every parish I have served, there are a some who worked their fingers to the bone trying to do good at some point they flamed out. They weren’t connected to the vine. It’s our only source of energy, and we need reminding that we have to stay connected to Christ, the source of life. Some of us, rather than discerning God’s direction, operate frantically. Worship and prayer were secondary to some. I’m all for helping people, but without the spiritual food and drink, we will all eventually run out of gas.

Our spiritual lives are the food we need for a life of ministry, a life of walking the way of the cross. We can’t get there on our own. We need the energy from the vine to keep up going. So many of us take on too much and eventually we wither, like the seed that fell in rocky soil and then was withered by the sun because it didn’t have the depth of root. Even though some folks meant well, they got crispy from not receiving nourishment and fade away.  

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What are the things in my life that God calls me to Hold, Fold or Grow in my walk with Christ? Maybe I need to think about rearranging some of the priorities and values I profess to have??? Perhaps I need to do something more?  Possibly I need to cut back???   Pray about it and remember through your baptism your connection to the source of life.

And this week I want you to consider what you immerse yourself. What would it be like to immerse yourself in love? Specifically, what would it be like to immerse yourself in the love of Christ – to love as Christ loved?

Let us pray…. Amen.

Life Interrupted: A Bad Thing?

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         Mystic Meister Eckhard once said, “To Grasp God in all things – this is the sign of your new birth.” Being in love with the ordinary and the sameness is the challenge to see God present in each and every moment. Each morning in the same place watching the rising of the son from the same house, hearing the same birds awaken, and to realize how inexhaustibly rich and different each moment is. That is the challenge that Eckhard speaks of; the problem to see God in the most ordinary moments, not in the moments of the magnitude of emotions.

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Martin Luther in his theology of vocation, to points at encountering the divine through our labors and occupations. Where we are called to serve and earn our living is the place where God meets us. It is our duty and delight..” so says the Eucharistic liturgy we seek to glorify God through both our household duties, work in the fields, and the humming of a song in our head. When we invite God into our labor, we begin to see how the most ordinary of job or task is actually serving others. Farmers in the combine all day are not just collect a check or harvesting corn when we grasp to understand this, we realize we are helping our neighbors by providing food and substance to a hungry world.

But we must recognize what we are doing at the moment. Otherwise, we will have faith to see God at work in all things. It’s so easy for us to miss as we are all distracted and unencouraged to look for God at work. But God is there.

That is the holy disruption that faced the disciples as they were trying to make sense of what happened to their teacher and Lord. The Living Lord disrupts them as they were huddled in fear and doubt to transform the moment. “Touch and See,” Jesus invites them to make this moment real. They want validation of what God has done and is doing through Jesus in spite of the world’s attempt to crush the power of the divine.

Lutheran Theologian and pastor in Nazi Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writes in his seminal novel, “Life Together”[1]

“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.

God will constantly be crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass themby, preoccupied with our more important tasks. . . . It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them.

They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually, they are disdaining God’s “crooked yet straight path.”

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And in the gospel, as the disciples stood in wonder at the Holy Disruption of Jesus dwelling and dining with them, that that is when they started to make sense of it. Jesus sets them straight on the law of Moses and the understanding of scripture and makes them the witness of God.

Isn’t it just like God to show up an unknown time and only after reflecting on the scriptures and the Word of God then we realize, like the disciples how God was working in our life? Discernment is a practice of discovery and it’s a practice that is done by having spiritual conversations with other people. Wondering what God’s call for my life is? Ask someone and share a conversation with them about what you believe you are being called into and then prepare for Jesus to be present in the conversation just like he was with the disciples following that first Easter.

We are a distracted people. If we are not thinking about God at work in the world, in our busy-ness, we will surely miss the moving of the Holy Spirit among us. But let me pose this question to you this morning.  What if, instead, of our spiritual lives becoming what amounts to just another thing we should do, what if what we learned to experience as a disruption is actually the Holy Spirit trying to grab our attention? Rather than viewing all outside interruption as the enemy of productivity and creativity, what if we considered our lives as expansive containers for the sake of the other? If we open ourselves to holy interruption, we may usher in newness, revelation, enlightenment, and story to inform our work and life in ways that otherwise would just not be possible.

Interruption Is God’s Invitation | Desiring God, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/interruption-is-god-s-invitation (accessed April 16, 2018).

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What if we learned to understand that when God wants to break through and speak to our lives, but we are too busy, we acknowledge the moments of spiritual interruption and take the time to deepen our relationship. What I am suggesting is those holy interruptions are God’s invitation. God is inviting us to see him all around us, in the lives of others, in our conversations, in our serving those in need. Interruption is not merely a matter of our heart developing patience; it’s about experiencing real life. It is one of God’s ways of waking us up to what’s around us to see there’s more to be done than our self-appointed tasks for the day, as important as they may seem.

And there are many ways God might interrupt our lives. God might disrupt our life when we are called to share a portion of our time and resources with Christ’s church, or showing up to worship Christ in his church. Not for necessarily my own sake, but maybe my presence in worship will bring someone joy. God might interrupt our life by speaking up for what we believe and offering up testimony by how we live life and what values we hold. There are so many ways that God interrupts life and tries to capture our attention. Unfortunately, often times, so many brushes off the interruption and move along.

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Interruption is God’s enhancement of our craft and our work, and his tender way of encouraging his creatures to be a part of the kingdom come. Welcome the One who stood among the disciples and invited peace to be among them and be a witness for God interruption. Disciple our trying to tune out the call, God will keep interrupting each of our lives. What might God be trying to tell you?

Amen.  

[1]Dietrich Bonhoeffer and John W Doberstein, Life together: the classic exploration of Christian community, 2009.P. 23.

Dealing with Conflict – Matthew 15

 

With all the traveling I’ve done this summer, I pulled out an old book on cd and listened to it as I was driving around the country. The book was about guidelines for having meaningful conversations with other people and how to react when communication become what the author calls “crucial” which is an emotionally charged discussion when the stakes are high. His point is that when we engage in critical conversation the most primitive part of our brain, the Amegda takes over, and cause us not to think clearly. Thus, when the stakes are high, and we need to be able to reason at our best, we are not able to because our brains are wired to the fight or flight response to a threating situation or conversation.

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The key in these types of situation is to be self-aware of our response and knowing how to keep the conversation safe so that both parties feel open to contributing to the shared pool of common knowledge. We often shy away from the crucial conversation because they are challenging and we don’t want to upset or disappoint the other person. Often avoiding issues is no good either. It could lead to a passive aggressive attempt to get back to a person if we don’t talk through an issue, or sometimes conversation that isn’t handled well can lead to violence or hurt feelings.
I think Jesus knew that there were going to be disagreements and conflicts when well-meaning people gather. Jesus knew this wouldn’t be easy for you and me to practice our faith together as children of God.

images-4When we are honest with ourselves, sometimes we as people of faith must be engaging in a crucial conversation about a matter that is important to us individually as well as the Body of Christ, but in this passage from Matthew’s gospel Jesus lays out a method for handling sin within the community of discipleship.
How does it work Jesus’ first step is to talk straight with others. You’ve got a problem with someone else? Deal with it directly. Don’t embarrass the person in public – deal with him or her one-on-one. Don’t do it over the phone or letter. Words on paper can be misinterpreted. Do it in person, and don’t beat around the bush. Get right to it. But we are dealing directly with that person, point out the fault and resolve the situation. Don’t talk behind the others back, tear them down. If you don’t have the gumption to deal directly with that person, then keep your issues to yourself. More harm is done to others with “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but did you know….” Speak, speak, speak; don’t keep your mouth shut. You will be held responsible for your silence and for the consequences of your unwillingness to talk.
You see, you can either speak it out, or you will act it out. In the long run, talking with someone is always more productive than acting out by not have a crucial conversation with someone else.

Of course, there are also some folks who have no problem with straight talking. In fact, the trouble is they seem to enjoy it too much. I don’t think that is what Jesus or Paul had in mind when discussion about the conflict in the body of Christ. Paul says when you must speak the truth to a loved one, a friend or fellow church member, tell the truth in love.

As hard as it might be for some of us, it is our job and obligation, to speak the truth lovingly and genuinely when someone has sinned against us. And if the straight talk doesn’t work in resolving the problem, then get other involved, Jesus says. It’s a systematic process, take it to the elders. And if nothing else works, then be done with them. In the end, we are called to love not to be like by everyone. Sometimes our call to love is tough.

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How do you deal with others who have caused problems for you? Jesus has the answer. With straight talk, due process, but most of all, with grace. Knowing that we are all human and everyone we meet is carrying a heaven burden. All of us; there are no exceptions. By treating one another with Grace, you will be fulfilling more than the law and the prophets; you will fulfill the gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Celebrating God’s Saints” A sermon for All Saints’ Sunday

All Saints’ Sunday is exactly as the name suggests; we celebrate all saints.  Saints living and those who’ve entered the church triumphant.   We remember how the saints have showed us what the Book of Acts calls The Way.  The first Christians were known as people of The Way.   Many of those saints we remember not because they sought to be rich or happy or well-fed or popular, but because they made sacrifices, often without knowing the names of those for whom they were sacrificing.

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Do we take their Christian witness for granted?  You bet we do.  That’s why we need days like today to remind us of the Christian forerunners of thousands of years who remind us even to this day to keep our lives’ priorities in check with the God’s values.  Those lives of the saints whom we’ve never met, but who put their lives on the line so that we might gather to worship the risen Christ.   Saints from hundreds of years, or even thousands of years ago who gave on our behalf.  Sacrificing their happiness for a greater joy that comes with serving in the name of Jesus Christ.   They sacrificed their own fulfillment so that others could be filled. They sacrificed their own need to acquire more so others might have enough. They sacrificed their own popularity in their fight for the well-being of others.

This is All Saints’ Day, a day we honor those saints who have gone before us and whose memory is precious to us. It is no accident that these challenging words from Luke are chosen for this special day, for it is wrestling with these words that we come to understand the faith of a saint.

Today’s Gospel tells us that death and resurrection are the great levelers. Status things which seem so important to us now — money, gourmet food, entertainment, and popularity — should not seem important to us in this world; and they will be worthless when we are saints in the life that is to come.

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We live in a time when winning and success are so important, that coaches who lose too many games are fired, the bottom line of a company’s profit-or-loss statement gets the most attention from stockholders, and even congregations are judged as “successful” or “unsuccessful” by comparing this year’s average attendance with last year’s. All Saints’ Sunday is a good time for us to hear once the sports cliché:  The question is not whether we won or whether we lost, but how we played the game.

Because, when we get down to it, we have to admit, it’s not easy living the life of a saint. Jesus talks about that life, and it just sounds backward. “Blessed are you who are poor,” but “woe to you who are rich.” “Blessed are you who weep,” But “woe to you who laugh.” “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” Oftentimes, these words get twisted. “What are we supposed to do?” we ask. “Be a doormat? Lie down and let people trample all over us?” How in the world are you blessed when things are going badly? We think we are blessed when things are going well for us and we’re healthy and happy and safe. But the saintly life isn’t about wealth, popularity, or comfort. It’s about faith and hope, resurrection and life, compassion, love, and purpose.

The saintly life is not just about staying out of trouble. It’s not passive. It isn’t wimpy to live as a saint. To live as God’s holy people takes courage. Turning the other cheek is courageous. It’s bold and it’s tough and it’s impossibly gutsy. “No,” it says, “you will not win. I will not give up. Jesus died for me, rose for me, called me holy, and I will not let that go. I will not let anger and revenge and sin get the upper hand.”

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That’s backward to our way of thinking. It’s not natural. What we want to do, what we are inclined to do, is still largely our selfishness talking, our fear talking, and our sin talking. The good, the noble, the righteous, the merciful, the generous, and the loving — that is God talking. That is God calling. To live the life of a saint is to live in God’s mercy. To live the life of a saint is to live in the often-uncomfortable paradox of being the sinners we know ourselves to be, and at the same time, being the holy person God says we are. Maybe you don’t feel especially holy, but you are. God is calling us to be holy. God is calling us to be his. God is calling us forward. It isn’t easy. It doesn’t come naturally. But God is with you and will always be with you, just as God is with all the saints. Amen.