Jesus talks about being connected in our Gospel reading today. And he uses an illustration from the growing of grapes to make his point. Here’s how he describes it. “I am the vine. You are the branches.” In other words, life begins with the vine. Branches cannot grow by themselves. The branches grow out of the vine – and produce fruit only when they are connected to the vine.
This past week I discovered that there is a grapevine in Hampton Court near London, England that is 250 years old. Some of its branches are 200 feet long, and its single root is at least two feet thick. Take a look at this YouTube video.
Because of skillful cutting and pruning, that one vine produces several tons of grapes every year. Even though some of the branches are 200 feet from the main stem, they bear plenty of fruit because they are joined to the vine, and allow the life of the vine to flow through them. But that’s nothing. The oldest vine is nearly 450 years old. In Slovenia.
These really, really old vines are still able to bear grapes because the branches are connected to the vine.
That’s what Jesus is telling us when he says, “I am the vine – you are the branches. Abide in me, and I in you.” Because, he says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” He’s using this picture of branches and vines to illustrate how disciples of Jesus Christ need to bear fruit in their lives – and in order to do so – we need to remain connected. Connected to Jesus the vine.
So how do we move beyond this metaphor of vines and branches and bearing fruit? It’s a nice picture to see. But just what does it mean to abide? Let me suggest to you that maybe the better way to understand what it means to abide – is to be and to stay connected.
Well – I couldn’t help thinking that this is a good time for me to remind you one more time of what we call around here the Six Marks of Discipleship. We stay connected when we focus on these six marks.
- Worship weekly. This is where we hear the story of Jesus. And we hear it over and over again. This is also the place where we offer our prayers, our praise and thanksgiving to the Lord as acts of worship. So worship – regular worship – is one way we stay connected.
- Read the Bible every day. When we spend time reading the Bible, we learn for ourselves what the story of Jesus is all about.
- Pray daily. In prayer – we stay connected to Jesus. Lifting up to him our concerns, as well as our reasons to give him thanks and praise. Prayer is having a conversation with Jesus. So, praying daily is another way to keep us connected.
- Serving others. This is where being connected produces results – or what Jesus calls bearing fruit. Serving others. Helping others. Being a friend who listens, and when necessary – lends a hand. These acts of love and kindness are the results of being connected to Jesus.
- Develop Spiritual friendships. Whenever we are together with two or three or more people – in the name of Jesus – we are showing our connectedness to Jesus – AND – to each other at the same time. After all – we are all in this together. We are all branches attached to the same vine.
- Giving of our time and talent and financial resources. This is closely related to serving others. Again – in giving we show to whom it is we are connected. This is part of the fruit bearing that Jesus is talking about.
It’s one thing to believe in Jesus – to believe that he was sent from God – that he is raised from the dead – all of that is good, and right, and necessary. But it is quite another thing to be connected to Jesus.
So how do I get connected? Romans chapter 6 – one among many of my favorite Scripture passages – says that when we were “…baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We have been buried therefore with him, by baptism into death, so, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Baptism is where our connection to Christ – and his death – and his resurrection – begins. When we celebrate Holy Communion – that too has the power to help us stay connected to Christ – AND to each other. Baptism and Holy Communion, along with the Six Marks of Discipleship – not only get us connected to Christ – but keep us connected to Christ – and to each other as well.
Listen! There are places – and there are ways in which we get connected and stay connected with Jesus. And again – it seems to me – that we need to be at those places where the story of Jesus is told – where the story of Jesus comes alive! We need our alone times with Jesus to be sure. Times of prayer and personal Bible reading; reflection. But we also need to be together as the body of Christ. Why? In order to stay connected to him and to each other.
Fred Craddock tells the story of a congregation he once served in the mountains of Tennessee. It was near Oak Ridge and the area was experiencing a boom because of the start-up of the Atomic Energy Commission. The village of Oak Ridge became a city overnight. There were tents and mobile homes everywhere you looked. Construction workers arrived form every state in the union.
Dr. Craddock’s church was small, seated just about 80 people, had hand-carved pews and a little pump organ over in the corner. It was a beautiful building, and very aristocratic.
Craddock called the board together to tell them what a great evangelistic opportunity they had to reach out and evangelize all these thousands of folks who had moved in. He wanted to make them welcome and bring them into the church. But the board chairman said, “No way! They’re not our kind.”
“What do you mean, ‘not our kind’?”
The board chairman said, “Well, they’re just living in tents and house trailers and everything. They’re just transients following construction. They don’t have roots or anything, and they’re not our kind. They wouldn’t fit in.”
They argued back and forth, and called a church meeting next Sunday where the first order of business was a motion. “I move,” said one elder, “that anybody seeking membership in this church must own property in the county.” There was a second, and passed unanimously, because in this congregation, the pastor couldn’t vote.
Years later, Dr. Craddock and his wife returned to that area and had a hard time finding the church because of a new interstate highway. But finally he found the road that led up to his old church, and there is was … with a parking lot crowded with trucks and cars.
“Great day! They must be having a revival,” he said. Then he saw the sign out front that read: “BBQ Chicken, Pork, Ribs, Beans, All you can eat -- $4.99” The Craddocks went inside and the place was full of people – and formica tables – and chrome chairs. The little pump organ was still there – but the building had become – a restaurant.
As Fred Craddock recalls the story, he says, “There were motorcycles out front. Pickup trucks with rifles hanging in the back window. You’ve never seen such a crowd. I turned to my wife Nettie, and said, ‘It’s a good thing this place is a restaurant, because if it were a church – they wouldn’t fit in.’”
Ironic, isn’t it! Here was a place that used to be a church – that refused to offer certain people the Bread of Life – that was now inviting them to come and have “All you can eat.”
I thank God that Zion Lutheran Church is not like that church in Oak Ridge Tennessee. You know what we call churches that let only certain people in – and keep certain other people out? Former churches. Office space. Restaurants. Museums.
We are a fruit bearing church. And may this church – this congregation – always be – and commit to being – a fruit bearing church. A place where no one – no one is excluded. And everyone is welcome. Because we have a mission – and a message – and a story to tell. The story of Jesus and his love.
That church in Oak Ridge Tennessee cut itself off from the vine – and when that happened – it shriveled up and died. Because it didn’t understand what the love of Christ is all about.
So here’s what I want you to do. Let the Holy Spirit talk to you – as you spend time here in worship – as you read and study the Bible. Spend time with Jesus talking with Him in prayer. Just let all of this sink in.
Do you know why this is so important? You can’t relate to someone that you are not communicating with. It’s as simple as that.
Most of us have been to high school. For some of us, that was a longer time ago than for others. But think of the friends you had in high school. Are you still friends with them now? If you’re not, the reason is because you’re not communicating with them. You might not even know where they are anymore. And that’s okay. But those that you are still friends with – you’re friends because you are communicating with them – even if it’s only once a year. I’ve talked to you about the tools you can use – worship, Scripture reading, prayer – spending time with other disciples. These are so important. And it’s why church matters.
Let me invite you to come to those places where you will get and stay connected. The more you stay connected to Christ the more he will multiply his fruit through you. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We call these the fruit of the Spirit. These are what the Holy Spirit gives to everyone who stays connected to Jesus Christ.
So get connected. Stay connected. We are connected to God through Jesus Christ. And through Jesus Christ, we are connected to each other. Amen