I have in my pocket – as I know just about all of you have in your pocket – or your purse – a tiny, hand-held device that looks like this. I mean, this little thing can do so many things. It tells me the time; gives me the weather forecast; it’s a dictionary; it tells me how to get from one place to another, what the distance is, and how long it will take me to get there; allows me to play games – although I don’t use this for that; it’s wonderful for looking up just about any item of information I might have a question about; I can take pictures with it – still pictures as well as moving pictures; I can watch full-length movies on it; catch the news; read my email – use it as a social media device – AND – and this is so cool – I can also use it as a phone. Who knew? This – as you know – is my smart phone. My smart phone – it’s actually smarter than I am.
But with this device – I can stay connected. I can stay connected by email – by text messaging – social media – AND – and I can be connected to someone by actually talking with them.
There are so many ways we can stay connected with each other. And electronics are great especially when friends and loved ones are separated by distance. But they’re not so great when you’re sitting across the table from someone. You know what I mean? You’ve seen them. In restaurants. Everybody’s got their smart phones or their tablets out and they’re communicating with everyone else except – the people that they’re with. Not so good.
Of course, if you were to ask me – I prefer good old fashioned – one on one – face to face connections – in small intimate groups. With all of the electronics we have available to keep in touch – nothing beats those one on one – face to face – connections.
So we’ve got all these tools – so for the most part – we know how to stay connected to each other. When we CHOOSE to stay connected. And that’s important. Not only do we know how to stay connected – but staying connected is also a choice.
For instance – how many of you have ever been to high school? Some of us are still in high school – for others – well it’s been a long time. How many of you have or had friends in high school? Raise your hands – let me see them. Yeah we all did. How many of you still have at least one friend from high school with whom you are still connected? You are still connected I assume because you are communicating, yes? I have one friend with whom I stay in contact from high school. We grew up together – two houses away from each other. We knew each other before we went to Kindergarten together. Michael and I are still connected because we still communicate with each other – even though he now lives in Ecuador.
It seems to me that if you are not communicating – you are not connected. Would you agree with that? If you are not communicating – then you are not connected.
So staying connected – using the tools that we have to stay connected – and choosing to stay connected – all of these are essential if we are to be in relationship with friends and people we love. So when it comes to Jesus – what tools do we have – AND do we choose to stay connected to Him?
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus uses the illustration of a grape vine and its branches to show us just how important it is that disciples of Jesus Christ stay connected to Jesus.
Now in reading this to you just a few moments ago – you heard that the vine grower prunes the branches so that they might bear fruit. I’ve never liked that imagery – you know – of being pruned. It sounds painful. And yet, there are those things that probably do need to be pruned or cut out of our lives. May I suggest that what God is doing when He is doing that – is simply cutting away the bad so it doesn’t get in the way of the good. Still – sounds painful, doesn’t it!
So imagine my delight when I came across in my preparation for this sermon this week, that the Greek phrase, “He prunes” can also mean “He cleans.”
Author Bruce Wilkinson tells about a time he had a conversation with a vineyard owner. This man told Bruce that as a tender of grapes, he finds that new branches have a natural tendency to grow along the ground. But they don’t bear fruit down there. When branches grow along the ground, the leaves get coated in dust. When it rains, they get muddy and mildewed. The branch becomes sick and useless.
Since the branches are too valuable to cut off and throw away, they go through the vineyard with a bucket of water looking for those branches growing along the ground. They wash them off, and wrap them around the trellis or tie them up. And before you know it, these branches are growing grapes.
So this is the wonderful thing that Jesus does for us. Sometimes we get covered with dirt. Let’s call that dirt sin. But let me tell you, it is a relief – it is a joy – to know that Jesus does not cut us off and throw us away. No. We are too valuable – you are too valuable to Him – for Him to do that. So what does he do? He washes us. He forgives us. He gives us another chance. Always another chance. Picks us up, washes us off, so that we can live our lives the way He wants us to live them once again.
That’s what Jesus does. And that is Good News! So is it any wonder that Jesus wants us to stay connected! As disciples, connected to Him. And as a church, connected to each other. Both are extremely important.
Let me share with you a story that illustrates just how important it is that we stay connected. “Dr. Mickey Anders tells about twin girls who had been born twelve weeks premature in the Medical Center Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts. They weighed in at about two pounds each, and had been placed in separate bassinets. One started to do just fine – the other began slowly to fade. Her heart beat was rapid, she was visibly anxious, and nothing the nurses could do seemed to be able to stop what they saw as her inevitable death.
“Then one nurse remembered something she had read about treatment of premature infants elsewhere in the world. As a last resort the nurses put the weaker twin, Brielle, right into the bassinet with her sister. In the words of one of the nurses on duty, the results were both immediate and dramatic. Little Brielle snuggled up to her sister, and her heart rate immediately slowed to normal. Her color came back. The baby visibly relaxed, almost it seemed with a sigh of relief. She accepted nourishment. The crisis was over. She would survive.
The importance of being connected. It is a life-giving thing. You see, it’s one thing to believe that there is a God – to believe that God does exist. But what I hope you are hearing today is this. This God – in the person of His Son Jesus Christ – wants to be in relationship – wants to be connected – with you. Wants us to be connected to Him.
So let me tell you that there are tools to do just that. But we also need to choose to use them. So what do we have? Well, there’s worship. The coming together with others in a place like this. When we worship what we are doing is telling God just how awesome He is – and really – it’s a way in which we say “Thank you,” for all the things God does for us. Especially that washing and cleaning and forgiving that we need – that I know I so desperately need.
Then there is time spent in the word. Reading Scripture. That is the primary way in which we hear God speaking to us.
But I suspect that for most of us, the most available tool in the toolbox is prayer. Prayer is how we communicate with God – and therefore a powerful way for us to stay connected.
The challenge for us is to have the right understanding of what prayer is. We usually – myself included – we usually use prayer to get God to give us what we want. A new job; better health; better finances. We pray for our favorite sports teams to win. (Which means that maybe we Bills and Sabres fans just need to pray a little harder!)
And it’s okay to pray for things that you need. It’s okay to pray for people who are in need. But please know that the primary purpose of prayer is for us to stay connected with God. Thanking. Praising. Just having a conversation with God. Fortunately, you don’t need one of these electronic devices in order to do that.
Look it! In some ways it’s like making tea. When you put a teabag in a cup of hot water what happens? The water begins to change color. And the longer that tea bag stays in that water the more that water will take on the color and the taste of that tea. The longer the teabag is in the water – the stronger the tea.
That is what happens to us – every day – when we stay connected to Jesus. We begin to take on the color of His character and the flavor of His life.
So here’s what I want you to do. I want you to take the tea bag of your life. Soak it in the hot water of God’s Word. Let the Holy Spirit talk to you as you read and study the Bible. Spend time with Jesus talking with Him in prayer.
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. I’ve talked to you about the tools you can use – worship, Scripture reading, prayer – and one that I didn’t mention – and that is spending time with other disciples. These are so important. And it’s why church matters.
So get connected. 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. It’s a life-giving thing! There are what the Holy Spirit gives to everyone who stays connected to Jesus Christ. It is a life-giving thing. Amen