Sunday, December 30, 2012

Renewed and Revived (John 15:1-8)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper.  He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit.  You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine.  Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me.  If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit.  Without me, you can’t do anything.  If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up.  Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.

Today is one of those days in the church’s life when a number of factors and forces seem to all come together at the same time, each with its own set of emphases and priorities, and this presents certain challenges for how we focus our attention.

Consider, it is the first Sunday of Christmas.  In the church, Christmas lasts 12 days from December 25 to January 6.  So, from a liturgical standpoint, it is the first Sunday of Christmas.

From a more nuts-and-bolts perspective, it is the first Sunday after Christmas.  We pastors typically refer to Sundays like these as “low Sundays.”  Other “low Sundays” include long holiday weekends, and Panthers home games with a 1:00 kickoff.

It is also the last Sunday of the calendar year.  Our thoughts are wrapped up in closing out one year and starting another - year-end financials, end-of-year charitable gifts, tax documents, setting up our financial commitments for the coming year, making New Year’s resolutions.  Anyone making any New Year’s resolutions or thought about that yet? What are you going to do with 2013?

My suggestion? Let’s grow some fruit. It may be a little odd to think of growing fruit at the end of December, but God’s got the ability even in the dead of winter to create new life. Maybe you’ve never noticed this, but God always seems to do God’s best work in cemeteries.  God is at God’s best when things are dead.  Not when things seem dead or look dead or are almost dead - dead, empty, formless, vapid - that’s the place God’s power and creativity are most fully on display!

So here, in the bleak midwinter, let’s grow some fruit.  Whaddya say?  And I say we go big or go home!  I’m talking ginormous-prize-pumpkin-at-the-state-fair big! Let’s grow the fruit of the Spirit that are described in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

My hope is that among whatever other resolutions you’re making about your diet or exercise or your time commitments or priorities or finances or whatever else - you are also spending some time thinking, praying, and reflecting about your spiritual life in the coming year, and that you are taking some concrete steps for there to be Godly fruit in your life this year.

How does this work?  Well, we have to recognize it’s more about allowing God to grow something within us than it is about us growing something for God. It’s more about allowing God to grow something within us than it is about us growing something for God. How are we to allow God to grow us? It’s simple to say and hard to do: we’ve got to get ourselves out of the way, and give God room to do what God wants to do.  Maybe you like baby carrots and baby corn - time and a place for everything, I guess, but when you serve a God as big as our God, you should expect some God-sized fruit to grow.

God-sized fruit doesn’t grow on its own, however.  It grows from a branch that is connected to the vine, as Jesus taught in today’s reading from the 15th chapter of John.  Branches find their identity and nourishment both by maintaining a strong connection to the vine.

You don’t need to be an expert in botany to grasp the point of what Jesus is teaching here.  Stay connected to Jesus - that connection is the source of your life.  And for the branch that stays connected to Jesus and soaks in every nourishing gift from Jesus, a bumper crop of the fruit of the Spirit is sure to follow.  And for Jesus, it’s all about getting fruity.

Friends, let’s be a fruit factory.  Let’s produce so much fruit of the Spirit that people stop and stare and start calling us a bunch of fruits.  I know some people who use the term “fruity” or calling someone “a fruit” as an insult.  It’s only an insult if we’re insulted by it!

Did you know that when the first followers of Jesus were called “Christians,” they were being made fun of?  “Christian” means “mini-Christ.”  So people were laughing and pointing and saying, “Look at those mini-Christs.”  And those first followers of Jesus took that insult and said, “Hey, you’re right!  Let’s run with it!  We ARE mini-Christs!  Let’s all be Christlike!”  What began as an insult hurled from the outside turned out to be one of the places the earliest followers of Jesus found strength and clarity about their mission and what it meant to be followers of Jesus in the world.

So let’s be a fruit factory.  Let the world point fingers and laugh and say, “Look at those fruits over there at that church!”  And we’ll say, “Thank you very much - we ARE a fruity bunch and we’re proud of it!  Look at all our fruit - love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Yep, we’re a bunch of fruits - thanks for noticing!”

Just as you know an apple tree by the fruit on its limbs, you will know followers of Jesus when you see this fruit in their lives.

We can spend our whole lives trying to grow something for God, or we can get ourselves out of the way, make some room, and invite God to grow something big within us.  If our lives have been grafted into the life-giving vine of Jesus, then some ginormous God-sized Holy Spirit-filled fruit is sure to hang from everything we think, say, and do.  Let’s invite God to make something out of us by giving ourselves, fully and completely, into covenant relationship with God.

Today, we will participate in John Wesley’s Covenant Renewal service.  In our covenant with God, we give everything to God.  Everything we are.  Everything we’ve got.  Everything we’re not.  All of it.  Today we give all of ourselves - our time (watch), our money (cash), our possessions (car key), our relationships (wedding band), even our very selves (driver license) to God and say, “I lay all of this before you today.  I empty myself.  Fill me, use me, however you wish.  My life belongs to you.”

So, what are you going to do with 2013?  Might I suggest that you make room for God to grow some fruit.

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