The Crossroads "launch team" asked me to preach on John 15--other scriptures that we read were Isaiah 61:1-4, Psalm 92:1-7, Hebrews 12:1-13.
Here are the notes I used to preach--you can listen on the link described above; the sermon begins about 25 minutes into the service. The sermon doesn't follow the notes exactly... there are things I meant to say but didn't, and other things that I said that came to me at the time.
(The sermon had no title.)
A few verses from John 15.
1“I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He breaks off every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and he prunes every branch that does bear fruit, so that it will be clean and bear more fruit. 3You have been made clean already by the Word I have given you. 4Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine. In the same way you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me…”
Lord Jesus, come now through your Holy Spirit as we apply your Word to our lives. Transform us, change us, so we are more and more dependent on you.
It’s so good to be with you this morning. Thank you, launch team, for all you have done to bring us to this point. And thank you, all of you, for being here as a part of this new work of the Lord.
“I am the real vine,” says Jesus, “and my Father is the gardener. He breaks off every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and prunes every branch that does bear fruit, so that it will clean and bear more fruit.”
I had to go out to a friend’s house to borrow something to make this scripture come to life today—and when I pull it out, don’t be concerned—I’m not the gardener—and the real pruning shears are contained in this book.
It’s God’s Word that does the pruning, the cutting, the cleansing. It’s the Father’s work, not the pastor’s.
And the Father does good and loving work, perfect work, so you never need to be concerned when he goes to work on you as he has gone to work on so many during these past months and years.
I believe this has been, for so many of us, a special time of spiritual pruning and cutting. That needed to happen. We get attached to substitutes that look or feel like God. You may be too attached to your pastor… SNIP. You may be too attached to your church building or church organization or denomination… SNIP. You may be too dependent on having things just so… SNIP.
Yes, God has used this time as a divine pruning process. He has clipped away things that are not essential, things that can become substitutes for God.
And he’s stripped us almost bare so we end up needing to connect with him directly, one on one.
"I am the vine, says Jesus, and my Father is the gardener. He breaks off every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and prunes every branch that does bear fruit, so it will be clean, healthy, ready to bear more fruit."
And it’s God’s Word, the clipping, cutting, cleansing Word that does that work in you and in me. Oh how precious the Word of God is. How absolutely irreplaceable. God’s Word will correct and guide us and connect us with Jesus Christ himself, giving us real life.
“When all supports are washed away”—when there is no other hope, when everything that might substitute for God is gone, He, Jesus, and Jesus alone, He then is all my hope and stay… On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, All Other Ground is sinking sand.
And once the clipping and cleaning is done, once we’ve given up every other hope and every other support, then the Holy Spirit begins to flow with strength and healing power direct from God Himself. Strength and healing power that come from the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That’s what I look forward to. I see it happening already. And as we let go of all pretense and all other aid, again and again, as we lean more and more on our faith, praying and relying on God, God’s Word, on Jesus, on the Holy Spirit, the impediments to God’s work among us and through us, they will fall again and again.
So, now, it’s time for honesty.
Are you, first and always, dependent on God? Am I? Or do we sometimes imagine or pretend we can get by on our own?
We human beings are not like plants or vines because we are so good at finding short term temporary artificial imitations and substitutes for a real and life-giving relationship with God. There are obvious things like drugs and alcohol… yes, no matter how long we’ve been a part of the Christian life, we can be dependent on these things. It’s time for honesty.
We can use other people. We can jump from relationship to relationship. We can fuel our psyches with success and soothe our souls with sports and shopping and just keep busy. It’s time for honesty.
It’s time to let the truth catch you. It’s time to limp back to Jesus. For only Jesus is the way and the truth and the life, and no one will come to God the Father except through a relationship with him.
I am the TRUE vine, says Jesus. I am the ONE true source of good and lasting and real life. Any other person or any other “thing” that pretends to be a source of life, no matter how religious they may be, they will not work in the long run.
And when we come here to church, to the Crossroads, we allow God’s Word to examine the sources of our lives, to let him do whatever pruning or cutting or reconnecting that He decides we need.
I am the one TRUE source of life. You are the branches. Apart from Jesus you can’t really do anything of worth. Apart from Jesus, no matter how good you may look or feel today, apart from Jesus you will fail and fall. He is the only way.
If there is anything in your life that is propping you up now, it’s time to let it go. No matter how holy or sacred it might seem. It’s time to go straight to the source, to the Word of God, though prayer, through worship, through honest confession and true forgiveness. And God will be glad to welcome you and graft you in.
That’s one of the things that happens when we come to the Lord’s Supper today—here, when we come honestly, prayerfully, seeking a connection or reconnection with Jesus, he will extend his wounded body and his blood, shed for you, he will give these to you, so you may be joined to him. As it says in Isaiah 53:5, by his wounds we are healed.
Through the wounds and the death of Jesus on the cross, he made it possible for you to be joined, or rejoined, to Him. And not only you, but every one who is ready to give up all other means of support, and come naked and bleeding to God.
Jesus, the true vine, the source of life, was wounded for you. In Romans 11, round about verse 24, there’s a section that talks about joining… not joining as a member of a certain church… honestly, that’s not so important… it talks about joining as in the body of Christ or, if we think of that body as a “vine,” the term is grafting.
Grafting is something gardeners do when they want to put a new branch on a different tree. My neighbor, Tom Harpole, had a tree in his yard that he called a “fruit cocktail” tree. Someone had taken a plum or pear tree and had made cuts in its bark and had put in a branch from another tree. Tom’s tree, here in Minnesota, had peaches, it had pears, it had plums. You may think you don’t fit in a church or a group like this, but God is the master gardener, not only cutting and pruning, but also grafting and connecting and giving new life—and that life can be given to you.
And you, yes each one of you, remaining connected to the true vine, to Jesus, through worship and scripture and prayer and relationships with all these other fruits, you can become a way that life and goodness flows and grows into a world and a community that needs God so much.
This is your time to connect with God today. This is the time for you to say yes to Jesus, to let his life, and his life alone, begin to flow into you, to heal you, to forgive you, to let you begin again.
Yes, you and I will still need work, and pruning, and there will be times in the future that God will need to go at us again to strip away anything that we depend on too much—anything other than He Himself—but connecting with Him, taking time away from all the other distractions and attractions of life, coming here or to another Bible believing church to learn and pray and grow—when that happens fruit will flourish—love and joy and peace, patience and kindness and true goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
And many many more will come to know the Lord.
Will you connect today? Will you allow God to connect with you? What are the false supports, the substitutes for God that make you feel okay? What needs to go? Addictions? Ungodly relationships? Unfaithfulness? Maybe you’re even so dedicated to your work that you just can’t imagine taking time to come to prayer or to go to a group to study the Bible? Maybe there is some letting go that’s needed in regard to your family—perhaps they need to be allowed to build their own relationship with God? Or maybe distractions and entertainment are filling a place in you that just feels so empty.
Here’s the promise: When you let God, through His Word today, or whenever you hear and believe it, when you let God do his pruning and cutting work, and when you connect or reconnect to him in a deep and personal way, he will begin to flow through you, and God will be glorified in your life.
This just may be a Crossroads day for you, a time to let go and let God work. We’ll have a time now to sing an old favorite hymn. I want to encourage you today, that if this can be a time for you to reconnect with the Lord, to pray as you sing, that you would indeed become one of those dear children of your heavenly Father, safe in his embrace, and that you would rest there, in his presence, today, and every day until you see Jesus face to face.