Who is God? I Am The Vine



Pastor Jeremy:

Our scripture today comes from the Book of John the 15th chapter, the first and second verse, hear the word of the Lord. I am the true vine and my father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit. While every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. You may be seated. 


Pastor Jonthan:

Thank you, sir. Well, good morning everyone. 


This morning we have a lot of ground to cover and a short amount of time because we've got to have time for our prayers, for healing and wholeness. So we're going to just jump in and move sort of quickly. But as we move quickly, we recognize that God moves slow, right? So we're going to recognize the slow moving God who is in our midst speaking to us today as we have gathered together today, we are wrapping up a series that we are calling Who is God? Who Is God? And the purpose for this series is that we want to examine our lives, examine our minds to decide whether or not we believe God is trustworthy. And if we deem God is trustworthy, then it seems to be that it should be the pattern in our lives, that with each passing moment we might learn to trust God more, to learn to trust God more with our lives. 


So we've been looking at these statements that Jesus made in the gospel of John and they began with the phrase I, am I the bread, I am the life. Last week, we looked at I am the way, the truth and the life. So we're examining these sayings to try and understand whether or not we are able to trust in Jesus. As you read through the first four books of the New Testament, Matthew, mark, Luke, and John that are called the Gospels, there's this pattern that you will see where Jesus performs a miracle, whether that be feeding a mass amount of people or somebody being healed from illness or walking on water, whatever it is, Jesus performs these miracles. Then soon after that, there's often a teaching where Jesus teaches whomever is present, whether it be the disciples or the crowds gathered or the religious leaders of his day about what transpired. 


And then there is a response by the people who witnessed these things that Jesus did, and there were primarily two camps. There were those who witnessed these happenings and these teachings, and because of what they had to lose, they deemed that Jesus was some sort of sorcerer or tied to black magic or tied to the devil, and they tried to sow seeds of doubt within the people who saw what was going on. But then there were others who said, if this man is not who he claims to be, then there is no way that he could keep up all of the things that he was doing. There was a divided response to the work that Jesus was doing. Now we are very familiar today with a divided public. We know what it is to live in a divided world. Just name an issue and then offer your opinion. 


And it doesn't matter whether it's what my favorite type of burrito is or if it's some serious political conversation, regardless of the seriousness of what it is that you're talking about, if you offer an opinion, there will be people who are listening to you that will agree with you. They will love you and they will love what you are saying. And there are people who will hear what you are saying and disagree with you, and they will hate you and hate your burrito opinion and they will hate what you are saying. We live in a polarized tender box type of environment, and in that environment it is very rare for us to be able to have true and honest dialogue because we are afraid that we will either say something that upsets a person or that aggravates them and turns them against us, or we'll say something that paints us in a negative light or we all know people who will say things intentionally to offend someone or get a rise out of others for notoriety, but this environment that we live in is not all too dissimilar from the environment that Jesus lived in, and I think that there are some valuable things that we can learn from the way in which Jesus navigated this environment that will be helpful for us, that if we as the church would employ these ways, we would see great results from them. 


Now, this is not an exhaustive list. This is just a few things that I notice Jesus constantly doing that I think we would all benefit from. First of all, something we say regularly about here at Journey, Jesus was present. He was aware of what was going on. He knew the situations and the circumstances that were going on, and he didn't just see things at the base level and take them for what they are. He looked through the situations to see the depth of frustration or the depth of difficulty or the things that were outside of the realm for just behavior to the source of what was causing those behaviors. So Jesus was present. Jesus never, never once did he draw boundaries based on societal divisions. In fact, he canceled societal divisions. How about that? He looked at societal divisions at the divisions that people created to set themselves apart from others, and he tore those divisions down. 


Jesus spoke with the other. He spoke with his neighbor as if they were a human being, wasn't interacting with them to belittle them or to demean them. He was speaking to them as if they were a fellow human being. He did speak the truth that he constantly spoke truth, but he did not belittle those who disagreed with him. And when Jesus spoke the truth, he spoke it as an invitation, not as a destination. He was inviting people to understand what he was saying, not separating people by whether or not they believed, and Jesus was firm in his belief, but he never weaponized the truth against others. This, by the way, is one of the other reasons why I choose to trust Jesus. A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how one thing that makes me trust Jesus is that Jesus was not on a ladder of ascent, rather he was on a path of descent, right? 


We know Paul talked about this as Jesus not considering equality with God, something to be used for his own gain, but that which he leveraged for his neighbors. Another reason why I trust Jesus is because he never allowed the pressures of culture and society to dictate his way forward. We live in a world and Jesus lived in the same world where the end is often worth the means. So it doesn't matter how you get somewhere just as long as you get there. Integrity is not important. Character is not important. The only thing that is important is that you arrive at the destination that I agree with, and that's how we construct our society. And while others schemed and argued and chastised Jesus and those who trusted him, Jesus remained steadfast and true drawing from the love, joy, and peace of God. He stayed rooted in the kingdom of heaven and would not be seduced by the patterns that lead to brokenness because he knew where he was going and he knew that God was leading him there reflecting on the life of Jesus after Jesus's death and resurrection. 


Paul wrote this in two Corinthians chapter 10. He said, for though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does, the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. He said, we demolish arguments and every pretension that set itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. Now think just for a moment of the influence that the church would be able to have if instead of fighting fire with fire instead of waging war, as does the world, the followers of Jesus remained so connected to the kingdom of heaven, that the divine power was so evident in our lives and demolished whatever stronghold, not because of what we said or of our intellect, but because of the divine presence of Jesus. 


There are a few people who have written books that I would suggest to anyone if you found a book by this author, read it right? One of those people is Henry Allen. I have many of his books. There are a lot more books that he wrote. The best thing about Henry Allen's book, but all of his books are very short, and so they make you feel very good that you can read quickly and you can read through the books without having to spend a whole month to try and read through some 400 page dissertation. Henry writes very succinctly and very simply, here's what he said about solitude, prayer and silence. He said, these allow us to save others and ourselves from the shipwreck of our destructive society. 


The temptation is to go mad with those who are mad and to go around yelling and screaming, telling everyone where to go, what to do, and how to behave. That sounds like some church services I've been a part of now and would go on to write about those who are able to regularly practice solitude, silence, and prayer. He says, if you're able to do these disciplines, God's rest will be visible wherever you go and to whomever you meet. And before you even speak any words, the spirit of God praying in you will make his presence known and gather people into a new body of Christ himself. One of the other reasons why I trust Jesus is that the way in which he lived and the way in which he taught others to live propelled just a handful of followers to share the good news of Jesus person to person. 


And the faith in Jesus spread from just a couple of hundred people to one of the most trusted religions in the world that has withstood the test of time, withstood the test of cultures. Empires have risen and fallen, but the kingdom of God still goes on, and it's not led by a person who proclaimed riches and safety for their followers, but humility and service and love. I recommended any book that Henry Nowan has written. I'll also recommend another book to you. And if you are interested, come see me afterwards and I'll give you the author and the name, but the book that I am currently reading, and it's one of those big thick ones that takes you forever to get through, but it's called Water from a Deep Well, and it is a church history book. But the interesting part about this church history book is that it details the lives of people as they shared the good news of Jesus and their generation. 


And it is a fantastically inspiring history book if that's not an oxymoron for you. But the book begins with the martyrs of the early church. And there's an amazing point at the beginning that the author whose name is Gerald Zer makes, and he just sort of looked at the details of the early church and how they were able to have such an enormous impact. So he wrote that at the beginning of the second century that there were roughly 50,000 people who believed in the way of Jesus. Now, that's a very large number, and just from a handful of people to that is something to marvel at. But the Roman Empire in which the majority of these Christian people lived was estimated to be over 60 million people. So that means that Christians were 0.0008% of the population. So 0% of the population of Rome were Christian. 


But despite this, despite that Christians were a drop in the ocean, there were several pagan leaders of their day in the second century that expressed concern over the influence that Christians were gaining. And the way they were gaining influence wasn't by climbing the ladder to the top, but by vaulting to the bottom and being content with caring for those who were the least in society. I don't have time to go into it, but the Roman society was very much constructed based on what can you do for me? And if you didn't have any value for me, then I could have complete disregard for you and for your life. If you didn't add value to my life, then you didn't matter. And as the empire would segregate people and leave them behind, the Christians would walk behind them and pick up the disregarded and care for them with an undeniable love, joy, and peace. 


And so in the wake of the brokenness of the Roman Empire, the Christians came in and cared for those who were disregarded by the patterns of brokenness. And that is what was so attractive about what they were doing. There was seemingly nothing in it for them. They had nothing to gain by following Jesus, yet they were willing to die because they believed that the way of Jesus was true. Now, ordinarily when an empire or when a group of people see that there's somebody rising up to gain influence, that there's some sort of emerging movement and they don't want them to exist anymore, they will absorb whatever that emerging movement is. So they'll find the leader or the leaders and they'll whine and dine them. They'll offer them promises. Special interest groups will get on board, and they'll help them to achieve a little bit of power and they'll adopt them into their system. 


Rome, by the way, was brilliant at doing this. They did this to whole societies of people. They would scoop them up, they would add gods to the pantheon of Roman gods, and they would take over movements by bringing them into Roman society. And eventually those movements that started would become more like the Romans and less like the movement, the government officials, the affluent corporations, the affluent individuals, they would seduce these new movements to co-opt their values and their way forward, and they would assume them into society. But this didn't work with Jesus and it didn't work with the early church. They trusted Jesus and sought to remain in him as he instructed and as they lived out Jesus's way. The thing is they experienced pain and suffering and frustration and difficulty. Many of them even lost their lives, but yet they remained true to Jesus. 


And because they remained true to Jesus, they were filled with the trifecta of love and joy and peace, and no matter the difficulty, the dire circumstances they faced, they still went on the I am statement that Jeremy read earlier from John 15 says this, I am the true vine and my father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me. That's an important part of that scripture that bears no fruit. While every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. I'm not an advanced gardener or a horticulturist, whatever they're called. I have a pair of pruning shears, but I don't know how to use them. I end up cutting my plants too short and they shrivel up and die. 


But every time I cut a plant, I know plants don't feel like human beings do. I'm aware of the you're severing. This is a process that is painful, right? You're cutting off part of the plant so that it can grow, and life does the same thing for us. For a large portion of my life, I believe that the goal of discipleship in the way of Jesus was for Jonathan with the help of God to perfect Jonathan's way, for me to soften up my edges, maybe to gain a little bit better perspective, maybe for me to have more love in my heart or to have more compassion. And while these are wonderful aspirations for us and the world would be much better off if people would seek these aspirations, this is not the goal of discipleship in the way of Jesus. The goal of discipleship in the way of Jesus is for us to be connected to the vine so that our ways are displaced with God's way that the fruit of our lives, what comes out when we are squeezed, what comes out when the pressure of life moves in is the fruit of love and joy and peace. 


That will not happen if my ways are perfected. The only way that happens is if it is Jesus's way coursing through my veins. And fortunately for you, you don't have to take my word for it, because Jesus said something very similar. John 15, five through eight, continuing on in the vine metaphor, he says this, I'm the vine. You are the branches. If you remain in me and I remain in you, you'll bear much fruit apart from me. Jesus says, you can do nothing if you do not remain in me. You are like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are picked up and thrown into the fire and burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. This is to my father's glory that you would bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples. 


So remaining in Jesus is the task that we have before us. What does it mean for us to remain in Jesus? Answering this question is something that we are leaning heavily into here at Journey, and it's not going to be answered with one sermon. It's not going to be answered with one response. It is a way that together we will live out and will be answered by the work of the Holy Spirit in us. But we believe and trust that the best way for us to live is connected to the vine, which is Jesus. Eternity is important for us, but for most of us, eternity is likely a long way off. We want to follow Jesus now. We want to have the teachings of Jesus and the patterns of Jesus and the actions of Jesus shape our lives to today. We want to trust Jesus not simply as a death benefit, but as the most full and complete way to live. 


We don't want to live just as benefactors of what Jesus offers, but we want to be as he called in John 1515 friends of Jesus. We want to learn friendship with Jesus, but we have to understand that just as much as we want to live according to Jesus's way, there is another way that has influence on all of us. And we've got to learn to know the difference and trust Jesus in the difference. But not only that, we will have struggle and pain and suffering that comes our way, and in those moments, we might begin to wonder where is God in this swirling whirlwind of life? 


But what we believe to be true is that if Jesus is the vine and we are the fruit, when we remain in him, and when Jesus is our source, when we trust what Jesus said and lived and we seek to be people who are present with Jesus, who are shaped by Jesus and do what Jesus did, then not only are we connected to Jesus, but Jesus is in us today, we are all invited to be connected in this moment to the vine, to lay whatever situations are swirling around in our lives at the feet of Jesus and to simply trust and remain in Him.