Sermon from Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Standish, MI. May 3.2015.
GRACE, MERCY AND PEACE are YOURS this day from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN.
The text for us to consider is take from our reading from the Gospel according to St. John where Jesus tells us, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
LET US PRAY –
Gracious Father, pour out Your Word upon Your Church through out the world and us here gathered. Grant all of us receptive ears and hearts to receive what You have promised through the preaching of Your Word, remind us of the word of promise conaitned in our baptism, and the forgiveness spoken in the absolution. And grant us and all your children faithful hearts to hear and learn your precious Word so that we may be steadfast and immovable in the knowledge and truth which saves and sanctifies us so that we may bear much fruit to Your Glory.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS, AMEN
It takes very little reading of the Scriptures to discover what a gift Jesus’ word is. In our reading from Acts, we see how God used Philip – and by Philip’s lips, God carried Jesus’ word about His death and resurrection to the ears of the Ethiopian Eunuch – planting the seed of faith deep within his heart as Philip opened to Him the Scriptures – explaining how the words of the prophet Isaiah and how it pointed to Jesus. Showing him how Jesus is the sheep led to the slaughter and the lamb who before his shearer was silent. He opened not His mouth. Though He was the almighty God in human flesh, He humiliated Himself, was oppressed and was unjustly killed.
And then Philip told the rest of the story. Philip clearly taught the resurrection of Jesus and must have spoken to the eunuch about Jesus Word of command which says, “Go to all nations, and wash them with water, cleansing them by My Word and bringing them into fellowship with the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them everything I have spoken – so that they too can abide in my Word and be my disciples.”
And so when they approach some water, the eunuch with joy says, “Here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”
And there and then, Jesus’ word was connected to water and the word that cleansed you, made the Ethiopian eunuch clean – washing him of his sins, grafting him into the vine of Jesus. Then, the eunuch continued to his homeland where we can assume he brought the Word about Jesus to others and he bore much fruit in through His faithful testimony about Jesus.
And here we clearly see the gift of Jesus’ word. By this gift, not only were the disciples made clean, but every Christian is made clean as Jesus’ Word is connected to the waters of Baptism. The Word carries with it the Holy Spirit to work faith in our hearts so that we are grafted into the vine that is Jesus. So that we are connected to Him.
But the Word is a gift that keeps on giving. Our text today teaches that it is by this gift of His Word that Jesus not only makes us clean and connects us to Himself, but it is by His Word that He keeps us believing and trusting in Him.
As Jesus and His disciples come come to the Garden of Gethsemene, Jesus is preparing them for a time when they would no longer walk with Him – a time when they would be unable to talk with Him and hear Him speak and teach them.
In that Garden, Jesus will will pray that the Father would keep and preserve them from falling away when He is arrested and put to death. And even more, after He rises from the dead and ascends into heaven, he promises that they will receive the Holy Spirit who will remind them of everything Jesus had taught so that they would be preserved in the faith and they would produce much fruit as they spoke that word and others would hear and come to be connected to Jesus.
But Jesus knew all too well that, when He was no longer visibly present we would have a hard time remaining connected to Him. And it wouldn’t take long. It is difficult to read the history of the church and not see the constant attack against the truth that threatens to draw Christ’s followers away. “The hour is coming,” said Jesus, “when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” St. Paul warns the young pastor Timothy, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” St. Matthew records Jesus warning, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” These are those whom St. John warns us about when He says, “many false prophets have gone out into the world.” “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world and the world listens to them.”
This is why Jesus gives us the command to “abide” – to “remain” in Him – but it’s hard in this life to do so. So when we hear His warning, “Every branch that does not bear fruit He takes away.” We begin to wonder – are we those unfruitful branches – those who are to be gathered and thrown into the fire and burned?
And notice how quickly and easily our eyes are turned away from Christ. “Am I abiding? Am I remaining? Am I bearing fruit?” Who is the subject of these verbs? “I,” “I,” “I,” “Me, Me Me….” and we lose Christ. We become disconnected to the vine. This is worldly thinking – the idea that we can be and do and remain.
Jesus’ command to “abide,” and His warning about being disconnected from the vine are given for good reason. Because we easily stray and wander – our eyes are easily diverted – and we are turned back in on ourselves. We start checking for fruit – and then – we start worrying about our fruit – thinking that we can make up for our failures of the past by doing more in the present – thinking that it’s really about making sure we’re bearing fruit. Forgetting the great and precious gift of God that connected us to Jesus, that keeps us connected to Jesus, and that works in us to bring forth the true fruits of faith in our lives.
As Jesus walks together with His disciples in those final hours before His arrest, the purpose of His warnings and threats are not to urge them to action. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It’s to lead them to despair. “Remain in me, abide in me, without me you can do nothing, the branch that does not bear fruit will be gathered and thrown into the fire and be burned.”
HOW DO WE DO THIS??!!?!
Simple, you can’t. You are doomed to failure. On your own you cannot bear fruit. On your own you cannot abide or remain – on your own you can do nothing.
But, already you are clean – because of the Word I have spoken to you. It’s a gift. And it’s no less a gift that keeps us abiding, remaining and bearing fruit. “If my words abide in you ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
The same words of Jesus that bring you to faith – keep you abiding in that faith. The words of Christ keep you connected to the vine of Jesus. This is the work of that precious gift – it is the avenue by which the Holy Spirit works in our lives to keep and preserve us in the faith – trusting in Jesus for our forgiveness, for our life, and for our salvation.
“Without me you can do nothing,” says Jesus. And He means nothing! You could not believe without Jesus speaking His Word. You could not save yourself, so He went to the cross and died to rescue you. You cannot keep yourself in the faith so He gives you His Word to treasure and lay hold of – His promises that because He lives, you too shall live.
Then He attaches that word to specific things so that His Word touches your life to deliver to you all His grace and mercy. He attaches it to Water so you can look back on a date and time certain and say, “THERE! RIGHT THERE, Jesus has grafted me into the vine.” He sends it forth into your ears as He sends His preachers to you saying, “Whosoever’s sins you forgive, they are forgiven, and whosever’s sins you do not forgive they are not forgiven.” And promising, “He who hears you, hears me,” and so the pastor speaks to you and says, “in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He attaches His Word to bread and wine and says, “Take eat, This is my body given for you — Take drink, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins,” promising that as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we do proclaim His death for sinners until He returns. And through these, as we remain in His word, as we do this in remembrance, as we baptize, as we teach, as we hear, as we learn, He is at work – keeping us with Himself so that we abide in Him.
And in so doing, He changes and transforms us. By this same Word – the Law that shows our sin – the Gospel that promises forgiveness and salvation for the sake of Christ Jesus – by the very word of Christ – God the Father prunes us so that we bring forth more fruit.
Through the Word he gives us His Holy Spirit to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in our lives – so that we walk by the Spirit and do not give into the desires of the flesh.
All who are Christ’s – all who have the Spirit working in them desire to put down the works of the flesh that war against the Spirit – they desire to be kept from participating in sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. They know that those who are ensnared by such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
So Christ Jesus gives us His Word – which brings with it the Holy Spirit to transform us by the renewing of our minds – conforming us into the image and likeness of His Son so that we set aside the works of the flesh – so that we are renewed and restored to bring forth the fruit of repentance – showing forth God’s forgiveness in Christ in our lives and being reborn to bear the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
And all of this – this fruit bearing – this abiding – this being made clean – Christ Jesus accomplishes by His Word which He freely gives as a gift – And by this is the Father is glorified, in order that we bear much fruit and so prove to be Christ Jesus’ disciples.
In the Name of Jesus. AMEN.