The Connection We Cannot Do Without
Scriptures: John 15:1-11, 12-17
In many ways Lori and Dori Schappell were like other twins.
Born in 1961, they both graduated from high school and took some courses in college. Lori had several different jobs, most recently working in a laundry. She also liked bowling. Dori had spina bifida and had to get around on a wheeled stool. Nevertheless Dori aspired to be a country-music singer. Tired of having a name that rhymed with her sister, Dori changed her name to Reba and began a recording career. In 1997 Reba Schappell won the Los Angeles Music Award for Best New Country Artist.
They were like many other twins except for one thing: they
were born joined at the skull, sharing 30% of the frontal lobe of their brains. They were conjoined twins partially facing each other connected at the forehead. Because they could not be separated without dying, they had to learn to live together. So Lori held the microphone while Reba sang and played guitar, and when Lori went bowling Reba went with her, wheeling down the alley on her stool while Lori threw the bowling ball. Lori, of course, went to all of Reba's concerts, and Reba went every day with Lori to her job at the laundry. At times their lives got complicated, like when Lori started dating, but somehow they made it work. In September they celebrated their 55th birthdays. They have had amazingly full and productive lives made possible by the fact that they always stayed connected.
Keep that in mind as we look at John 15. In verses 4 Jesus
says, "Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me."
We have been created by God to bear fruit-to live in a way that helps
us and others experience God's love in Jesus Christ. I offer that as my working definition of bearing fruit: living in a way that helps us and others experience God's love in Jesus Christ. That is the purpose for which we were created.
But to fulfill that purpose we must remain connected to
Jesus. In that sense we are like conjoined twins with Christ. If we try to separate from him, if we try to go our own way and live without him, we will die. Jesus says this rather bluntly in verse 6: "Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers." Unless we abide in Jesus, unless we remain connected to him, we will never bear fruit, and our lives will wasted.
But how do we do that? How do we abide in Jesus? The
answer is given in a series of steps in verses 9-12. In verse 9 Jesus says, "Abide in my love." To abide in Jesus means to abide in his love. Then in verse 10 he says, "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love." Then in verse 12 he says, "This is my commandment that you love one another." It's a chain of logic. To abide in Jesus means to abide in his love, to abide in his love means to keep his commandments, to keep his commandments means to love one another. Ergo, to abide in Jesus means to love one another. Simple, right?
Except if you have ever actually tried to do it. Loving
people is one of the hardest things there is. Before she died in 2007, Ruth Graham, the wife of Billy Graham, was asked whether she had ever contemplated getting a divorce. She said, "Divorce, no. Murder, yes" (quoted in Time, June 14, 2007).
It is not easy loving people, even preachers. How do you
love a boss who never listens to your ideas and then takes credit for them? How do you love a classmate to whom you try to be nice and who responds with nasty tweets or Facebook posts? How do you love a child who is too tired to stand up but who fights you every step of the way about going to bed? How do you love an elderly parent who insists he does not need help but resents not getting more help from you?
People are not easy to love. But here is the good news in
this scripture. We don't earn a relationship to Jesus by loving other people. We are given a relationship to Jesus that makes it possible to love other people.
In verse 16 Jesus says, "You did not choose me, but I chose
you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last." As I said, bearing fruit means living in such a way as to help us and other people experience God's love. That is the fruit that will last, the fruit that will shape someone's life forever. But none of us can do that on our own. As Jesus says in verse 5: "Apart from me you can do nothing." But here is the good news. You did not choose Jesus, Jesus chose you. If you are here this morning, it is not because you were smart enough to seek Jesus. It's because Jesus cared enough to seek you. Jesus chose you when you were not yet smart enough to choose Jesus. And having chosen you he wants to empower you to bear fruit, to live lives that makes a lasting difference. But to do that we need to stay connected to him.
Basically it is a circle. We cannot have a relationship to
Jesus without loving people, and we cannot love people without a relationship to Jesus. Faith and love are conjoined twins. Faith without love is empty. Love without faith is hopeless. Faith without love is hypocrisy. Love without faith is despair. Faith without love will wither. Love without faith will burn out.
But here is a promise you can hang on to. Verse 7: "If you
abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." In this context this is not a promise that God will give you a winning lottery ticket or a good job or a better grade on your next test. You have to remember the context. When Jesus says, "Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you," he is talking about bearing fruit. If you ask for God's help to make your life fruitful, to make your life a blessing, God will honor that prayer. If you ask for God's help to stick with Jesus, God will give it. If you ask for God's help to love other people, God will give it. It may take a while. It may require going through some difficult experiences, but God will honor the prayer that asks for help sticking with Jesus and loving one another, because that is what God wants for you.
Two weeks ago we hosted Praisealujah at our church for the
Sunday evening Agape service. Praisealujah, as many of you know, is a Christian based discipleship program for homeless people recovering from addictions. Our church supports Praisealujah through our Witness in Action mission budget. For our Agape service two weeks ago we had 60 about people from Praisealujah join us for the service. It was amazing. Agape was leading us in singing the song "Breathe." Normally we all stand when we are singing, but because "Breathe" is a quieter, more meditative song, Aaron Willett invited us to sit down as we sang this song, to treat it like a prayer. So everyone sat down, and we began singing, "This is the air I breathe, this is air I breathe, your Holy Spirit, living in me." And everyone was kind of quiet and prayerful. "This is my daily bread, this is my daily bread, your very word spoken to me." It was very moving. Then we moved into the chorus:
And I . I, I'm desperate for you. And I . I, I'm lost without you.
And suddenly a woman from Praisealujah stood up and raised her arms and reached out to the ceiling with this yearning and passion and heart felt need as if these words were her life. And then all over the room people stood up, and they reached out their arms, and they closed their eyes, and you could see on their faces and in their body language how deeply they felt this song: This is the air I breathe, your holy presence living in me. This is my daily bread, your very word spoken to me. And I'm lost without you." You could tell that song was true in the deepest core of their being.
Well, friends, the same is true for us, even if we don't
realize it. So let's stand and sing it.