Funeral Sermon for Norma Mittelsteadt
“To Whom Shall We Go?”
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Some time ago, a school teacher friend of mine had the brakes on his car go out in my next door neighbor’s drive way. A day later, on one of the hottest days of the summer, I drove into my driveway only to see him underneath his car, sweating up a storm, working on his car with the help of his dad. I rolled down my window and hollered out, “Hey, there’s people that can do that for you, you know!” We talked smart for a bit and I went off to relax in the shade on my patio while he finished the job. Or so I thought. A few days later, when I asked Eiden how it all worked out, he admitted that in the process of fixing one of the brakes, one of the other brakes was damaged and in reality, he caused more damage than he fixed! When it comes to car repair, there are two kinds of people – the do-it-yourself kind of a person and the take it to the repairman kind of a person.
So also when it comes time for soul repair, it seems as though there are two kinds of folks – those who go running with their questions to the lover of their souls, Jesus Christ, and those who try to slug their own way through their own days of trouble. Our text for today is a portion of the Gospel lesson appointed for yesterday, the 12th Sunday of the Pentecost season. Jesus was teaching the people how vitally important it was to believe in Him and follow Him. Again and again, He declared Himself to be the living bread that came down from heaven. Again and again, He pleaded with people to know that if they eat of this bread, they would live forever. Again and again, He taught them that blessed would be the folks who would hear His Word and blessed would be the folks who would hold on for dear life to His promises and blessed would be the folks who would keep on running to God for refuge and for strength.
But on the other hand, cursed would be the folks who would try to answer their own questions and handle their own troubles. Weak and burdened would be the folks who would try to carry their own loads and solve their own conflicts. Confused and injured would be the folks who would try to fix their own messed up lives and blaze their own trails.
In John 6, Jesus had proclaimed these realities of sin and grace so clearly that many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with Jesus. Perhaps it was with tears of sadness in His eyes that Jesus asked the Twelve Disciples, “Do you want to go away as well?” And then the outspoken Peter, the one who often got it wrong, actually got it right. He answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Norma got it right every time she ate the living bread that came down from heaven, every time she sat still and knew that God was God. She got it right every time she made her way slowly and surely into the house of God and used her ears to hear. She got it right every time she admitted that she was a sinner and threw herself on the mercy of Almighty God. She got it right every time one of her pastors asked her if she would like Holy Communion and with that famous smile of hers she said yes. Of course she wanted to receive the very body and blood of her Savior. Of course she knew that she couldn’t make it through the trials of life on her own strength and with her own ingenuity. Of course she couldn’t fix her own troubled heart and struggling soul. Where else would she go?
We all know where to go if we have medical concerns – to the doctor. If our problems are financial, we go to an accountant. If we have serious legal difficulties, we are wise to consult a lawyer. But what about days like this, when we spend a few hours following caskets into and out of the church and over to the cemetery? Where shall we go after the dust has settled and the casket is buried? Where should children and grandchildren go after laying to rest a mom and a grandma you’re not sure you can live without? If we really want to get it right in the quietness of tonight, where shall we go? Specifically, where shall we go with our questions?
In Jesus’ day, people could walk up to Jesus and ask Him the questions that they had. They would ask and He would answer. Not always, in fact rarely it seems, would Jesus give a straight answer. Frequently He answered questions with another question. Often He answered with a story or a parable that seemed unrelated. On more than a few occasions, Jesus answered the questions people should have been asking instead of the ones they actually did. In our text for today, after Peter asks and then answers his own rhetorical question, Jesus responds, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is the devil (referring to Judas Iscariot).
This morning, there are a few questions that really matter and all kinds of questions that matter not very much at all. Rather than asking if Norma believed enough, we ask, was she baptized? Yes, she was. Rather than asking if she did enough good, we ask was and is God faithful to His promises? Yes. Rather than asking why she could have lived a longer life, we ask if her Good Shepherd followed her around in all the chapters of life with goodness and mercy? Yes He did. When she cried out in her days of trouble, did God answer in a way that was perfectly thought through and for her benefit? Yes. When her believing heart pumped for the last time, and as she breathed her final air, did the angels of God take her soul into the very presence of Jesus? Absolutely. On the last day, will this cold and lifeless body be resurrected and reunited with her soul and will she see Jesus face to face and is it true that in heaven there is no more heart failure and are there no more falls and no more fractures and no more worrying about grandchildren and no more sadness? Yes, yes, and yes, this is all as certain and valid as the suffering, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The final questions are for all of you, dear friends and family of Norma? Where are you going these days for your refuge and for your strength in time of trouble? Where are you going with the wrong that you have done and the good you have failed to do? Where are you going with your fears and your doubts, your worries and your failures?
I invite you to know one more time today the great desire of your Father in heaven, which is to hold you close and never let you slip away. Know the desire of your Savior Jesus which is to forgive your sins and never bring them up again. Know the desire of the Holy Spirit which is to work in your hearts a strong and a growing and a fruitful faith through the ups and down and the zigs and the zags of life.
Recently I read that medical researchers have found that one of three adults cannot name any of their great grandparents. My first thought was to see if I could name mine, and I did find that I am able to name seven out of eight. My next thought was to be dismayed that a third of my great grandchildren wouldn’t even be able to name their short and fat great grandpa preacher man. But once I get past being full of myself, I was reminded that my name isn’t at all the name that matters. What matters is that the next generations know the name of Jesus. In fact there is salvation in no other name than His Name.
There is no doubt in my mind that if Norma could have one wish come true, it would be that God would send his holy angels to guard and to be with all of her descendents and that the wicked foe would never have any power over them. What else would wish for than for all of her descendents to calling on the Name of Jesus in every day of trouble, to be taking all of their burdens and brokenness to their Savior in every day of frustration, to be crying out for mercy in every day of falling short, to be standing in God’s grace in every chapter of life, to be sitting in the assembly of the redeemed in a regular kind of a way, and to be walking humbly before God in all of their days.
Dear friends, wherever you are at in your own spiritual journey, it’s a beautiful sight to see all of you gathered around this casket, missing that beautiful smile, and listening to God’s precious Word. Please know that from this day forward, every time you are still and know that God is God, every time to pay attention to His Word, every time you eat the bread and drink the wine at His Supper, every time you receive the very body and blood of your Savior into your souls, you are getting it right.
If you want to fix your own cars or tear apart your own lawn mowers or sheetrock your own basements, go ahead and knock yourselves out. But for heaven’s sake, when it comes to getting your hearts mended and your minds corrected and your souls repaired, do come running to the One Who has already gone on before you, all the way to the cross. Do come running to the One who already got it right on your behalf. Do come running to me, with all of your faults, your failures, and your fears. Come running with your burdens, your brokenness, and your bruises. Come running with all that needs to be fixed, and as often as you do so, know that the words of eternal life will sweep over your soul as a cup of water quenches the thirsty, as a piece of bread satisfies the hungry, and as a word of forgiveness heals the broken. God grant that the children and the grandchildren and the great grandchildren and the generations to come would always know how beautiful are the words of eternal life, that you would spend your days holding onto those words and cherishing those words and being changed by those words and sharing with other those words, and may Norma Jean Mittelsteadt rest in eternal peace.
Big Words: Go
Acts 2:1-21 // John 15:26-27, 16:4-15
First in a series of six
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is Acts 2, to which I add from Acts chapter 1: “He ordered them not to depart Jerusalem but to wait… and later, “you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We are exploring a new sermon series in these days, called Big Words. The words that have the greatest depth of meaning in English are always the simplest. In this sermon series, we examine those little words, and we ask, what do these little words mean and how do they help us to express the depth of our theology? Be, with, but, and for. These little words harbor incredible theological truths, and today we ask the question, on Pentecost Sunday, on the Sunday when the disciples were given the Holy Spirit, were sent, were told to go, what does that word “go” mean? What does it mean to go?
It’s a command. Go. Get away. Go. Get moving!
It’s a way to encourage. Go. Go for it!
It’s a way to end conversations. Go. As Pastor Griffin has got me saying at the end of conversations, “Well, there you go.”
It’s a way to describe life. Go. He’s going on his own path. He’s gone to his Lord. He’s heading toward greatness.
So, as we look at our text today, where did Jesus tell his disciples to go?
To answer that, we have to back up to the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts.
The days after Jesus’ death, the disciples were huddled together, with the door locked. Jesus appears among them in the locked room and says, Peace be with you. Then, he appears among them again, with Thomas, the doors still locked and says again, Peace be with you. Then he appears to the disciples going to Emmaus, then he appears to 500 or more witnesses of the resurrection, and then, forty days after his resurrection, he ascends into heaven.
In Acts 1, what does he direct them to do? They’re on a mountain outside of Jerusalem, hearing the last instructions of their Savior before he ascends into the heavens.
He tells them to go. Go back to Jerusalem. He tells them to go, go wait for the Spirit to come. You wonder how different their room would have looked after that. You wonder what different kind of air they would have felt, not one of fear or one of failure, or one of defeat, but instead one of triumph, of anticipation, of excitement and impatience to receive what their Savior was handing out to them
Our text begins with the disciples not knowing what to expect, but knowing that they will see it when they see it. They wait, not knowing what will come or when it will come, or what it will be – have you ever imagined the perspective of the disciples? – but when it comes it is all that God had ordained it to be. They are where they have been for the last 2 months, but the calling of their God to go and wait – to receive the Holy Spirit – changes everything they thought they knew about their surroundings.
There’s another answer to the question, where were they told to go?
As Jesus ascended, there was another side to his command to his disciples. First, he said, “Go and wait in Jerusalem.” Second, he said, “Go and be my witnesses to every nation.”
This is the definition of “go” that we’re more comfortable with, at least on some levels. He invites them to follow him and go out to all the corners of the earth, and he starts in Jerusalem.
God is bidding them to go, and at the same time he is drawing all the nations to them. He is preparing them by his Holy Spirit and he is preparing hearts to hear his message. He is calling the equipped and he is equipping the called.
Can you imagine what it would be like to be Peter, on that first Pentecost? His entire life so far has been forming him, with success and failure, coming from the most painful of betrayals, his entire life has been forming him for this sermon. But it isn’t the end. There is far more for him to do. There is a far greater calling, and throughout the book of Acts, you see Peter in the end, in a different place than he was in the beginning, both physically and spiritually.
So, what does this mean for us?
The calling of God, the way God calls us to go, I would submit to you, is twofold. Sometimes, to go might mean to stay. Let me tell you what I mean. TO go – that is to be sent on a mission – means that your mission is to those who are around you right now, even as God has a plan that moves you forward in the end.
Let’s take an example. If a woman was working in a strip club, or in the mafia, or perhaps (the most black-and-white of situations) in Nazi Germany, and became a believer or started taking their faith seriously, what would the calling of God be in her life?
Calling number one would be to be Christian to all those who are around you, to be a Christian to them because where you are is where God has called you to be in this moment. Let me say that again. Wherever you are, there is a calling that you have from God for that very place and time. How do I know? Because you are there. The first calling of a Christian is to be Christian to all those who are around you.
To be kind. To be loving – and remember be loving is to sacrifice for what another needs, not what they want, nor what they deserve. To have self-control and patience. To have joy and goodness, because the calling of God is to those who are around you.
Second, the calling of a Christian is to know that where you are isn’t where you will be. Look at Peter -- where he was in the Gospels was not where he was on Pentecost and that certainly was not where he ended up at the end of his life. That is to say, your God as the true vine is wanting you to grow fruit. Your God as the good Shepherd is wanting to lead you toward waters that are more still, to pastures that are even greener. That, as Pastor Griffin said a few weeks ago, your God is not satisfied with your status quo.
Because the journey of the Christian life orients us toward something entirely other. Most times we think of life beginning at birth and ending at death, but for the Christian, we are called to know we are on a different path. For the Christian, we orient ourselves not to the day of our birth but to the day when we are born anew in the waters of baptism. We see our end no so much as our last breath on our last day, but instead we see our end as the day when Christ comes to give eternal life me and all believers in Christ, serving him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Amen and amen.
John 17:11b-19 // 1 John 5:9-15 // Acts 1:12-26
Seventh in a series of seven, Jesus Building His Kingdom
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is John 17, Jesus’s prayer for his disciples: Holy Father (and I summarize) keep them in your name; keep them from the evil one. Give them joy. Make them holy.
Dear friends in Christ,
In our Easter sermon series we are focused on Jesus building His Kingdom near and far. We have said it again and again in recent months that Jesus is on a mission to seek and to save lost sinners, and He has invited every local congregation big and small to join Him on that mission. Our Easter Sunday sermon focused on Jesus risen and living for us, the week after that Jesus preparing us to be kingdom builders, then Jesus persuading Thomas and us, then our Good Shepherd shepherding us, Jesus abiding in us. Last week, we explored what it means for Jesus to be choosing us. Today, Jesus prayingfor us.
If your mom wanted one thing for you, what would it be? Or rather, I’m going to say it a different way, if you had to articulate your wishes, what would they be?
In these days, Benjamin is learning to put on his pants and pull on his socks, which first causes me to remember again how many learned activities you forget that you learned and how difficult it can be to explain a seemingly simple task. But in these days the temptation is to do it all for him. It’s faster. It’s more efficient. There are certainly less tears.
Although, it might do for the short term, it doesn’t help him in the long-term. What he truly needs is for me teach him and to expect him to do better than he can do right now. And so, although it is more expedient for me to do whatever will make my child quiet and happy, my prayer for Benjamin these days has been that he would grow up big and strong and kind and wise, even though it is not easy. Or as Hebrews says, “No discipline is pleasant at the time.”
And so, if your mom wanted one thing for you, what would it be?
In our text for today, we see Jesus in his final prayer before the storm begins.
What is Jesus asking for? He uses three verbs; he has three parts to his prayer.
Part One. Jesus’s first prayer is that his dear and heavenly Father would KEEP them, and if you look at our whole text, you’ll find that he’s asking that his Holy Father would keep them in two ways. 1) In your NAME. and (2) From the EVIL ONE. But notice the verb first. It’s the Greek word ΤΗΡΕΩ – it’s the same word for when Jesus tells his disciples to keep his commandments. Isn’t that wild?
Jesus is asking his father to keep his disciples as he asks his disciples to keep his father’s commandments. Just as he’s asking the disciples to abide in him as he abides in them. He’s asking his father to diligently and wholeheartedly follow after his disciples. This entire section so far (and we’ve been going through it for weeks!)
And the two parts: 1) to keep them in your name. That’s the name spoken over you in your baptism. That’s the name that your sponsors promised to uphold in your life. That’s the name that we begin our service every week with. That’s the name that gives us a worth that isn’t based on abilities and doesn’t fade with time.
And to keep them in your name, he goes on to tell us two things: it’s NOT keeping them out of the world. It IS keeping them from the evil one. What does that mean? It means that we are not called to leave the world, but to be a light in the world. We are not called to separate ourselves but to know the hope that makes us different.
Lord God, keep us today. Keep us in your name, and keep us, even while we are in the world. Keep us from the evil one. Amen.
Second, GIVE them JOY. What is that joy? He says, it’s a joy that come from abiding in his father’s word. It’s a joy found in the places where Christ promises it. It’s a joy that – and listen closely here – it’s a joy that Jesus is expecting to enter soon.
Step back a minute. He’s between the Last Supper and his agony in the Garden, and he’s talking about joy? The darkness is getting deeper. He is dreading the cup that he will drink and in this last hour he’s talking about joy.
One preacher said it like this: “Joy is the product of abiding in commandments and love of God (Do you remember that language from the past few weeks?)… [It] is the experience of peace and contentment because we are kept in the Father’s Name.” This is the joy that widows and widowers can know – a joy that can hold even in the bitter. It is a joy that moms and dads know – it is a joy that keeps their children, regardless of how their life goes.
Lord God, give us joy that lasts, joy that finds significance in what you say, regardless of what circumstances, our intellect, or even our feelings dictate. Amen.
Third, he asks his holy Father to MAKE them HOLY. Notice the progression here. Holy Father, make them holy as I am making myself holy. The holiness of the Father is the holiness of the Son, and that holiness works a holiness in us. So, what does the word holy mean?
It means, “Set apart for special use.” It means that (this is Romans 8) “all things work together for the good of those who love him, who are called according his purpose.” It means that for those called by the gospel, enlightened by its gifts, sanctified (this word means to “make holy”) and kept in the one true faith, we have the everlasting conviction that God is using our words and our deeds in cosmically significant ways, that when we look back from a heavenly perspective, we will see our words and deeds affecting those around us in ways we wouldn’t have imagined, in conjunction with a plan so great that it only could start at the beginning of time and it only ends with the recreation of the universe.
Lord God, make us holy as you are holy. Set apart our words and deeds to do more than we can imagine. Remind us again and again how big the Body of Christ is. Amen.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town that God is keeping in the world in his name, even as he keeps it from the evil one. God is giving them joy that lasts in all circumstances. He is making them holy for a purpose only he can fathom. And among them are at least some no good sinners who are wondering if there is any point to it all. They doubt their place. They doubt they have worth, but in his quiet way, their savior feeds them with his Gospel, and his message, his prayer, for them stays the same on the good days and on the bad.
What does Jesus pray for us? That his Holy Father would keep us. That we would have joy. That his Holy Father would make us holy.
And if he prays for that, what should we pray for?
Amen and Amen.
Jesus Choosing Us
May 5 and 6, 2018
John 15:9-17 – No longer do I call you servants for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.
In our Easter sermon series we are focused on Jesus building His Kingdom near and far. We have said it again and again in recent months that Jesus is on a mission to seek and to save lost sinners, and He has invited every local congregation big and small to join Him on that mission. Our Easter Sunday sermon focused on Jesus risen and living for us, the week after that Jesus preparing us to be kingdom builders, then Jesus persuading Thomas and us, then our Good Shepherd shepherding us, last weekend Jesus abiding in us, next weekend Jesus praying for us. Today, we explore what it means for Jesus to be choosing us.
The Frozen Chosen is a term used in at least five ways:
The turning point in world history, of course, is marked by Jesus Christ living the sinless life, suffering under Pontius Pilate all that he was appointed to suffer, being crucified until he was dead and buried, and rising up again on the third day. In our text for today, Jesus makes it a point to let his disciples that they didn’t choose him, he chose them. In Jesus’ day, it was common for men to choose a teacher and to attach themselves to him as his disciples, to learn from him, and to catch his spirit. But as Jesus often did and still does, he turned everything upside down, or as my Aunt Linny would say, kittywampus. In his quest to seek and to save lost sinners in all of world history, he does the choosing, he gives the assignments, he reaches out, he calls, he equips, he leads the way. Three truths about what it means to be chosen by Jesus Christ today.
No longer do I call you servants….but I have called you friends…Truth #1 is that we are Chosen not just to be servants, but (friends). In Jesus’ day, bondservants or slaves would simply receive the master’s orders and carry them out. The master would not confide his plans and his purposes to a mere underling.
But the status of his disciples would be different. To them Jesus had confided all that he had heard from his Father. They would be friends in every sense of the word. Jesus never wanted his disciples to be simply carrying out their duties, he wanted them to be intimately acquainted with all of his heart’s desire he wanted them to be angry with whatever made him angry, he wanted them to care about all that he cared about, he would invite them to lay down their lives for others, even as he had laid down his life for the world.
There is an old Russian proverb that says one old friend is better than two new ones. In Jesus Christ we have the oldest and best friend possible. He has loved us with an everlasting love, in all of our days, His inclination is to be kind with us, it is to be patient with us, it is not to keep a record of our wrongs.
The kingdom of God is like a father and a son who were in church one Sunday with hearts that were as sad and frustrated as they could be. In the months preceding that Sunday, the son’s marriage had stumbled right into divorce court, nobody was a winner, there were losers all the way around, the day before father and son had loaded up a uhaul truck and with the help of a used furniture store moved into a small apartment. The son was pretty stoic for the most part, he kept his emotions in check right up to the point at which we sang What A Friend We Have in Jesus. The tears flowed hot and heavy in that hour, and how comforting it was for them both to know that their friend Jesus and his father were crying right alongside of them.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit….Truth #2 is that we are Chosen not just to be friends, but to deliver Good News (for here and now). There’s another old saying that “if you really want to know who your friends are, just make a mistake.” Almost always, our best friends are folks with whom we have spent lots of time. Almost always, our best friends have experienced us being stupid or crabby or annoying or stubborn or mean or any combination of the above or maybe all of the above, and yet they forgive as they were first forgiven by God. They listen to our stories, in response to Jesus listening to their stories. Good friends find a way to be gentle when it’s time to be gentle, and they find a way to speak hard truths when it’s time to speak hard truths.
We are called not only to be friends, but to bear fruit in the lives of others near and far. Galatians 5 teaches us that the fruit (singular) of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Just as surely as the purpose of a vineyard is to produce grapes, the purpose of every Christian congregation near and far is to let their collective light shine before others that they might see their good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.
Jesus would look us in the eyes this morning and declare, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” And again, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Of course the first great commandment is to love God with all of our hearts and souls and minds. And the second is to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. The apostle John, the one who seems always to be writing about the love of God, says it this way, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”
In the early stages of Christian faith, we tend to keep the commandments out of a sense of duty. God says to do this and don’t do that or else, and so we obey. But the more and more our Good Shepherd follows us around with goodness and mercy, the more we find that the Ten Commandments are not burdensome. We find ourselves thinking of it as a privilege to give a neighbor a ride to the doctor, we find it to be a privilege to walk alongside of others when they are suffering the consequences of their own actions.
The kingdom of God is like a prominent member of the community who gets his name in the paper for driving while intoxicated. Some of his friends think to themselves “it’s about time he got caught.” Others talk about it behind his back and even delight in his misfortune, and then there are a few good friends, one right after another who text him, they call him on the phone, they show up at his court hearing, they knock on his door, they deliver the Good News of God’s forgiveness right into his soul. They deliver the Good News in a way that he will never forget. One by one, they deliver the Good News as one messed up sinner to another messed up sinner
Truth #3 is that we are Chosen not just to deliver Good News for here and now, but to deliver news of a victory that (stretches into eternity) Our lessons for the day are filled with victory language. Psalm 98 joyfully celebrates the victory won by our Lord through his crucifixion and resurrection in the sight of all the nations. It’s a victory freshly realized and celebrated in our first lesson today when Peter proclaims to the Gentile centurion, his household, and gathered friends who are then baptized into the family of God. In today’s Epistle lesson, the Christian faith is described as the victory of faith that has overcome the world. And in our text, Jesus makes a point that we have been chosen not just to bear fruit for here and now, but to go and bear fruit that abides.
The fruit that abides is the seeds of God’s Word that are planted, nurtured, watered, cultivated, and fertilized. The fruit that abides is faith that is created in the waters of Baptism, nurtured and watered in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, and cultivated and fertilized in the eating and drinking of the Supper. The fruit that abides is the work of the Holy Spirit not just through preachers, day school teachers, and Sunday School teachers, it is the working of the Holy Spirit through every day Christians laying down their lives for friends that are easy to love and acquaintances not at all easy to love in a thousand different ways in every one of our days.
Choice #20 The kingdom of God is like a congregation whose pastor took a call away from a little country church about two hours away back in 1976. This congregation proceeded to call not just one, not just five, not just 10 or 15, but 19 experienced pastors to come and be their undershepherd. All 19 of those pastors, for one reason or the other, declined the call. Finally, this congregation said to her District President and to her seminaries, send us a seminarian, send us a rookie, we don’t know anything about him, just send us somebody! That somebody was yours truly. Debi and I were sent there sight unseen. For Immanuel Lutheran, we were Choice #20, but for Jesus Christ, we were #1 choice.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, so also are you the #1 choice of Jesus Christ to bear fruit this very day in your marriages, to bear fruit in your family circles, to bear fruit at the Welcome Center, to bear fruit in the lives of those who are sick or alone or in prison. To bear fruit in a thousand different ways in the lives of people you know well and in the lives of people you’ll never see again. And not just fruit, but fruit that abides. Or to say it another way, to deliver news of a victory that stretches all the way into eternity.
John 15:1-8 // 1 John 4:1-21 // Acts 8:26-40
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is the Gospel lesson, John 15:1-8, “I am the vine, you are the branches. The one who abides in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit because apart from me he can do nothing.”
Dear friends in Christ,
In our Easter sermon series we are focused on Jesus Building His Kingdom near and far. We have said it again and again in recent months that Jesus is on a mission to seek and to save lost sinners, and He has invited every local congregation big and small to join Him on that mission. Our Easter Sunday sermon focused on Jesus risen and living for us, the week after that Jesus preparing us, then Jesus persuading Thomas and us, and last week Jesus shepherding us. The next three Sundays we will focus on Jesus choosing us to be his disciples, and finally Jesus praying for us. Today, we focus on Jesus abiding in us.
I am the vine; my Father is the vinedresser. I am the vine; you are the branches. I am the vine; if you abide in me, you will bear much fruit. Jesus is using metaphorical language, and he’s using metaphorical language that he didn’t make up on his own. He’s borrowing it from the Old Testament, namely from Isaiah (chapter 5, called the song of the vineyard), from Jeremiah (chapter 2), from Hosea (chapter 10), from Ezekiel (chapter 19), and from Psalm 80. In each, the Old Testament writers are calling on the corporate identity of Israel – the whole kingdom, and you’ll note that all of the “you’s” in our text are plural. He’s saying, I am like a grape vine, you all are like all of the spurs and shoots that come up and produce clusters of grapes. My father prunes to make them fruitful. So, and this is his “therefore” statement abide in me.
So, what does it mean to abide? John uses it all over the place in our text for today. So, what does it mean? It’s an old-fashioned kind of word. When I looked it up in the dictionary, one of the most common usages was in the negative – I cannot abide this / I will not abide that! – and that basically means to agree.
But that can’t be what Jesus is saying in our passage. Branches don’t agree with vines. The Father isn’t just agreeing with his Son. You don’t hear Christ calling us to agree with him. No, instead, you can look at a similar word, abode. You abide (verb) in an abode (noun). To abide is to stay, to remain. It is to live in.
Three points from our text for our sermon, three points on what it means to abide, what it means to remain, to dwell in Christ.
Point number one, the purpose of the gardener is to encourage growth. That’s the first point of our text for today. “I am the true vine and (did you remember that this is the first thing Jesus says? I had to read it twice) I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. And do you notice how he does it in the text? He prunes. He cleans away the dead branches, so that more branches can sprout. He prunes those who bear fruit, so that they may be more fruitful. Can you imagine that?
That is, to say in in another way, in this metaphor the truth that comes forward is that the trials of your life, for the Christian, are meant to prune you back. One pastor said it like this: “Some of the biggest pruning moments in my life are the first 2 years of my marriage and my fight with brain cancer. I would never want to do them again. I would not wish them back for a moment. But I recognize that I would not be who I am without that pruning.”
This passage is key, because I listen to people struggle with this concept. They appreciate where they are and its hard to talk about where they have been. I would not be who I am without this, and yet, it was a terrible time. Here the ancient words of Scripture apply. The Father is a vinedresser who prunes us.
Second, the purpose of the vine is to bring life to the branches. Without the vine, the branches wither. Without being connected to the vine, the branches are cleaned away. Without the vine, the branches cannot bear fruit; they cannot do anything.
So, what is the vine? It is, first, Jesus. That’s pretty obvious. It’s the man, Jesus. But notice what the Gospel lesson says as well. Jesus equates his own identity and his own abiding with his word and the abiding of his word. Verse 7, “If you abide in me and my word abides in you.” That’s the message of the Kingdom. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven draws near.” It’s forgiveness. When we dwell – when we abide in forgiveness, and the word of forgiveness abides in us, that is Christ and it is life.
That’s a bold statement. Have you ever thought of that? It’s a bold statement to say that forgiveness is as essential to spiritual life as water and air are to physical life. So, what relationships are withholding water and air from?
Thanks be to God that while we were still dead in our trespasses, the author of life died in our place and rose up again with our new life. Thanks be to God that the cross held God himself, Jesus Christ, who was doing the will of His Father in heaven.
Third, the purpose of the branches is to bear fruit. Last week we left off with the interesting and challenging statement, Jesus is not ok with the status quo. This week, we see Jesus reminding us that the purpose of the branches is to bear fruit.
What is that fruit? Galatians 5 tells us. “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” One pastor would have us note, “Fruit is singular. You don’t grow just one of those nine qualities and call it good. In fact, if you lean on one to the detriment of others, it becomes toxic.” That is, joy without self-control turns unfruitful. Patience without gentleness becomes toxic. Kindness without goodness is unhelpful. The fruit grows together.
Let’s circle back to the beginning of this sermon. The question I asked was, what does it mean to abide? Right, because earlier, right at the beginning, I quoted Jesus as saying, “Abide in me.” But that’s only part of the statement. It’s “The one who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” And we see another dimension to this idea of abiding, that Christ abides in us and we abide in him.
Most of the time we think of that as a static kind of question. When you abide somewhere, you live there. You stay there. But, and here’s the but of the Christian life – but what does it mean if you are called to abide in a growing, living, dynamic love, if you are called into the mystery – for the Christian the greatest mystery – of the Trinity, the God who is three in one and one in three.
Here’s the truth behind that truth: the God who is three in one is love. Why? Because love can only come in giving and receiving it. Love doesn’t happen in itself. It happens in giving and receiving. The God who, in our text of the day, is at the same time the Gardener, the Father who prunes, the vine, Jesus Christ, which gives life, and the spirit, the Holy Spirit, which works the life and brings the fruit and uses the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of others.
C.S. Lewis, he says it really well. To abide in Christ is like entering into a dance. I quote: “And [the living dynamic activity of love of God] is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: … almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.” And later he explains more: “The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-[person] life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got enter that pattern, to take his place in that dance… If you want to get warm, you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet, you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them.”
The kingdom of heaven is like a flock that is a kingdom, that is a body, that is a grapevine. They know in whom the trust, and its’ the same one that prunes them back. They see the promises of God not only in the good times, but also in the bad. They ache to draw near to the source of all that is fruitful in life; they ache to enter the dance.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young family that is remembering once again how the seasons of life change. Lean years and full years come and go. Healthy times and sick times come and go. Laughter and tears come and go. And through all of the dynamic changes of life, the ever-growing realization is there, that through it all, the love of Christ sustains.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town full of folks that are remembering again and again that they are branches of the vine. They understand in their tough days that their Father is going to be pruning. They pray that they could have the privilege of bearing fruit, and they rest – they abide, they live, they move – in the truth that their life comes from the vine.
Amen and Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther