The connected church

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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me 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, thrown into the fire and burned. 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 bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

John 15:1-11

Good morning, Friends!

For the last month, we’ve been talking about what a different place Springfield could be, what a deeper, richer place this could be, if we truly lived up to some of the things that Jesus says to us.

This is what we read the first week:

“Dear Friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. . .Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

That was the first Scripture we listened to together. And we talked about the changes we could make, the new things we could try, if we just tried to live in that message.

We came up with a lot of new ideas, and some of them are already happening. We’ve already done so much in the last four years we’ve been working together. What else could we do?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

We can be an encouraging church. This can be a place where we discover that Christ helps to bear our burdens. At our worship, at our fellowship times, in our groups, all through the week, Springfield can be a place of hope and encouragement to everyone we’re in contact with.

Isn’t that a wonderful vision for our meeting? Wouldn’t you like to be a part of a church like that?

“Share the happiness of those who are happy. Share the sorrow of those who are sad. Live in harmony with each other.

Don’t be stuck up, but take a real interest in ordinary people. Don’t become set in your own opinions.

Don’t pay back a bad turn with a bad turn, to anyone. Always look for what’s good in everyone. As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

That was one of the other Scriptures we read that day. We talked about how Christians depend on each other, how none of us is strong enough to make it completely on our own. We have Christ to help us, and we have each other. What would it be like, to belong to a fellowship like that?

We love because – God first loved us.
We forgive because – God forgave us, and gave us a break.
We share because – God has shared so much with us.
We listen because – God has listened to our problems
We go the extra mile because – Jesus has gone so many extra miles with us.

That’s what we do. We’re encouragers.

Then we listened to another Scripture.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before everyone, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

We’re lovers. We’re changers. We’re encouragers. We’re light-bringers. All these different ways that Jesus uses to talk about the church he wants to see.

We looked at the story where Jesus forgave a woman who had been caught in an unforgiveable sin. Jesus looked around, and looked into the hearts of everyone standing there, and he said, “Whoever is without sin among you, throw the first stone. . .”

And one by one, they all left and went home. Then Jesus said to the woman, “I don’t condemn you either. Go, and sin no more. . .”

That is the kind of church I want to belong to – a church that doesn’t judge, because Jesus doesn’t judge. A church that knows about forgiveness. We all fall down. We all fall short. Our job is to help people get better, not to make people feel worse.

Last week, we looked at the prayer Jesus taught us, one of the most powerful prayers of all. He said,

“Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.”

And Jesus said, “Don’t ever give up praying. Don’t ever stop! Be like the neighbor who came to the door at midnight, pounding on the door and asking for some bread to share.”

Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

That’s one of the greatest promises of the entire Bible. God wants to answer the door when we knock. God wants to be our friend. God wants to help us, and God has all the resources of the whole creation available.

So, that’s what we’ve been saying for the last six weeks. It’s a vision of what we can be. It’s nothing new, but Jesus makes all things new.

Don’t let yourself be exhausted. Don’t let your imagination be limited. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Jesus says God is planting new seeds, all the time.

Be an encourager. Be a light-bringer. Be a person of prayer. Be a lover. Be someone who shows mercy. This is how we change things. This is how we turn things around.

Now I want to talk about today’s Scripture. Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. . .”

This is the way we need to imagine ourselves. This is the way we need to see each other.

None of us is independent. None of us lives on our own. We’re all branches – leaves, runners, shoots, little twigs – of a much bigger vine, which is Christ.

What happens when a leaf or a branch gets cut off from the vine? It dies. To stay alive, we’ve got to be connected. Our life, our strength, everything that we have, comes from Jesus. His life is our life. His strength is our strength.

We can’t expect to make it on our own. Nobody can! But with Jesus, connected to Jesus, we can face anything.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. . .If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. . .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 bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

I remember, years ago one autumn, I was driving down the road through the grape-growing country along the shores of the Great Lakes between Buffalo and Erie. It was a beautiful, warm day, and I was driving with all the car windows open.

And what happened, as I drove along, the breeze came to me from across the vineyards. I could smell the warm, wonderful smell of the grapes ripening in the warm fall sun.

It was overwhelming – it was like being on the beach, plus being in the middle of a wine factory, which I guess it was.

It was incredible. And what you could feel, what you could inhale, was the joy of the vineyard, the glory of the grapes. This was what they were made for! This was their day. This was their glory – every vine, loaded with fruit, not a single weed in all the miles of fields I was driving through.

It was a rich smell, a glorious smell, and it made me think about what the church could be, if we were all connected to the vine that same way. If we let Jesus be the vine, and we could be the branches.

This place would change, I can tell you that much. This would be a different place. Not disconnected, and trying to make it on our own. But connected, a living connection, to the life of Jesus, the full life that Jesus wants to share.

Our life could be so much richer than it is. Why sell ourselves short? Why sell Jesus short?

We could be like that vineyard I drove through – the glory of the vines, the joy of all the branches, the incredible amount of fruit. That could be us.

Jesus wants us connected, not cut off. Jesus wants to share his own life with us. Why stand alone? Why be connected to anything else?

My prayer is for Springfield to be a place where people can be fully and deeply connected – through prayer, through friendships, through help, through encouragement, through love and mercy – all those things we’ve been talking about.

This would be the same place, but a deeper place. The same people, but richer people. People who are in love with God, connected with Jesus, light-bringers, seed-planters, encouragers, adventurers. Fearless in prayer. Excited to be here. Ready to dance and party!

This sure would be a deeper place. And as you’ve heard me say before – if we become that kind of place, we won’t be able to keep people away. They’re going to want to join us.
Let’s take this vision into just a few more moments of quiet together.

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