Sunday Sermon 2nd May - To what are we attached
The chosen hymns for this week, Abide with me and You are the vine can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
To what are we attached
John 15: 1-10
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 2nd May.
Since Easter we began to look at the wonder of resurrection.
Of second chances and forgiveness and what that means.
And throughout it all Jesus has had one message, ‘Go and make disciples.’
And that has raised a whole new set of questions...
Disciples? What does that mean?
What kind of commitment does God expect from us?
We will reflect on this after Gil shares with us the reading and a time of prayer.
It doesn’t matter where you are, or when you are watching this, or listening to it, you are invited to join with us and to come to God in prayer. So let us all pray:
Great and everlasting God, we worship and praise you. You are truly awesome. We know that you are everywhere, that you are present with us, and we acknowledge that you alone are the source of all things. Life itself, and everything that we have is part of your creation. Our food, our shelter, and all our material goods come from the resources which you have given us.
Lord, we thank you that you are a merciful god, who is always willing to listen to our prayers, and to forgive the shortcomings of those who repent.
We confess that we have frequently failed you in many ways, and that we need to seek your forgiveness.
Lord, in your mercy, forgive us for all our many failures to follow in your ways.
Forgive us for letting what others may think or say prevent us from doing what is right. Help us, always to strive to follow the example set by Jesus.
Forgive us for being selfish and possessive. Help us to be willing to share your generous gifts with others.
Forgive us for our wasteful use of the resources that you have provided. Help us to do our part to protect our environment.
Forgive us for our treatment of other people. Help us to remember that they are also your valued children,
May your Spirit give us the wisdom to know what we ought to do, and may we have the strength and courage to do what is right, irrespective of what other people may think or say.
Loving God, we thank you that you revealed the depth of your love for us, by sending Jesus into the world to teach us about your ways, and to show us your loving and compassionate nature.
Today we want to thank you for all that you have done, and for your continuing care for all creation. Your gifts are so numerous that we very often take them for granted. We thank you too, for all the people on whom we depend for many things in our daily lives. Support them in their work and let them know that they are loved and valued by you.
We are grateful for all the people who show love and kindness to us, and to others. We thank you for them. May we accept their kindnesses as gifts from you, and accept them with gratitude and thanks.
Compassionate God, you know that at times we all find life difficult, and the past year has been especially hard for many. Today we think particularly of those who are sad, worried, or depressed; those who are ill, and those who are struggling in any way. You know who all these people are, and we ask that your Spirit will bring comfort and support to them.
May we remember that we too can be your hands, showing love and kindness to all and letting them know that they are loved by you.
Now I invite you to join in the prayer that Jesus gave us.
Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation.
But deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever.
Our reading is from John’s Gospel, Chapter 15, and verses 1 to 10.
This chapter is headed, “The Vine and the Branches”, and in John’s Gospel it comes immediately after Jesus had told the disciples that He would be leaving them, but that He would ask his Father to send the Holy Spirit to be their teacher, and to remind them of everything that He had said.
So let us read John, Chapter 15 and verses 1 to 10.
1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.
2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.
3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.
4 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.
5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.
10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.
May God bless this reading of His Word, and help us to open our minds to a better understanding.
One of the best descriptions I have heard of what discipleship means came from a preacher called John Ortberg.
He looked at the Olympics and how much we will admire the athletes in the Olympics.
The Olympics are wonderful because we become experts in sports we would never look at otherwise.
When do you watch Greco-Roman wrestling or beach volleyball, or hockey or three day eventing or fencing or judo outside the Olympics?
How many of us would have heard of Usain Bolt if it hadn’t been for the Olympics?
Now here’s the thing.
Many of us here, if not all of us, would be admirers of Usain Bolt. But we are not disciples of Usain Bolt, our life hasn’t changed because of Usain Bolt.
But there are some whose lives have changed because of Usain Bolt.
Young children who watched him and where inspired by him, they saw him run and believed that they too could be like him. They were inspired to join athletics clubs and change their life, change their diet, change their life priorities because of him...to be like him.
They would get coaching and they would train and they would make sacrifices to run as fast as they could. Their aim would be to think like him, to be all they could be to be the best runner in the world.
They were disciples.
Now here is the big question...many people admire Jesus, but how many have changed their lives because of Jesus?
There was a rich young ruler who once admired Jesus, but when Jesus told him what to do to become a follower, he walked away, it was too hard.
There were whole crowds of people that went to see Jesus that were impressed by Jesus, that thought Jesus was a nice guy, and exciting guy to be around, but when Jesus challenged them to follow, they disappeared.
Here is a hard fact, but one we need to get into our head, Jesus didn’t ask for admirers, Jesus didn’t want admirers, he asked for disciples, followers.
But what does that mean?
We know what it doesn’t mean.
We know it doesn’t mean that we are always seeking to work out what the least we can do to not feel guilty,
what is the least we can do to get into heaven,
what is the least we can do to feel assured that we won’t go to hell?
Equally we know it isn’t about earning our way into heaven; that we do good deeds 24 hours a day because we are so scared that if we do one thing wrong then that will nullify all the good stuff that we have done.
We also know that there it is no coincidence that the word ‘discipline’ and the word ‘disciple’ are so close. There must be discipline involved in being a disciple, but how does it all work?
So here are my thoughts...
I think what God wants from us is to live a life in such a way that God’s hope and joy and love leak out of us.
He wants us to do whatever it takes so that our lives are reflective in goodness.
That when people see us, they see God’s light in us.
Usain Bolt, trained and trained and trained, so that when he was running in a 100 metre race he didn’t need to think about running, it was instinctive, it was muscle memory.
He didn’t need to worry about the crowd distracting him, he didn’t need to worry about the other racers...he just ran the race he had trained his body for.
Concert pianists do hours and hours and hours of training. So their fingers instinctively know where the keys are in the most complex of recitals. So that when they are performing they don’t need to worry about the theatre goers and what they think, they don’t need to worry about anything, because at that moment their mind and body are synced to play the piece of music perfectly.
And in this passage Jesus is giving the first rule of discipleship.
What are we attached to?
My fear is that most of us are attached to ‘if onlys..’
I am reminded of the woman who had the blood flow problems. Remember she says to herself, ‘If only I can touch the hem of Jesus’ garment then I will be cured.’
And I think most of us are dangerously attached to that ‘If only...’
We think happiness, assurance, hope, joy comes from ‘If only...’ and all our ‘if only’s’ are individual.
If only I had a loving spouse...
If only I had a child, or my child acted differently...
If only I had a better job...
If only I lived in a better house...
If only I had more money...
And some of our ‘if only’s’ can even feel quite spiritual.
If only I went to a better church.
If only I could read the Bible more.
If only I was better at praying.
The strange thing is, that woman got what she wished for, she touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak, she was healed...but it wasn’t enough.
The only thing that was enough was Jesus offering her a relationship of forgiveness and community, that’s what gave her hope, that’s what gave her joy, that’s what gave her life.
So the question remains, what are we attached to?
The branch needs the vine or it dries up and dies.
And I imagine when a branch is detached from the vine it is still trying to cling onto life, it is doing whatever it can to survive, it will take moisture from the furthest leaves it will let other parts of the branch die just so that it can survive.
A sign that maybe we have cut ourselves off from God is how many parts of our life seem to be dying?
How angry are we, how frustrated, how annoyed at others, how much are we blaming others for our problems?
For us to have life, we need to be attached to God and God’s community.
And this is a discipline, but it doesn’t need to be a chore.
God has made us that we in different ways find our community with God.
I am reading this really thick, academic book on the book of 1 Samuel. I am loving it.
Every time I read another part it is lighting up my life in new ways, showing me how God cares, showing me how I can care.
I can say with complete honesty that if my wife tried to do that she would give up in a heartbeat.
She isn’t made that way.
She is going for walks with others of faith, growing and learning from them as they discuss life with God as they walk.
And it isn’t that she is going out to have deep conversations with folks, she is just sharing life with them.
As a runner doesn’t just run to train but has a series of exercises that he does to prepare himself, has a series of diets he uses to prepare himself...
So with most people there are two or three disciplines that help them get closer to God.
Maybe using Bible study notes like the ones at the front of the church.
Maybe being part of a fellowship group.
Coming along to church and putting ourselves in a place where we are challenged every now and again, or comforted every now and again.
Helping out at a food bank or charity shop or doing volunteer work inside or outside the church..
Maybe using the hymn book as a prayer book.
Recently I was put in a situation where I needed to act.
Someone needed help, and I didn’t know what to do.
I know in the end what I did didn’t help them, didn’t give them hope, didn’t point the way to life.
In the past I would have shrugged that off because they had put me in an embarrassing situation.
In the past I would have tried to justify myself, I would have put all my good deeds in a set of scales and said, ‘Look at all the good I have already done. This mistake is nothing. Not my fault, not my responsibility.’
Was there anything I could have done, should have done, differently that could have brought hope and life into that situation?
If I am to grow, I need to reflect on what happened, and how it could have been different, how I could do things differently next time.
My hope, as a disciple of Christ, is that eventually my life will be lived in such a way, that even when I am caught unawares, my natural instinct, without thinking, is to do what brings hope and life.
But that will only come with the wisdom of reflection.
That will only happen if my life is full of the hope and life that God gives when I am attached to him more than anything else.
That I give up on the ‘if only’s’...and live my life as the gift that God has given me.
To grow, to learn, to change...to be closer to living the life Christ has for me.
Let us pray
Oh how we plead our cause for not being as close to you as we would wish.
If only we had more time.
And we forget who we are talking to, that you are the creator of time, you are the one who put each moment in each day.
You gave each moment such great potential and how many of those moments do we waste.
If only we had more energy.
And we forget who we are talking to, that you are the one who has given us the gift of life; each waking moment a chance to find meaning, each sleeping moment a chance for divine rest.
We look for more, when the truth is that all we need is you.
Living with your strength, living with your purpose, living with your guidance.
Help us to change our heart so that it is more open to you.
To seek the reasons for thankfulness rather than beat ourselves up for our failures.
To start each day and live each day and end each day,
with a heart of gratitude for your unfailing love,
seeing around us your constant reminders of your care,
taking more and more the abundance of your opportunities for fellowship and community.
Remind us that you do not judge us on success.
Not on our wealth or our power, or our influence.
That you judge us on our character, the person we are, the person we were created to be in your image.
May our relationship with you, our relationship with others be the heart and soul of our life.
This we ask in Jesus name.
Remember, if you want to see our worship live then phone me up between 6-9pm Monday-Friday. Places are limited so they are given on a first come, first served basis.
But if you are unable to attend for whatever reason you can also watch them the way you are watching this service.
We are also open for anyone to come in for private prayer and reflection on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10am and 1pm.
Also note that the latest UCB Bible study notes are still available at the church for collection either at one of our services or when we are open for prayer.
And a reminder to the trustees that the Board and Session will be meeting at 7pm on Tuesday 11th May.
A closing blessing.
May you rest strongly as part of the vine of God.
May you bear such fruits as generosity, compassion, love.
May your life reflect God’s hope and joy.
May you know the love of the Father that seeks to hold you,
May you know the love of the Son that seeks to inspire you.
May you know the love of the Spirit that seeks to guide you.