Friday, May 8, 2015

Christ the vine, we the branches. . .

Sermon for Easter 5B, preached on Sunday, May 3, 2015.

    A while ago we thought planting a vine was a good idea.  The vines have done too well and now we must battle them every year or they will take over.  The branches are light and easy enough to trim back but the vine and roots refuse to give up.  They have made vines sturdy and seemingly impossible to kill.  Think of all the kudzu we see around us.  This is what the Lord directs us to see in the imagery of Christ the vine and we His branches.
    The strength lies not in the branch but in the vine.  Let me say it again.  The strength lies not in the branch but in the vine.  Branches possess the strength of the vine only so long as they are on the vine, drawing from its life and accomplishing its purpose.  Without the vine, the branches have no life.  They wither in the sun, shrivel in drought, and die as soon as they are cut off from the vine.  We all know the truth of these words.
    But Christ is not a branch.  Christ is the vine.  He is our strength and our life.  As long as we are connected to Him we have His strength to support us and His life flows in us and through us.  How we do this is not a riddle for us to solve.  Our Lord has given us His Word and Sacraments and by receiving these with faith, we are in Christ; we abide in Him and He in us.

    But we do not exist merely to abide, to twiddle our thumbs and wait with careless abandon.  The branches of a vine exist to bear the vine’s fruit.  So do we remain in Christ in order to bear His fruit, the good works that glorify Him and do His bidding in the world.  Our purpose is not to get strong on our own but to remain dependent upon Christ and to draw our life from Him.
    We are strong not simply to endure the struggles and trials of this mortal life.  No, we are strong so that we might bear the good fruit of Him who has called us from darkness into His marvelous light.  Branches do not get to choose what they do – they exist to bear fruit.  They bear fruit because they are branches. 
    This is what went astray in Eden.  Adam and Eve were not content to bear fruit but wanted to be the vine.  And look where that got us.  We learned sin and guilt.  We learned weakness, illness, and death.  We learned that the world we were created to exert God’s dominion over could become a burden and even an enemy we must fight to try and do the Lord’s bidding.
    Without the vine, branches have no purpose.  Without our connection to the God who made us, we lost sight of who we are and why we were made. Christ was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and born to fulfill all righteousness for us, to suffer to atone for our rebellion and sin, and to restore to us our divine purpose.
    Scripture is blunt.  When you think you are strong, you are weak.  When you are weak in Christ, you are strong.  This is the paradox.  The world teaches us to live independent lives and the call of the Gospel is to live in Christ the life He died so that we might live.  The world tells us that living for yourself is the way to make sure you get what you want.  The call of the Gospel is to the glory of service, giving up our lives for the Lord in service to the neighbor and the Lord and you will keep your life for all eternity.  God does not want us to develop our own strength apart from Christ but to be strong IN Christ.  Christians grow not toward independence but to become ever more dependent upon Christ.
    Christ is strong and tenacious.  He has fought Satan.  He has surrendered His life for us.  He rose to bestow the fruits of that life to you and me.  All of this is ours only because we live in Christ.  We live in Christ by hearing His Word and believing in it, by being baptized and living the new life baptism bestows in faith.  We live in Christ by eating His flesh and drinking His blood as He bids us do in the Holy Communion.
    But the goal is not merely to survive.  The goal is that the kingdom of God might thrive in us and through us to others.  We exist to bear His good fruit.  He is relentless.  No sin, not death, and not even the devil can prevail against Christ.  We are weak but if we abide in Christ by faith, we are strong in the grace of forgiveness and life.  And we will finally get to do what God created us to do – to bear His good fruit in good works.  Good works can’t pay salvation’s price but they show our faith.
    We bear this fruit not as an act of our will or choice but as a consequence of who we are.  We do not need to see this fruit – our focus is not on us but on Christ.  And in fact, most of us do not see the fruits and works we bear in Christ and for Him.  But that does not mean the fruit will not come.  And that is the point.  Branches to not contemplate who they are or what they are to do.  They know it.  You don’t need to ponder this as if it were some great mystery to solve.  You have a spouse, a home, a neighbor, gifts, abilities.  Serve the Lord right where you are.  Keep the focus not on you but on Christ.  Abide in Him through His Word you trust and the Sacraments you receive with great confidence.  And that is it.  That is enough. 

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