I think there is a time in our lives that we come to where and when we learn what is most important to us. It doesn’t have to be any specific occasion but just a brief moment when we have that “ah-ha” happen and we realize the “junk” that got in the way of everything else. I don’t want to make this about me, but lately, I’ve had to realize and prioritize the most important things in my life thanks to having a dwindling pool of energy. The energy that I do have gets put towards Ellen, Chris, and all of you. So, things like laundry, house cleaning, grocery shopping, and hobbies all get put on the back burner, hopefully only temporarily. Now, these things do get done just not with the fervor I may have done them before. I’ve been forced to reorient my life to those things that are most life giving.
Maybe you have had instances of this. The addition of a child or children to your family could do this; death of a loved one; a life changing diagnosis; a new job (or lack of job); or just a time when you’ve had (what my father calls) a “come to Jesus” discussion. I am guessing we’ve all had these moments that cause us to step back, reevaluate our lives, reorder our lives, and start living fuller more life-filled lives. Do you know what I mean by life filled? For me, it means that you/we are living our lives in such a way that we actually feel loved, we are giving love and we are doing more than just going through the motions. You might have seen something like this in the movies where the main character says something filled with an epiphany like saying such as “I had always been alive but now I was actually living.” Does this make sense?
“Abide in me as I abide in you” (John 15:4). Abide is one of those words that is almost archaic; we certainly don’t use it as much as we probably used to. I doubt if someone asked you “where do you live” you’d answer with “well…I abide in a house” or whatever. So, I took my trusty thesaurus and found some other words for abide that might give us a better picture of what God is asking of us. Persevere, remain, survive, dwell, lodge, reside are all synonyms of “abide.” I love the idea of survival. “Survive in me.” Just in case we didn’t know that Jesus is the only way to abundant life and life eternal, that kind of sums it up right there. The opposite of survival is death. And while we all will die eventually, perhaps it can be said of metaphorical deaths too. Because here’s the thing, without a connection to a life source, we don’t have a life. We don’t have an okay life, an abundant life, an awesome life; no, we don’t have life. Period.
But, I think we go searching for life anyway. We attempt to engage in activities or with people that we think will give us life. And you know what? They do, temporarily. My most intimate relationship in my life of course is with Chris. And he gives me life; he makes me laugh, he takes care of me when I’m sick, he’s a great dad, and he’s very caring. I hope I do the same for him. But the fact is we’re both human. We are both sinners. We have, we do, and we will continue to disappoint one another on occasion. As much as I love Chris and as much as he loves me neither one of us can give the other abundant life. We can come pretty close, but the only one who can give us eternal life and an abundant life is Jesus. And so the “vine” of our marriage is centered in Jesus. And is it perfect? Nope. But we keep trying.
Think about the places or the things you look to that you think will give you life. I want to make it clear that not all of these things are bad. My relationship to Chris isn’t bad; the fact that I may lean on him to give me abundant life isn’t life giving. We look to our titles to give us life, right? Think about the “titles” you have. These are examples like mom, dad, sister, brother, grandparent, spouse, and friend. Or we have the “titles” from our jobs. These are things like pastor (duh), farmer, teacher, accountant, nurse, pharmacist, coach, and on and on. These titles may provide you with a living but the only “title” that will provide you with life is “Child of God.”
Jesus said “I am the true vine, and my father [God] is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.” We should not hear this as a threat. But as a life giving promise. This is not an “or else” verse; as in “start following God or else…” But really what this is is a promise that all of the “junk” or “noise” in our life will be trimmed away or pruned away so that the things in our life that really are life giving may flourish. And we are nothing without Christ. Again, this isn’t said to scare you but to give you hope. Without Christ we cease to be. Now, if for some reason you walked out of here today deciding to swear off Christ for the rest of your life, it’s not like you would *poof* disappear into thin air. Without Christ, yes we live, we have breath, but we don’t have abundant life.
Again, Jesus said “I am the true vine.” The true vine. It is tempting, and quite easy for us to go looking to other places and other people to give us true life. But we’re just grasping at vines that will eventually give out. There is nothing, absolutely nothing in our lives that can give us what Christ gives us. Institutions and people will fail us. I can guarantee you at least that much out of life. You will be disappointed in an institution (including the church) or a person (including the person with whom you have the most intimate relationship) at least once in your life. As long as we abide, dwell, survive, in Christ, we will never be let down by him.
Yes there will be times when we may shake our heads in confusion wondering what God is up to. This is usually because our plans and God’s plans aren’t the same. But if we trust in God and in the saving action of Jesus Christ we will have life and have it abundantly. If you’re feeling the need to re-orient yourself, or if you’re feeling the need to remind yourself that you are a branch on a vine (and not the other way around) then the table is the perfect place for you. Here we are fed on the body and blood of Jesus Christ, our life giving source; our vine. And maybe as you take that bread and drink the wine you can pray that God would do some pruning in you.
May we be pruned of hatred, racism, and classism; may we be pruned of being judgemental, of blindness to hunger and thirst, and may we be pruned of the ability to ignore those in need around us. May we be pruned of vocabulary like “them, those people, the other, and that person.” May we be pruned of our lack of empathy and have a fire of justice start to burn inside us. May we be pruned of our refusal to listen and learn from situations like Ferguson and Baltimore and instead may our branch grow with understanding and accompaniment. Most of all, may we be pruned of our false ideas that it’s all about us and instead always point to the one who is the ultimate giver of life.