Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sermon: John 15: 1-17 Farewell Discourse - Connected to Jesus

I’ve brought along something that is very small, and very useful. Earphones! Now what are earphones used for? They’re for listening music. It’s great. You can be on the bus or sitting in the middle of a big crowd of people, and you can enjoy your favourite music - whether that’s One Direction or Daniel O’Donnell or anyone in between! There’s just one problem. when I put them in my ears, I can’t hear anything. What’s wrong? They’re not connected. If this end isn’t connected into the ipod, then I won’t hear any music.

Or just think of your morning routine. If you’re not quite awake, you’re trying to get ready and wondering why the hairdryer or the toaster won’t work - they need to be plugged in. They need a connection with the power source to make them work; to do what they were made to do.

That’s what Jesus was telling us in our reading tonight. But rather than talk about earphones or hairdryers, Jesus uses another picture. But before we get to that, a little quiz. What country do you identify with the thistle? (Scotland). The shamrock? (Ireland) The maple leaf? (Canada). The fern? (New Zealand). The vine?

The vine was the national symbol of Israel. In the Old Testament God sings the song of his vineyard in Isaiah 5. He’s talking about his people. But the good vineyard God had planted had turned out bad. Things weren’t going right. Now, here in John 15, Jesus says ‘I am the true vine.’

Now what grows on a vine? Tomatoes? Yes, but Jesus is talking about grapes. So I have a little bunch of grapes with me.

Now where did these grapes come from? And I don’t mean Tesco! How did they grow? They don’t have a factory making grapes like these - the branch has to be connected to the vine. It needs the sap, the power to produce the fruit. In the same way, Jesus says to his disciples: ‘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.’ (John 15:4)

We need the power of Jesus to live as Christians. This little branch isn’t going to grow any bigger, because it’s cut off from the vine. If we’re not connected to Jesus, we won’t be able to do anything. That’s why Jesus tells us to remain in him - to rest in him, to abide in him, to be joined with him at all times. It’s only by this that we can produce fruit.

Now, here’s a spot the difference for you. What’s the difference between an apple tree and a Christmas tree? (By the way, it’s only 217 days to Christmas).

What’s the difference? A Christmas tree might look very nice with lights and baubles and tinsel and whatever else you put on a Christmas tree, but they have to be hung on it. The Christmas tree doesn’t produce all those things itself. The apple tree produces its own fruit.

But which are we like? Sometimes it can be very easy to come along to church, to look good, to seem to be a Christian with a great outward appearance, looking nice and respectable. Or are we producing the fruit of being a Christian - which we’ll see in a moment.

So that’s the basic point Jesus wants us to get today - we need to be connected to Jesus. It’s more important than being connected with 5000 friends on Facebook.

But Jesus goes on to show two ways in which being connected to him will impact our life. Here’s the first one: ‘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.’ (John 15:7-8)

So how does that sound? Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. Whatever you wish. It sounds a bit like a genie and a magic lamp, doesn’t it? Three friends were on a desert island when they found a lamp. The genie each gave them one wish. The first wished he was in Paris and he disappeared. The second wished he was in Hollywood and he disappeared. The third realised how lonely he was and wished his friends could come back...

So is Jesus saying that we can have whatever we want? Could we go out to the car park to find our cars have been changed into Ferraris or Porsches? But we’ve missed out the first part of the sentence. ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you...’ It’s when we’re connected to Jesus, as his words remain in us, then we can ask whatever we wish and we’ll receive it. It’s not asking for things you want selfishly, rather, it’s about asking for the things Jesus wants because they are the things we want as well. When we’re connected to Jesus, we’ll see answered prayers.

There’s one more effect. Have you ever seen a domino display? You need a steady hand to set it up. One domino moves the next and on and on... We see something the same here as Jesus talks about love. ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.’ (John 15:9) The Father loves the Son, who loves us, and who do we pass it on to? ‘Love each other as I have loved you.’

These words were said in the upper room, just hours before Jesus went to the cross. It was there that he demonstrated the greatest love of all: ‘Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ (13) It is as we receive his love - as we see just what Jesus did for us, that we are connected to him. Never wander from the love of Jesus. His love is the power that flows from him to us. His love will make us fruitful, as we become more like Jesus.

Jesus commands us to love one another. It’s not easy. We’re all different, with different preferences and personalities. It takes the love of God to overflow in our hearts to each other as the fruit of the Spirit grows.

One of the problems of buying fruit is that sometimes it goes off quickly. It isn’t all eaten, it sits in the fruit bowl and goes bad. It’s past its best. It’s only good for a compost heap. But the fruit that we produce when we’re connected to Jesus endures for ever. ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit - fruit that will last - and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love one another.’

Are you connected to Jesus? Perhaps you realise that you’re disconnected; you’re far from him. You need to be plugged in, grafted on. Come to him today. Discover at the cross his great love for you, to lay down his life for you. Make that connection today, so that his love flows to you and through you.

But maybe you are a Christian. Stay connected to Jesus. Return again to the cross, and let the love of Jesus flood your heart and overflow - as you pray like Jesus, and love like Jesus, producing spiritual fruit that will last forever.

We may be leaving, but it’s the connection with Jesus that brings life and growth - the fruit that we’ll enjoy in eternity together.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 21st May 2017. My farewell sermon as Rector of the parish before our move to St Matthew's Richhill.

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