If You Abide in Me"
John 15: 1-8
A sermon by: Dr. Bob Allred
Atlanta First United Methodist
5/14/2000, Easter 5 Year B
"(1) I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.
It was a hot summer night in Carolina and we were perspiring in our beds, even with the big attic fan on full blast. Above the roar I could hear a banging on our door. Then there was the yelling, "Preacher, preacher come and pray for me! I need you to pray for me now!" I recognized the twangy drawl from my Daddy's flock, and I heard Dad from down the hall, faithfully stirring and scuffing to the door. "Bruce, have you been drinking again?" My Daddy asked. "Yeah, I reckon." Came the honest reply; but then, Mr. Bruce added, "But I'm praying up now Brother Preacher." You must understand that in the worldly world there is the general assumption that since Bruce was on the church roll he was a Christian, even thought his lifestyle was antithetical to the Gospel. But in reality he had begun but not continued.
There must be some sentences in The Good Book someplace that might lead one to believe this way, but it sure does not square with our text of today, or with a systematic study of Scripture. "He removes every branch that bears no fruit. Or, we might say that by choosing to not bear fruit, the one time believer removes himself. Destiny is a matter of choices. Even the addicted person made a choice back there sometime to begin his behavior. Addicted persons have told me that over and over. They also say that even in the grip of addiction there are moments when they know that the Father can help them stop. It is in those moments that the various "Twelve Step Programs" find their great success in helping addicts toward recovery. Every addict also knows that there is a point of no return out there where he/she would be ultimately cut off from any hope.
To be the removed branch is bad, but the fate of the faithful fruit bearers does not appear to be much better: "Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. To be cut off and thrown into a fire is really bad news; but, to be gradually dismembered does not seem to be much better.
Our vinedresser at home, "Miss Marilyn," is in charge of pruning the vines, and telling me which limbs to cut off. I hope our limb pruners and saws do not hurt the vegetation but it is a necessary part of having a pretty yard. We have no fruit trees, but we do have dogwood trees and others that provide a ministry of beauty. Pruning is necessary for growth in vegetation, and in disciples too.
If you have seen either of the motion pictures entitled, "Shadowlands," you know that the recurring major theme in the ministry of C.S. Lewis was "pruning." We grow as Christians through our suffering, which is inevitable for every person. In other words, through the afflictions, accidents, and natural travails that come our way, God uses it to teach us, to cleanse us, and to enable us, to abide in Him.
The secret to this entire way of thinking is summed up in the word, "Abide." To abide is to possess more than mere membership that is mostly meaningless. Abiding connotes hanging close to Christ, the Vine, and allowing Him to sustain us throughout all the pitfalls of living. The word means: to remain, to reside, to linger, to last, to endure, to persist, to carry through, and most of all to produce results, to bear fruit. It is not that we are initially saved by works, but works are natural and necessary for growth; that we follow through with results. Is it not absurd to suppose that a person could hang around the kingdom doing nothing and even feel a part? "Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit." (v.5.)
Barrenness does not require our doing anything wrong, such as screaming out of a drunken mind at the preacher in the night, it only requires our doing nothing and allowing Him to do nothing in us. Some dead branches, cut off and awaiting their time to be thrown into the fire, do not seem to be aware of their spiritual deadness already. This why that the book has some at the last judgment arguing that they were the ones who went to church, and ate fellowship dinners, and played shuffleboard in the church gymnasium, and therefore should be allowed in by some little doggie door. Don't tell anyone, but if it was up to me I would let them all in, however in the light of this text we have to deal with the terrible burning fire imagery.
However, the last two verses of today's text are beautifully positive. "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. The qualifier in this often misapplied line seems to center in the things that the true believer and cleansed abider will actually wish for: Not unearned financial gain, not undeserved fame, not worldly acclaim; but rather, things like peace and goodness, and the well-being of his/her family, friends and all people. The one who is truly abiding in Christ, and actively connected to the true vine, would long for the growth of the Kingdom, and the spreading of Good News to all humanity. An in that holy desire the Father's Church is glorified in the accomplishment of much through the work of the abiders. Who could argue that the existence of Christian Civilization is not the result of millions of fruit bearers abiding in Him? Light has overcome darkness as true believers have born much fruit and in so doing become His disciples. (v.8.)
Bruce did finally sober up. He wept bitter tears of remorse for hours at the Altar one Sunday night after worship. He found free forgiveness from God, and eventually earned the respect of the community of faith. He finished college, taught school for years, eventually became a lay pastor, and is preaching somewhere at this very moment.