Sermon
October 22, 2000
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Mark 10:35-40

            35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."

            36 And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?"

            37 And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."

            38 But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"

            39 They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;

            40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." (NRSV)

 John 15:1-11

            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 I have 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.

            11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (NRSV)

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Sermon: I Am the Vine, You Are the Branches

Years ago my father gave me quite a surprise on my birthday – he gave me a religious plaque.  This was very unusual for him, but I could immediately see why he picked it out.  It had that phrase on it we heard this morning from the Gospel of John: As the father has loved me, so I have loved you.

 

I think that was the same birthday where my parents gave me the card that said on the front – “It seems like only yesterday that you were a little seven pound baby!”   And when you opened the card up, you read – “Isn’t is amazing what 150,000 pounds of food will do!”

 

It is truly amazing, the whole process of starting with a single cell and drawing on the resources of life to grow and change and come into being.  I don’t know if it really amounts up to 150,000 pounds of food, but let me see – say a pound a meal for 3meals a day for 365 days a year plus snacks – well probably almost 1,500 pounds a year, so if you live to be a hundred….

 

Needless to say, it takes a lot of Wonder Bread to help us grow sound minds and strong bodies.   And when Jesus says “I am the vine, you are the branches,” he implies that we can learn something about our relationship with God by observing the natural process that allows all living things to connect to the source of life and draw from its generous store those things necessary for growth, maturity, and fruitfulness.

 

In thinking about this I was reminded of a phrase I associate with the German theologian Paul Tillich.  Tillich said that God is the ground of our being.  God is the ground of our being.

 

Now Paul Tillich may be one of the most abstract and difficult doctors of the church to comprehend.  In fact there is the story of the preacher who was at home one day watching his young son while a mason was pouring a new sidewalk to the front door of the parsonage.  He was quite the student of Paul Tillich and as it happened the Catholic Priest had stopped over and they were having a discussion about a certain passage in Tillich’s three-volume Systematic Theology. 

 

The passage reads: “God” is the answer to the question implied in man’s finitude; he is the name for that which concerns man ultimately.  This does not mean that first there is a being called God and then the demand that man should be ultimately concerned about him.  It means that whatever concerns a man ultimately becomes god for him, and, conversely, it means that a man can be concerned ultimately only about that which is god for him….  Universals can become matters of ultimate concern only through their power of representing concrete experiences.

 

Suddenly the priest and the preacher are interrupted by a knock on the door, and there stood the mason who has been stopped in his sidewalk work by the presence of the unsupervised preacher’s son.  And the mason says: Preacher, I do not understand what you are discussing in here in the abstract, but your son is out there in the concrete.

 

Perhaps we should take Tillich in the most concrete of ways: God is the ground of our being, the soil of our life, the source wherein the root takes hold and the vine sprouts and the branches grow and in their season bear fruit.

 

God is the ground, Christ is the Vine that connects us to the ground, and we are the branches that bear fruit.  Christ is our connection to God.  Through Christ all those things that exist in the ground and that are necessary for life are extracted, transformed, and transported to us, the branches, so that we might bear fruit and the fruit might bear seed, and the seed might spread and sow new vines and new branches and new occasions of fruitfulness.

 

Life is an ongoing and amazing transformation of materials and energy according the plan and purpose of God.  And each fruit of this transformation has unique characteristics according to the seed that has been sown.

 

Now we have come to know something of the mechanics of DNA and how the characteristics of plants and animals are determined by the genetic code.  We have learned this by looking at the characteristics and then at the genes, then reversing the process and seeing if the gene determines the characteristic.

 

Well, the role that the genetic code plays in the physical world, the spirit plays in the realm of the heart and soul.  A certain quality of spirit brings forth certain characteristics, and certain characteristics show a certain quality of spirit.

 

Jesus says this very plainly:

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?

 

What are the characteristics of spirit that let us know we are connected to God the ground of our being through Christ the vine and bearing fruits of the spirit?

 

The Bible has several lists of these telltale signs.  One mentions love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Another says purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love,  truthful speech, and the power of God.

 

One passage especially interests me today as we think about the annual focus on financial support for our church in the coming year.  In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul highlights generosity as one of the fundamental characteristics of Christ and of those who abide in Christ.

 

Listen to his encouragement to the church in Corinth to be generous:

 

2 Corinthians 8:1-15 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace God gave the churches in Macedonia. They have been tested by great troubles, and they are very poor. But they gave much because of their great joy. I can tell you that they gave as much as they were able and even more than they could afford. No one told them to do it. But they begged and pleaded with us to let them share in this service for God’s people

 

You are rich in everything—in faith, in speaking, in knowledge, in truly wanting to help, and in the love you learned from us. In the same way, be strong also in the generosity of giving.

 

You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ. You know that Christ was rich, but for you he became poor so that by his becoming poor you might become rich.

 

Give from what you have. If you want to give, your gift will be accepted. It will be judged by what you have, not by what you do not have. We do not want you to have troubles while other people are at ease, but we want everything to be equal.

 

At this time you have plenty. What you have can help others. Then later, when they have plenty, they can help you. As it is written in the Scriptures, “The person who gathered more did not have too much, nor did the person who gathered less have too little.”

 

It is a simple matter of math to realize that if each of us gave generously, the church would have more than it could spend on itself and we’d have plenty to give away.  But what is not a matter of math, but a matter of faith, is the realization that if each of us gave as we are able in a spirit of generosity, our individual lives would also be enriched in ways we can’t yet imagine. 

 

Our lives would be enriched because we would strengthen and deepen our connection to Christ the vine and God the ground, and we would be more abundant in the fruits of the spirit.

 

Jesus said: I am the Vine, you are the branches.  As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

We have many blessing and many joys.   Let them and our lives become complete as we bear fruit in a spirit of generous giving.Amen

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