Summary: “North America is spiritually obese.” (Norm Cheng, Ontario Bible League) The irony is the alarming numbers of people in Canada who have no room for God.
Norm Cheng, this district’s Area Director for Ontario for the Bible League, spoke at the Christian Business Ministries dinner last week. He made a comment in his presentation that perked my ears up. He said, “North America is spiritually obese.” I agree with his comment. We have more forms of gospel presentation in North America than anyone else in the world. Christian television and radio reaches across the airwaves to nearly every home, with late night, all night and almost any-time-of-the-day viewing. Our bookshelves feature the hottest and greatest materials from the latest and most celebrated authors. We have worship experiences with top-notch musicians, equipment, buildings and audio/video aids.
Irony – the growing numbers of people in Canada who have no room for God. Stats from religioustolerance.org, based on the 2001 population (29, 639,035): (http://www.religioustolerance.org/can_rel1.htm In 2001, 77.1% of our population called itself Christian. 6.4% did not consider itself Christian and 16.5% claimed no religious affiliation. What is most alarming is that in the ten years from 1991 to 2001, Christian population grew by 1.5% while non-Christian grew to 72.5% and non-religious increased to 44.2%.
The whole purpose of this sermon is to find a way out of this dreadful demise of the soul. It is found in understanding the hope Jesus extends in the words of verse 5, “I AM the vine”!
To get us going, Jesus gives us some raw facts about
1. DEAD BRANCHES (VS 2-4; 6)
The imagery of the vine that Jesus offers in John 15 was often used in speaking of Jewish heritage and their being the people of God. Historically speaking, the Jews always believed themselves to be the chosen people of God (as they are). The problem with this truth is the way the Jews completely took their privileged position out of context, so much so that they thought they could jolly-well do whatever they pleased and at the end of the day God would still favor them as his people. In this picture of the vine and the branches, Jesus was telling the Jewish people that being a Jew would not save them. The only thing that could save them was an intimate, personal relationship with Him. To quote theologian and author, Dr. William Barclay, “Not Jewish blood but faith in him was the way to God’s salvation.” They were DEAD BRANCHES apart from this.
Saying we’re Christians doesn’t make us Christians. Without practice, words and works to back it up, is to believe we have a privileged position with God that simply doesn’t exist. The message Christ intends for us and all people who will know satisfying never-ending Life is a lesson about RIGHT RELATIONSHIP with God through the work of the cross and resurrection. Beyond that Jesus calls us further. He says in verse 4 (The Message): “Live in me. Make your home in me.” The problem with moving in with anyone is obvious – differing priorities, practices and preferences make a “live in relationship” difficult to appreciate. Ask any of our post-secondary students and you’ll soon find out how dreadful it can be!
We say we belong to Jesus. However, that claim must be tested against the backdrop of the extent to which we live in Christ and reside with him. To reside is to accept the invitation of Christ to be in constant relationship, knowing he demands change in priorities, practices and preferences. Otherwise, we are DEAD BRANCHES.
The Speaker’s Bible commentary draws us to understand an important lesson that Jesus pushes in this passage. By declaring himself to be the Vine, Jesus “expresses His claim to be absolutely indispensable to the world and vital to the life of [all people]…” “Without me,” is literally offered as ‘severed from me’ and it sticks us in the side with the idea that “our Lord does not merely say that our work will be of inferior quality, but that it will be no work at all. It will have no enduring (italics mine) value. It simply won’t count in the final grand result.” To quote Barclay again, he offers three summarized evidences of being DEAD BRANCHES. “We can refuse to listen to Jesus Christ at all. We can listen to him, and then render him a lip service unsupported by any deeds. We can accept him as Master, and then, in face of the difficulties of the way or the desire to do as we like, abandon him.” It is this dreadful reality that has placed us in a position of facing that while 77% of our population in 2001 declared ourselves ‘Christian’, we realise that a number of us are completely complacent to what that declaration means in terms of faith and practice. The real question is how many of the 77% are severed from Christ, not actually in close relationship with him? Two people can be married and live in the same house but never be in communion and relationship.