“The Fruit We Grow is the Love We Show”
I want to ask you this morning: How did you do during the pandemic?
I realize we are still in the pandemic, but all indications are that we are coming out of it.
We can now worship indoors, in-person.
And Sunday school or Small groups will be starting up again next Sunday.
So, how did you do?
How was your spiritual life?
Did you flourish and produce much fruit or did you feel as though you were withering on the vine?
I was speaking with some other pastors the other day and they were telling me that they lost a lot folks during the shutdown.
Some people went so far as to lose their faith.
Others have decided that they like it better to just watch the worship service on the internet.
It’s easier and they don’t have to get dressed and leave their house.
Every pastor I have spoken with in the past month or so have told me that their church has taken a fairly sizable hit as a result of the pandemic.
Some folks just aren’t returning to worship.
Most churches are running at about 40-50 percent in attendance compared to pre-pandemic days.
And so, with this in mind, I think this morning’s Gospel Lesson is a timely one because Jesus is talking about the only way to “stay alive.”
“Remain in me,” Jesus says.
But that’s not all He says.
The entire sentence is: “Remain in me, as I also remain in you.”
And that changes everything.
It’s not like we have to grab on to Jesus for dear life as He goes whizzing by.
Jesus comes to us.
His Holy Spirit takes up residence in us when we invite Him in.
And He remains in us; He abides in us.
That can be counted on.
The question left for us to ask ourselves is: “Will I…will we remain in Him?”
And that is a faith question, is it not?
It’s a question about belief; it’s a question about priorities.
Jesus will be with us; will we be with Him?
Will we trust in Him?
Will we rely on Him for our strength, our sustenance, our hope, our sanity, our peace, our lives, our ability to love?
And, if we have done so in the past, will we continue to do so?
I’m reminded of a time in the Gospels when Jesus was sharing some difficult teachings.
And we are told that many of Jesus’ disciples “turned back and no longer followed him.”
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’”
Do we believe and know?
David Brackett and I were at a meeting this past week where the speaker said, “Unbelief is the root cause of all the other sins.”
And I believe this is true.
Think about it.
Unbelief was the very first sin in the Bible when Adam and Eve ate from the tree God told them not to eat from.
Unbelief is the chief reason the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, and it is the reason many of us wander in the wilderness or the desert searching for what we once had or what we think we need.
Those who persecuted and eventually had Jesus put to death suffered from unbelief.
There can be no doubt we are living in a time of terrible and great unbelief.
And the signs of unbelief are all around.
People are lost and searching for that one thing they know they are missing, but they are looking in the wrong places.
They are looking for it in sex.
They are looking for it in drugs.
They are looking for it in politics.
They are looking for it in guns.
They are looking for it in entertainment and careers.
Some even look for it in cutting themselves and suicide.
They are looking, seeking, searching but not finding.
And as a result, they are terribly unhappy.
If we are honest with ourselves can we say that we always act out of belief?
Or do we too often act out of unbelief?
And what happens when we act out of unbelief?
We become fearful and insecure.
We fear that we are inferior to others because we are envious of their success.
We fear rejection and so we don’t reach out.
We also become insensitive and proud.
We lose sight of our sinfulness and lose touch with the pain that sin causes and the need to be humble.
We find it nearly impossible to avoid being impatient and judgmental toward others.
We give up on relationships if we feel there is little personal reward in it for us.
We are impolite and pushy and become manipulative in relationships…
…and I could go on and on.
“Unbelief is the root cause of all the other sins.”
Often, unbelief can jump out at us and surprise us.
It can come when we neglect coming to church, reading our devotions and Bible.
It can come when we stop praying for others and start skipping our small groups.
Before we know it we are withering on the vine.
We are numb.
And we begin to succumb to sins, giving in to temptations that have haunted us for ages.
And this is not fun.
And it’s all because we have forgotten or neglected to remain in the vine…to remain connected to Jesus Christ.
It can start with really small decisions that don’t seem very substantial or important at the time…
…and before we know it—bam!
We are in sad shape.
That is why it is so very important to be intentional in our daily walk with God.
It’s so very important to serve Christ by serving others.
It’s so very important to remain in Jesus as He remains in us.
And this isn’t just for our own good; it is also for the good of the world.
It’s for the good of the world that doesn’t know Him.
It’s for the good of the single mom or single dad living down the street struggling to make ends meet and provide a nurturing environment for the kids while struggling with a profound and entirely unexpected loneliness.
It’s good for the kid who’s been cyber bullied for so long just for being different or human that he or she is beginning to believe what the haters are saying.
It’s good for the professional who has lost his or her job and, despite the headlines saying the economy is coming back, has no decent job prospects.
It’s good for the devasted parent whose child is depressed and threatening suicide.
It’s good for the caretaker who is losing a beloved spouse day by day, little by little to some dread disease.
There are, of course, countless examples of people who feel cut down—maybe mowed down—by life and circumstances.
And they are living without faith and thus without hope…
It’s good for them and for us when we “remain in Christ as Christ remains in us.”
Because by remaining in Christ, we will bear much fruit.
And the fruit that we bear is Love.
In verses 9 of John Chapter 15 Jesus ditches the vine and branches metaphor and goes straight to the chase.
He says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.
Now remain in my love…
…I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you…
…You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last…
…This is my command: Love each other.”
A true and living belief where faith is put into practice—the outcome of that is love…
…the product of that is love…
…love for God and love for neighbor….
…agape, unconditional, humble, serving love.
And that is what everyone needs.
It’s what everyone is searching for.
And there is only One Place to find it.
And that is in a living relationship with the Risen Christ.
A word which could be substituted for remain or remaining in this passage is to abide.
And one’s abiding place is where a person feels deeply at home.
If you feel deeply at home when you are abiding in Christ, you are on the right path; you are in the right place.
I once heard a wealthy world traveler say: “All I want to do is stay home and enjoy life.”
Then he added, “And since I have been everywhere, everywhere is home.”
And the same goes for those who are in Christ.
If Christ is our home, we can be deeply at home no matter what is going on around us.
We can experience peace, even during the darkest storms of life.
We can experience joy even when things aren’t necessarily going our way.
When our abiding place is in Christ we need not be demoralized by rejection and criticism.
We need not have an inferiority complex nor envy others because God accepts us and that is all that really matters.
We can be hopeful for everyone because it is God’s grace that saves and changes people, and we have experienced and continue to experience that grace and change for ourselves.
When we are attached to Christ the True Vine, we can sympathize and reach out to others.
And because the fruit of the abiding life is love, we will not look down in judgment on others and we will be courteous and not pushy.
In other words, we will be utterly sensitive and humble.
Have you experienced this?
Have you tasted of this?
And anyone can live in this kind of love.
And when we live this way—genuinely live this way—the single mom or dad down the street take notice and see that this might just be an option for them as well.
The bullied child is also attracted as is the devasted parent—all those who feel cut down—mowed down by life and circumstances.
And our lives can and will make a positive difference in this world.
When I became a Christian, the driving force behind it all, was that I wanted to make a positive difference with my life.
I have made tons of mistakes.
I have disconnected myself from the Vine many times.
But God’s grace has kept after me and I only feel happy, I only feel at peace, I only feel deeply at home when I am remaining in Christ as Christ remains in me.
Without Jesus, I can bear no fruit.
Apart from Christ I can do nothing.
If I do not remain in Christ, I am like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
Can you relate?
In 1st John Chapter 4 we are reminded that “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
And because of this, we can have “boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”
Remaining in or abiding in Christ means living in love.
And that love, shared freely with every other person, brings glory to God.
And in bringing glory to God, others come to believe and changes begin to take place in the lives of the persons around us.
There is really nothing more important in all the world.
There is no greater reason to live.
There is no greater effect we can have on the lives of others.
This is our whole purpose for remaining in Christ.
The fruit we grow is the love we show, and the love we show gives God glory.
May it be so.