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April 26, 2015 | Sermon video of The Nourished Life.

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 First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

April 26, 2015

 The Nourished Life

Psalm 22:25-31; John 15:1-8

              Today we turn to one of the church’s most ancient and powerful images or metaphors for Christ and the church.  This is the last of seven “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel, where Jesus aligns himself with God’s great purposes for the church and the world.  Each begins with those Greek words “εγω ειμι,” “I am.”  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser,” Jesus says in verse 1.  Then in verse 5, He says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”  I love this image or picture, as it is so very suggestive of life itself, and life in Christ.  It shows us that Jesus was organic long before organic was cool!

             In the image Jesus offers, God is the gardener, or vinedresser, Jesus is the vine, and we, as Jesus’ followers are the branches.  In other words, Jesus is the Mediator, or the connection and conduit, between God and humanity.  Jesus is the source of life for those of us who follow Him, or belong to His church.

             There was a great Quaker spirit who lived in the twentieth century named Elton Trueblood.  Trueblood served as an advisor to United States Presidents as different and as separated by time as Eisenhower, Johnson and Reagan, but spent much of his life in Richmond, Indiana, at Earlham College.  He was an early inspiration and contributor to the Stephen Ministry, a ministry that has richly blessed our own church family.  In a now famous essay, Trueblood said we had become “a cut flower generation.”  You know how lovely cut flowers can look, but of course, they have no staying power, for they are cut off from their roots.  They fade and shrivel and die, for nothing is left to keep them alive.  America, he said, had cut itself off from its roots, from the spiritual, ethical and intellectual roots that could sustain life from generation to generation.

             Trueblood drew on this passage, which says boldly and frankly, “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”  A branch is only alive as long as it is connected to the vine, or the source of life.

             This makes us dependent beings, radically dependent, upon Jesus for life.  Which is why Christian life that is real or authentic is always marked by certain humility.  Saint Maximus the Confessor said, “Humility is realizing our very being is on loan to us.”  Our lives are not our own.  We are only branches – and branches need to be connected to nourishment, to some life-force.

             Seven times in this morning’s passage we are told by Jesus that we must “abide” in Him, the “true” or “real” or “authentic” vine.  The Greek word is μένειν or some form of μένως.  It is a word that means to remain, or to live, or to dwell, or to stay, or to continue.  Get it?  We are to be people who “hang onto” or “hang out” with Jesus, if we want to be fruitful, living, alive human beings.  Eugene Peterson put it like this in The Message: “Live in me.  Make your home in me just as I do in you.”

             Whatever it takes for us to stay connected, related to Jesus, we need to do with intentionality.  It is literally a matter of life – life abundant, versus some withering, frightened, shrinking form of life.  It is the difference between existing and really living.  For me, that means worshipping, praying, reading scripture, being a part of the church that bears Jesus’ name.  It means reading the best Christian thought, and staying connected to vital, vibrant, alive Christian people.

             The other word that appears often is the second person pronoun “you.”  Jesus always uses “you” in the plural.  He may be talking about individuals, but never in isolation from each other – life in Christ is always life in community, life in relationship, life in the church.  And early Church Father Cyprian said it: “You cannot have God as your Father if you will not take the Church as your mother.”  So really, what Jesus meant to say was “y’all.”  “Apart from me, y’all can do nothing,” is what Jesus meant to say!

             Two summers ago Connie and I went on a Backroads trip to Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon National Parks, biking and hiking for six days with eight of the most eclectic, delightful cast of characters you have ever met.  We had a ball!  But heading into the north rim of the Grand Canyon, I remember stopping to see acres and acres of quaking aspens in the fields where buffaloes roamed freely.  All of those quaking aspens were actually one incredible organism – an ancient male sent up shoots from its intricate, massive root system.  They all shared an identical DNA, they all changed colors each fall at exactly the same time, and their leaves fell together.  They looked like many trees, but were, in fact, one organism.

             We are the same.  We all draw life from Jesus.  And the surest sign of our shared DNA is that we live in love.  Our oneness in Christ is more profound than any of our differences.  For John, the image of the vine is Jesus’ version of what “the body of Christ” was for Paul.  Jesus here is calling us to community.  He is calling us to a common table, to Jesus’ own table.  “I am the true vine” certainly has Eucharistic or sacramental overtures for us.  A call to abide in Jesus is always a call to community, a call to be part of the church, a call to break bread at the same table.

             Which brings us to one last point.  The whole point of abiding in Jesus, of becoming a part of His Church, is to bear fruit, to live fruitful lives of love and of service.  Nourished by Jesus, nourished by His living word, we flourish, and live lives of love.  Irenaeus was Bishop of Lyon in France.  He died in France in 202 a.d.  He was born, though, in Smyrna, in modern-day Turkey, in 130 a.d., and he learned of Jesus from the church in Smyrna.  He also heard Polycarp, the great Bishop of Smyrna, who was martyred for his faith in 156 a.d.

             Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a human being full alive.”  Irenaeus learned of this life from Polycarp, who sat at the feet of the apostle John, who sat at the feet of Jesus Himself.  Do you know the literal meaning of Polycarp’s name?  It comes from two Greek words καρπον πουλον - “much fruit.”  I have always wondered if the apostle John who wrote down these words of Jesus, named Polycarp.  We are all called by Jesus to be Polycarps – people who live fruitful lives, people who use their gifts so that the church will flourish, so that the kingdom of God will exhibit itself more and more.

             “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”  So let us go forth from this place to glorify God, to bear the fruit of the Spirit, which always begins and ends with how we love one another.

                                                                                     Amen.

 

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