Stay Connected to Jesus
5th Sunday of Easter
Stay Connected to Jesus
Text: John 15:1-8
I was gathering my thoughts. I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to say today in the sermon. That changed quickly.
On Thursday Mrs. Sandy stopped by my office and shared the sad news that her sister had passed away. Among other things, we talked about how important of a reminder it is to everyone that we need to Stay Connected to Jesus because our time here is limited. That was hard enough for her. But then on Friday Mrs. Sandy got a phone call at the campsite for the CTK Camp Out. It was not good news. Sandy’s 27-year-old daughter had also died that afternoon.
I don’t think there could be words with any better timing than what the Lord planned for us to hear this morning. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Apart from Jesus we can do nothing, we have nothing, we get nothing, we are nothing.
So what in the world are we thinking? Why do we live the way we do? Why do we get so caught up in this life? Why do we act like our careers are so important? Why do we run around chasing our tails doing all kinds of frivolous things? Sure vacations are fun. Yes, my kids love sports, and I love to watch them play. I love watching ESPN and American Idol. I have plenty of hobbies I like to get lost in. I enjoy time at the beach. I need to work hard so I can have an awesome retirement.
But finally what does any of that matter? How could I possibly live like any of that is more important than staying connected to Jesus? What is more important than thoroughly training my children every moment in the ways of the Lord and his Word? Why am I so eager to run to the beach but not to run to open my Bible? Why would I rather sleep sometimes or do some family thing instead of being in church or Bible study? Why don’t I do everything I can possibly think of to Stay Connected to Jesus and remain in him?
Some day I might get one of those phone calls. Some time I might get two of those phone calls on back-to-back days like Sandy. Even more urgently, some day God in his wisdom will decide that my time on this earth is done. Why don’t I prepare myself more for these things?
What a foolish heart I have. What a world-loving, money-hugging, pleasure-seeking foolish heart I have.
It’s like buying a new car but never ever doing any maintenance—no oil changes, no tire rotations, no new shocks or brakes. It’s only a matter of time before it wears out and dies. How foolish!
It’s like buying a brand new queen palm tree for your yard and never giving it any good soil or water or sunlight. It’s only a matter of time before it withers and dies. How foolish!
But those things happen, don’t they? In fact, I’ve done both of those specific things in my life. We had a car in the past that we could have been a little more proactive with on the maintenance. Quickly it was falling apart. We’ve had plants and trees that we should have nourished and fed and taken greater care of. Quickly they died. We were so busy that we kept pushing it off and pushing it off and pushing it off. Eventually it was too late and we said, “Why did we do that? We should have paid more attention and taken better care!” But again, it was too late.
Why do we do this with our faith? Eternity is on the line. When God wills that our time here is done, we will be either in heaven or hell forever and ever. There is no turning back. Why would we ever treat that lightly or act like it’s no big deal? Did you hear the warnings today? Verse 1: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.” How about verse 6: “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”
I am connected to Jesus. You are connected to Jesus. So were the disciples. Jesus said in verse 3: “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” That applies to us too. We are clean and forgiven through God’s Word because we are connected to Jesus right now. But that’s not the issue today. Today God is telling us something so important: Stay Connected to Jesus.
How foolish if I would ever take my connection to Jesus for granted. How foolish if I would ever be apathetic or lazy or uncaring about my faith. How foolish if I would ever treat anything in this life as more important than being in church and being in the Word of God and being around other Christians, the very things that will feed and strengthen my faith. How foolish because if I ever become too busy or concerned with this life, I might end up cut off from the Vine and lose the next life.
So on days like today and after events like I described, we are jarred by the wakeup call and we quickly turn back to Jesus for forgiveness once again. We look to the crucified and risen Savior to forgive our foolish moments when we are distracted from what matters the most and we ask him to wash away once more the many sins that threaten our connection to him.
How good and gracious our Father in heaven is. In his love he gave us this connection to Jesus in the first place. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” We were lost and condemned without Christ. But our heavenly Gardener has picked us up, dead and sinful branches that we were, and grafted us into a relationship with his Son, the true Vine Jesus Christ.
And though we don’t always feed our faith as often as we should, and though sometimes our connection to the Vine weakens because of our own foolish sin, our heavenly Father continues to function as the great Gardener who forgives us, prunes us, and helps us to grow. How blessed we are that by God’s grace and goodness we can say today that we are connected to Jesus our Savior! Nothing could be better news and nothing could be more important.
But now, we must Stay Connected to Jesus. Just as we were lost apart from Jesus to begin with, so now we will never bear any fruit and grow without Jesus. Look again at verse 3: “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” If we want to continue to grow and not be cut off, if we want to bear the fruit of a God-pleasing life, if we want to taste the fruit of eternal life, then we need to Stay Connected to Jesus.
Here’s the best part about this though: Our God is so loving that he makes staying connected to the Vine very simple and easy. You don’t need some kind of complex Miracle Gro compound. You don’t need to have a PhD in botany. You don’t even need to spend any money. All it takes is the most potently powerful plant food ever given to mankind—God’s Means of Grace, his Word and Sacraments.
Every day we can reflect on our baptism when God first attached us to the Vine. Regularly we can be fed with the body and blood of Jesus the Vine as we stay connected to him and to each other in a very real way in Communion. And every day we can turn to the Lord in his Word.
There are opportunities all over the place: Sunday morning worship, Sunday morning Bible study, Wednesday night Family Night Bible study, online videos of our services and sermons, the CTK blog where I write articles and post my sermons, daily devotions in your Email you can get from our WELS church body, one of the great devotional books out on the table today for the book fair from Northwestern Publishing House, or simply opening your Bible in devotion yourself or with your family every day.
What could possibly take priority in our lives over these precious opportunities in which we can grow in faith and Stay Connected to Jesus? Listen to what Jesus says in the last two verses: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” If we remain connected to Jesus and his words our Father in heaven will gladly hear and answer our prayers, and we will continue to grow and bear fruit as his disciples, and that will give God such great glory.
What a week this has been! The earthquake in Nepal. Continued debates over the problems in our country exposed by the people of Baltimore. Personal tragedy and loss. We remember that God does not send these things in anger. These things happen because this is an imperfect world filled with sin and sinners.
And yet, God can use even evil and tragedy for his purposes and for our good. I think this week, especially with tragedy in our own CTK family, there has been a very loud wakeup call for all of us. There is nothing more important than staying connected to Jesus and making sure others are connected with Jesus.
Any day could be someone’s last. Waiting one minute to talk to them about Jesus is waiting one minute too long. Any day could be my last day. Even one thing prioritized over my connection to Jesus is one thing too many.
Give thanks to God every day that he has grafted you as a branch connected to Jesus, the Vine. Give thanks for his powerful Word and Sacraments that feed and strengthen your faith. Give thanks for the loving group of believers surrounding you that support you and pray for you and give you strength. Stay connected to them regularly and stay connected to the Word regularly because they will help you Stay Connected to Jesus. May the power of our glorious God and his mighty Word keep us connected as branches to the Vine now and into eternity.