Apr 7, 2014

Humans make plans, life says....

Man makes plans.....
Reader Scripture – Jeremiah 29:11-13
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Sermon Scripture – John 15:1-11
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also 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.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

The Vine
The section for today talks about how Jesus is the vine and we, his followers are the branches. I've seen a million and two ways to approach this passage. I'm sure that many of you have likely heard it preached on before. I know that I have. Most of the messages I've heard about it have focused on the fruit that the vine and branches bear together, or on the fact that it says there is pruning. Those messages are wonderful and awesome, but I want to go a slightly different route today.

First, let's pick apart this scene. We have Jesus likening himself to a vine while we are the branches. There is the Father, who is called a gardener, who walks along the vine and tends the plant.

I have a good friend who became a Christian when we were both teenagers. Shortly afterwards, she was having a hard time, and said to me “I thought everything was going to get easier.” There is this idea that life as a Christian should be two things: Predictable and Easy, and somehow if life isn't that, then you are doing something wrong. Let's look at the first assumption:

Somehow we've got it into our heads that life should be predictable. We should do specific things at specific times in our life, and if we get the order off, well then there is something wrong with us, or we don't have enough faith, or whatever.


Jesus here says that he is the vine and we are the branches. Never in my entire life, in all of the places that I have been have I ever seen a vine growing in a straight, predictable line. As the vine grows, it turns in unexpected directions. Branches go in unexpected directions. People who cultivate vines put them up on racks to help them grow predictably, and they still end up with plants that are a bit squirrley.

Human beings like predictable things. Predictability equals less anxiety. There's an animated movie about cavemen that came out recently called “The Croods”. In this movie, they treat anything new and unpredictable as if it is going to end their lives. Their motto is “never not be afraid” and “new is bad”. If they encounter something new, they are going to DIE!

We laugh at this exaggeration, but how many of us live our lives like this? As though deviation from the predictable path means we will financially, emotionally, socially, or physically die? We like predictability. The problem is that reading the Bible shows us a Jesus who refuses to do the predictable thing. He ate with the socially excluded. He defied religious pompousness in favor of showing true love. He was constantly pushing people to grow in their faith, to grow in community, to grow in service to one another. Growth is unpredictable. The vine grew, and continues to grow, in unexpected ways. So do the branches.

Let's talk for a moment about the other idea, that somehow living as a Christian is easy, that somehow we will be spared the devastation that life throws our way simply because we are God's children.

There are a whole slew of Biblical figures who would laugh at this idea. Moses – a man born in Egypt as a Hebrew slave, grew up as a Egyptian prince, led the Hebrew people out of Egypt in the face of much adversity. Or let's think about Jonah (eaten by a whale), or King David (hunted most of his life by people who wanted to kill him), or Paul (poisoned, bitten by snake, beaten, thrown in prison, shipwrecked). These were not easy things! And all of these men are lifted up as heroes of the Bible.

We have this lie in our culture that if bad things happen to us as Christians, then we did something wrong. There is something wrong with us, God is mad at us, we don't have enough faith, we didn't pray hard enough, we can never measure up to the Biblical heroes, etc.


These are major and devastating lies. A major danger of this way of thinking is that it dumps shame on having hard times, when having hard times are part of living. It means that people are shamed or afraid of reaching out for community, for help, in fear of being condemned rather than loved. In Ecclesiastes it says “for time and chance happen to them all.”

This is hard stuff! But we cannot forget the Gardener. I've often found that when the image of the vine and branches is discussed, the Gardener rarely comes up. Jesus says plainly that the Father is the gardener, walking alongside the vine and helping it to grow and bear fruit. The promise is not that we will have a predictable and easy path, but that the Gardener will always be present, always walking with us, helping us to grow, being present in the difficulty, tending us through droughts, storms, fierce weather, snow in April. : )

Human beings make plans. Life, time, and chance happen to us all and change those plans. God says, “I will be with you in the midst of the chaos.”

As people, we want God walking alongside us to be big and dramatic. I want a seven foot buff guy walking with me to protect me from bullies. I want God's voice to ring out in lightening and thunderclaps when my voice is too small. We want these things, but we serve a God who often walks alongside of us in unexpected ways. We hear him in unexpected, unpredictable ways. A kind word from a stranger. A friend's hug. Money showing up when we most need it. Someone inviting us over for a meal when food is hard to come by. A comforting word from a friend when life is going to pot. God does not have to be huge and dramatic to let us know that he is walking with us.

This past week, Dahmon and I received a call from someone here in Lake City who has had life kick in their teeth despite the fact that they are doing absolutely everything right. Dahmon has spent some time with this family, which includes small children, & heard their stories, listened to everything they are doing to make things right, heard everything that has gone wrong. He heard from this family because they need help with their rent. Either their rent is paid tomorrow, or they are evicted from their home despite the fact that there are small children involved. They have nowhere to go.

I was with Drexel playing with him on the slide in our backyard when Dahmon came up to me and explained the situation. He asked if we could afford to help this family with rent. My next question? “How much do they need?” The amount he gave me made me inhale sharply. It is not a small amount. Immediately my need for predictability and a straight path came in and I said “no, they have to find another way.” They I looked at Drexel in all of his cuteness sitting on top of the slide, trying to work up the gumption to go down the slide by himself. For him, that slide is a scary thing. From his perspective, it is big and scary, and he's not quite sure what is going to happen when he reaches the bottom, if he reaches the bottom intact. He will hem and haw at the top of the slide about how he's going to go down, oh wait – he won't, its too scary. Eventually he will reach out to me and say “hold Momma's hands” and he'll zoom down the slide so quickly you would never think he'd ever hesitated.

In that moment, I felt myself at the top of this slide, hemming and hawing about all the reasons that we couldn't afford to help this family. In my mind's eye, I could almost see the slide. And then I remembered that they have several small children, one of them around Drexel's age. Those children having a home on Tuesday is more important to me than my desire for financial predictability. And I held my hands out to God and said “hold Abba's hands”.

Dahmon and I have committed to this family that their rent will be covered. We are working with them to figure out programs and such, but no matter what, either programs or Dahmon and I will cover their rent this month. If you are interested in coming alongside us & helping this family, come & talk to me.

Being a branch on the vine does not mean that we have a predictable, easy path. It does not mean that we get to choose where and how we grow. As the vine grows, as we grow in our faith and our journey with God, heck – as we live, our lives will go in unexpected directions and we will take unexpected journeys – some of them easy, some of them hard. The promise is that the Gardener is right there, tending us in the midst of it all, and he will never, ever leave us.

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