3 B’s: “Becoming”
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Audio of sermon is here.
[Acorn to Oak video] A lot happens in 8 months in the life of an acorn, does it not? It is amazing to think of what that acorn becomes, as life in the ground produces a vine and then branches. Who would have thought so much life could come out of such an unlikely source, something hidden away and seemingly forgotten. A seed in the ground became a vine shooting upward, which became a tree, which would continue to become a towering oak.
After looking at Belonging last week as we began with John 15, considering what it means to belong to God, to each other, and to the church, we focus today on the natural outcome of belonging: Becoming. The principle for us to consider is: that which belongs becomes. This is a pretty easy fact for us to understand with a vine and branch, but how does it happen spiritually? How can we become as individuals and as a church?
The Scripture we we have heard read this morning–Mark 9:30-37 and James 3:13-4:3,7-8–as well as the words of Jesus about the vine and branches we heard last week in John 15, provide us with timeless truths on how it is that we can become what God has intended us to be. This morning, I would like to look at a few growth tips they provide.
The one that illustrates the process of becoming the most is John 15, where John gives account of how Jesus taught the disciples that he was the vine and how they were the branches. Just as branches only have purpose while connected to the vine, so they would only have purpose as they were connected to him and to his teaching. Jesus knew their hearts, their strengths and weaknesses. He knew they would prone to wander from his teaching at times. They would grow and flourish as God intended only as they remained attached to Jesus. While not the vine, they had access to the life that was flowing up from the vine. They would become what the vine was, just in a different expression.
How true this is for us as well. As you hear this description of followers of Jesus this morning, are you wondering if you are a branch? Have you allowed yourself to become a new creation on the vine of Jesus? Whether we realize it or not, we are all becoming something. The only thing for us to become is a follower of Jesus. What we hear is not only a call to become, but an invitation to be. Nothing can be developed or grown without first coming into being. Maybe that’s where you are today, just discovering the amazingly wondrous vine that is Jesus, present in the soil of your life today. Perhaps this is the time you allow yourself to be drawn up into him, that you flow through his veins, branching out from him into the world outside. If this kind of awareness is in your life, have you considered what is yet to be? Surely you aren’t done growing, as the length and reach of our lives cannot ever be fully finished.
Another way we can become is by drawing close to God. This is what James wrote in his letter of long ago, found in 3:8, Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. James is concluding a section of his letter about the problems his readers were having with each other. He provided a simple solution to the complexity of their conflicts–to draw closer to God. Their internal problems and disputes would fall by the wayside as they drew closer to God. They were branches pulling away from the vine with the shaking and disruption coming from their selfishness and conflict. They could only become by keeping the source of who they were close to the vine.
Do you have any Ivy in your yard? If so, any tree you have in the yard has become acquainted with the ivy. Ivy is a vine that loves to climb up a tree and cover it’s rough bark with it’s dark green leaves, as if to use the tree for it’s height and show off for the neighborhood to see. Ivy, however, is not good for a tree. It’s exhibition of growth will choke the life out of the tree. Tree doctors tell us to just clip the vines from the bottom of the tree and soon the Ivy will turn brown, dry up, die, and can be easily pulled down and thrown away. The branches are no longer connected to the central vine. They are no longer good for anything.
There are people and churches who have been in the process of becoming only to eventually find that they have pulled away from the source of their life. Sure, they look alive and productive, for a while. But, in a short time, they begin to wither and decay. Through conflict with each other or from , they have shaken loose from the vein of abundant life flowing into them from Jesus. Lest anyone think I am referring to salvation here, we covered Belonging last week. While I do not believe we ever stop belonging to God, I do believe that we can lose our purpose and life with things that disconnect us from the vital nutrients Jesus sends up the vine to us to have for a productive and meaningful life.
We are not literal branches and Jesus was not a literal vine. As followers of today, we don’t have Jesus physically with us to attach to for growth. God seems far away at times, so how can we ever draw near to Him? We can’t see the vine, so how can we attach to it? These are great questions I am sure we have all asked before or possibly may be asking today. We will be looking at various spiritual practices that have been helpful for Christians for centuries in the B2 course offered next month. We will explore methods for hearing and understanding Scripture, approaches to prayer, meditation, fasting, tithing, serving, and resting. These are ways we can do our part of staying close to our spiritual source of life. If we aren’t practicing them, we aren’t growing nearer to God. I am asking for every member of our church go through 40 days of Becoming during the next year. This will be offered beginning in October.
One thing, though, we can understand about drawing near to God is that there may be some things we have allowed to get between us and the vine. It could very well be that we can’t draw near because of the debris we have allowed to grow up around our branch, which seemed harmless and even pretty at the time, but is now keeping us from getting to the source of real life. This happens, as problems, challenges, sins grow into our lives like weeds. The good news for us to know this morning is the truth that we can always do things to draw near to God. And, even better, knowing that God will come near to us as we do so.
The gospel text for today, Mark 9:30-37 provides us with the last way of Becoming we will consider this morning. It is the call to become great. Don’t we all want to be great in some particular way? This was a desire much on the hearts and minds of the disciples on more than one occasion, but was dealt with firmly and directly by Jesus here as heard in these verses as Jesus said, Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. This is not what they wanted to hear. It didn’t make sense with their view of greatness. It is not how the people in their society and times became great. Servants were headed downward, not upward. And, yet, Jesus reversed it on them. Up was down and down was up. I quote by David Watson puts this reality this way, The Christian who is ambitious to be a star disqualifies himself as a leader.
We are vexed by this principle of greatness still today, aren’t we? We have a different view about how we can get ahead, how we can become great and important today, still thinking it is the level we attain where others are serving us. What you and I must know today, though, that the path to greatness is one directed by selfless acts of service, even giving our attention to the “little children” of our world who aren’t even acknowledged on the world’s road of greatness. Our road to greatness is a short drive when we are constantly stopping to take care of people. What you will notice about the road is that there isn’t much traffic as you go down. Everyone seems to be on the upward road. We get frustrated at times on our road, thinking of everyone going up soon arrives at the destination of greatness. They even convince themselves and others that they are great. You and I may wonder if we’ll ever get there. The truth is, though, we arrive there without even knowing it.
The oldest vine in the world is 400 years old, still thriving and bearing fruit for people to enjoy. It is in Maribor, Slovenia. As you see in the picture, it still looks like a youngster, healthy and still growing, producing around 100 bottles of wine a year. It is amazing to think of how old it is and, yet, how it is still becoming.
The vine has been around a long time, but the branches keep on bearing beautiful fruit. It has never stopped the flow of life, but continues to become through it’s branches. Jesus, the Vine, has been around a long time, too. Will we become the branches that pass on the life of Jesus to the world around us?