Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, September 30, 2012
A little boy was asked by his aunt to be the ring-bearer in her wedding. His mother knew that he wouldn’t make it through the late rehearsal the night before, but she made sure he was present and ready to go in plenty of time before the wedding. When it was time for him to enter, he stepped out into the aisle looking his very best–all decked out with a tiny tux and tie, hair combed, and shoes shined. Down the aisle he processed, holding the pillow in front of him with the ring. Everything was going smoothly until the photographer pointed her camera at him for a memorable shot. He stopped, raised his hands in the air, and roared with a growl everyone could hear. He then took a few more steps and did the same thing. This went on down the aisle until he felt the grip of his mother’s hand on his neck, pulling him to the side. He then heard her words muffled somewhat through her gritted teeth and clenched jaw, “What do you think you are doing?!” He replied with all sincerity, “Mom, you said I was the ring bear!” He obviously was confused about bearing.
The activity of bearing is something we hear about in our various Scripture texts for today, a key description of our role we must understand correctly. It is one we have heard these last two weeks as we have looked at the three B’s in John 15, where we find account of Jesus teaching his disciples from a vineyard, wanting them to understand that he was the vine, they the branches. In each text–John 15, James 5:13-21, and Mark 9–, we have heard about the results associated with our lives when we are connected to Jesus; of how we have the opportunity to make our lives count in this world. We get to bless the world and live full and abundant lives right here on earth–all through what we bear as branches.
That’s where I would like to begin this morning–at the branch. I invite you to go back quickly to John 15 as a foundational text for us in this message series. It will also be one you will hear at different times throughout the year as we grow in this vineyard of Highland in which God has planted us. The part of John 15 I want us to consider this morning is in verse 5, where Jesus highlights a key principle for the disciples: “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. Or, as the Message translation puts it, I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. The result of their continued connection to him was fruit. They would not just be branches, but branches loaded down with fruit. The disciples, if they continued to allow his teaching to remain in them, would make a visible and measurable difference in their families, their synagogue, their friendships, and throughout their world.
In the same way, as a follower of Jesus and branch connected to him, you will bear fruit for the world. And not just some fruit here and there, but abundant fruit, providing nourishment and refreshment for the world around you. Now think for a minute why fruit is needed. We live in an age of shrink-wrapped snacks, tempting Twinkies, gastrically-pleasing go-gurt, and preserved products aplenty. We could make the case that fruit is no longer needed, which would explain our societal problem with obesity and diabetes. Do we still need fruit? Of course. We were made with a need for fruit; to depend on the vital nutrients it provides to our bodies. The same thing is true for us as followers of Jesus, for the real craving our soul’s crave for each day. The same desire and need exists within the people around us, those walking within reach of our branches at work, school, on our social media, in traffic, and in homes and places all around our church.
Leonardo Da Vinci was not only one of the greatest intellectuals of all time, he was a man whose life bore results. These are his words about the relationship between knowing and doing. “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough, we must do.” How true for the church, we branches of the vine.
We have said here at Church for the Highlands from day one that one of our values is that we are a church who measures success as how many people are serving on teams in our neighborhood more than how many people come to church on Sunday. In other words, we think it is best to look at the branch for fruit rather than focusing on how big our branch is, how big our vine connection is, or how multi-faceted and green our leaves are. We choose, instead, to think that none of that other stuff really matters unless there is fruit on our branches. It is the realization that what God really wants is for what he delivers to us via the vine to become fruit that is apparent and accessible for the people around us to receive. This is God’s unique and practical delivery method. He certainly could have engineered another way, yet he chose to use you and me to bear his blessings to the people we encounter every day.
Fruit is just one thing we are to bear. Another way to look at our work is to think of it as effects. Jesus was saying to the group of followers surrounding him that day in the vineyard, and at so many other times, that they were to have a lasting effect in the world. The sick, the lame, the forgotten, the widowed, the oppressed, the rich, the poor, the pious, and the sinful were to feel the effects rippling outward from the disciples as they encountered them. Our James text for today gives insight into the kind of effects Jesus’ followers were to bear. He gave examples of the effects of the prayers of a righteous person, that people would be healed from their sicknesses, that rain would stop where it needed to, that rainless skies would open up with water, and that anyone among them who wandered off and got lost would be restored. All of these were the normal effects of a person following Jesus.
This morning, as you look at your own life, are there any effects there? Are there ripples moving outward from your life, like waves moving away from a stone entering the water? We are the ripple-makers of our time in history. We are living in this place and this time to make a deeply positive and lasting effect on our community and world. Even though we may get frustrated at times as Christians and think the problems around us and in our world are just too overwhelming to change, we must hear today that we have unstoppable potential. You and I have been made capable of radically changing the world we live in, effecting the lives of people in our pathway, and of creating light in a world of darkness. God intends for us to bring healing to the sick through our prayers, to communicate forgiveness to the unforgiven. He puts us into such motion that when we encounter the lost and wandering, they are affected in such a way that they are led home, fully restored. These are the effects James described as normal for the church. Do you see them? Do you know, as you sit here today as a church, the potential you have to bear eternal effects?
There is one more thing are to bear as branches–the name of Christ. In our Gospel account today (Mark 9:41), we hear Jesus giving some pretty tough statements to the disciples about the danger of hypocrisy. They might as well tie a rock around their necks and throw themselves into the water instead of leading people astray. They were, after all, bearing the name of Christ in their world. As Jesus said, “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward” (v.41), and, “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”(v.50) What a great privilege Jesus had given to them in giving them his name. They were to–and soon would literally–be known as Christ’s in the world. Their perpetual nametag in life would have his name, no longer theirs’.
Have you ever had a nickname? I had one: Little Henson. I still get called this at times by those who knew me and, of course, knew my older brother. There was an article on the blog, The Art of Manliness, I saw this past week about men and nicknames. It gave the history of nicknames, examples of some from the past, and mention of how they seem to be declining in use. They were more necessary in a time in villages or cities when people tended to have the same names. What set you apart was your nickname, typically one other people gave you. It was the name you would bear in the community.
As a follower of Jesus, you have been named. You have been given the name of Christ to bear in your world. What God intends is that people will see your life, the difference you make in your surroundings, they way you love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable. Yes, God’s intention is that people will experience the warmth of your inner Spirit, the serenity of your peace, the encouragement of your outlook. And, with all of this, they will have no trouble picking out your nickname–little Christ. They will conclude about you what the Roman court saw about Peter and John when they arrested them, they were “common, ordinary men . . . but that they had been with Jesus.”(Acts 4:7) Being aware that you have this new name after you began following Jesus means that you will think more about what you say, what you don’t say, what you do, and what you don’t do when you are at school, in your car, at church, in the waiting line at Brookshires, and even when you are all alone. It means that you will no longer look down on yourself, let other people look down on you, and not allow anyone to call you by any other name. You bear the name of Christ. Don’t you?
Catherine Marshall wrote that, It is certainly the Creator’s will that the desires and talents he himself has planted in us be realized. Her words sound familiar with Jesus’ words about what our Creator has willed–that we Belong to Him, Become like Jesus, and Bear much fruit.