HOMILY & IDEAS

Acts 4: 8-12, 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas lay underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots for you.

For better or for worse, whenever I read this passage from the Gospel of John I can not help but to think about the movie -- Invasion of the Body Snatchers. If you have seen this movie, you will recall that alien life forms disguised as human beings were literally spawned from pods which were connected to a type of vine. If the vine was cut, the beings immediately and violently expired. The connection between these beings and the vine was absolutely vital for life.

Jesus makes the same point with His allegory of the vine, its branches and the fruit it produces. If you want life -- true life -- you have to be connected to the vine. There are no exceptions.

Jesus said to his disciples -- I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.

The words -- THE TRUE VINE -- in this verse can preach. Might we be connected to other vines in our lives -- even competing vines? Might other vines look to be TRUE? Yes. But, is there only one, true vine of which the Father is the grower? Is there only one true vine which is the most life-giving, the most nourishing, and the most dependable? Yes. Most importantly -- are we plugged into this one, true vine?

He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.

We all need pruning in life. Jesus provides an example of an action by which this pruning might occur -- the reception of The Word -- the reception of His Word. Scripture challenges us, nourishes us, encourages us, and advises us. Scripture prunes us by addressing the life-sucking downfalls that might hinder us from bearing good fruit -- or any fruit at all: Temptations, greed, selfishness, anger, grudges, apathy, hatred, or the avoidance of cross-carrying at any cost, to name a few. On the other hand, Scripture prunes us by helping us to channel all that is lifegiving into our lives and actions: Selfless love, sacrifice, voluntary cross-carrying, feeding others, clothing others, visiting others, comforting others, serving others, forgiving others, healing others, reaching out to the marginalized, protecting defenseless life, and even giving up our lives for others.

Knowledge of Scripture is knowledge of Jesus. Knowing Jesus means being connected to the vine. Being connected to the vine and bearing fruit means putting His words into action.

Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.

Jesus will always outgive or outinvest us. That is, whatever we give or invest to remain in Him will be returned many times over as he remains in us. However, our relationship with Jesus is clear: He is the Vine and we are the branches. We can never take the place of the vine and we can never produce fruit on our own independent of the vine.

Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Do we try to be our own vines sometime? Yes. Do we try to produce fruit on our own? Sure. Are our efforts literally fruitless? Yes. Still, life is like that sometimes. We begin to become independent and our dependence upon Jesus begins to slip away until we feel lifeless. And, it is then that we search -- sometimes frantically -- for the true vine again hoping that we have not been permanently cut off and thrown in the pile of withered branches ready for burning

However, if we are firmly connected and pruned we are told that we can ask for whatever we want from the vine grower -- the Father. We become disciples of the Vine -- disciples of Jesus.

HOMILY: I am drawn this week to questioning myself or others in the following way: What are you plugged into? What are you connected to? What is giving you life? What is nourishing you? Are you allowing yourself to be pruned (challenged, nourished, encouraged, advised)? Are you at peace with simply being a branch and not THE vine? What kind of choices are you presented with in life in light of the answers to the previous questions?

When I think of those questions the images of a gas pump, a self-serve car wash hose, and a beverage machine in a fast food restaurant come into mind. Each image presents choices. The gas pump usually provides three grades of gas -- regular, extra and supreme. The self-serve car wash hose give you choices too -- soap, rinse, wax, undercarriage spray, wheel spray, etc. Beverage machines give you choices between Coke, Sprite, Mountain Dew, Brisk, Root Beer, Slice, etc.

All of the devices in these images provide goods, but the possibilities are finite -- the choices are limited -- the potential can be actualized. One image gives energy, one images cleans, another image hydrates or nourishes; but they are clearly limited in scope.

Our lives can be like that if we are plugged into the same kinds of things. They seem to energize, they seem to cleanse, they seem to nourish -- perhaps we are presented just enough choices and just enough earthly satisfaction so that we do not always notice their limits or their nominal potentials to provide true happiness and fulfillment.

If, on the other hand, we believe we are truly plugged into Jesus in a real way and we believe that we are bearing fruit, then let us identify that relationship and that fruitfulness. Let us test ourselves. Let us challenge ourselves. Let us ask ourselves some hard questions and look for honest answers.

If we find we are not plugged into Jesus, if we find our choices for fulfillment are limited, if we find those things that we are currently plugged into life-sucking or only minimally sustaining, let us make a conscious decision to find the TRUE vine and find TRUE nourishment, TRUE fulfillment, and TRUE peace and happiness.

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