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April 29, 2018

Sermon John 15:1 . . .“Bible places:  the Vineyard”

“Bible places:  the Vineyard”

John 15:1

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Late in December of 2011, Australian college student Erin Langworthy went on a summer vacation to Africa, where she decided to take the plunge—literally.  It was a New Year’s Eve bungee jump from the Zambezi river bridge, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.  She had never jumped before, but heard it was incredible.  

Jump off a bridge 370 feet over a gorge, with a waterfall thundering behind you--why not?  What could possibly go wrong?

She felt a little nervous—who wouldn’t?  But she was the 105th person to jump that day.

She stood on the platform, looked down at her ankles strapped together, and worried out loud that her feet would slip out.  A guide told her it’d be fine.  That would be the last thing that could happen, he said.

The view was incredible.  Still, she couldn’t help but ask, “What am I doing throwing myself off a perfectly good bridge?”  But she was caught up in the moment, and simply spread her arms and fell forward.  Everything sped by in a blue-green blur.  The rush was amazing.

A few seconds later, she felt a jolt across her chest.  It seemed as if she slowed down for just a moment, then sped up.  She could hear the wind rushing past her ears.  Instinctively, she brought up her arms, and locked her hands together.  A moment later, she hit the water.  That’s when she realized something had gone wrong.

She felt as though she had been slapped all over.  Her lungs were on fire and she struggled for air.

Earlier that morning, she had seen crocodiles in the water, but didn’t have time to think about that now.  She swam against the rapids, her ankles still tied together.  And she was being pulled downriver and underwater into whirlpools, with a hundred feet of bungee cord still wrapped around her ankles.  Her body was purple from the impact.  She was coughing up blood.

When she was finally rescued and taken to the hospital, doctors put her on a ventilator.  There were no broken bones, they said, but her lungs had partially collapsed.  It was a miracle she survived.

What happened?  Apparently the cord had been used so many times, it had simply worn out.  After all, fifty thousand people jump from that spot every year.  That’s why it suddenly snapped.

She learned how important it was to stay connected.

Jesus described Himself at many different times in many different ways.  In the book of John chapter 8, He said:  “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  He said in chapter 10:  “I am the Good Shepherd.  I know My sheep, and My sheep know Me.”  And He said in chapter 14:  “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except by Me.”

Now in today’s gospel, He says it once more.  Please turn in your Bible to page 1147, as I read the words of our text.  John chapter 15, verse 1:  “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in Me and I in Him, He it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

As Jesus spoke these words, it was Maundy Thursday night, the night He wrapped a towel around His waist and washed their feet, the night He took bread, blessed it, and said, “Take eat, this is My Body given for you,” and the night He said, “One of you will betray Me.”

And it was also on that dark and mysterious night that He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

In an article entitled, Why Young People are Leaving Christianity, the author writes, “It comes as no surprise to anyone keeping a finger on the pulse of our culture that a dramatically high number of young people are leaving the church…Many are going as far as to declare themselves atheists or agnostics, while others say they’re ‘spiritual’ but not religious.”  And he writes, “Why are so many young people abandoning traditional church?”

That’s a good question.  

So what’s the answer?  There are many.

It starts, he says, as early as elementary and middle school.  Young people have doubts and questions about the Bible that go unanswered, questions like, “Was there a Big Bang?” “Was there really a flood?” and “Is the earth billions of years old?”  

And when asked what changed their beliefs about the Bible and church, they say things like:  “There is no scientific or specific evidence of a creator” and “Rational thought makes religion go out the window.”

And they say, if they can’t trust the Bible, then why trust the message of Jesus Christ?

The next most popular answer young people give for leaving the church is that they simply don’t like it.  They say, “I see organized religious groups as more divisive than uniting” and “I think more harm has been done in the name of religion than any other.”  And while they focus on the mistakes of a minority, they ignore the incredible good done by millions who truly love the Lord.

And while many might condemn Christianity, they fail to realize that it’s the most inclusive religion of all.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone—from the slums of India, to the households of China, to the mansions of Beverly Hills.  Salvation is for the rich and poor, male and female, atheist and Muslim, slave and free.

If you’re human, the gospel is for you.

And finally, while young people haven’t necessarily rejected the faith, they say they’re just too busy to go to church.  They say, “I stopped when I went to college, and never picked it back up.”  And they say, “I just don’t have time to go to church.”  And like good seed that falls among prickly thorns, they let the cares and the worries of this life become more important to them than God.

So what can we do?  How can we reach them?

First, we need to show them that’s God’s Word can be trusted from the very beginning to the very end.  When it says in the book of Genesis, “In the beginning, God created,” it means, “In the beginning, God created.”  And when it says in the book of Revelation, “Behold, I am coming soon,” it means, “Behold, He is coming soon.”

And when we share the gospel and defend the Christian faith, we need to do it in love and grace.  That’s what Peter wrote in his first epistle:  “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”  And Paul wrote to the Colossians:  “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, that you may know how to answer everyone.”

And we can pray for them--pray that God would give opportunities to share the gospel with your co-workers, your family members, and friends.  As Paul once wrote to the Corinthians:  “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ:  Be reconciled to God.”

So why does it matter?  Why stay connected to Christ?

Because He brings hope to the hopeless, light to those in darkness, peace to the restless, and joy to lives that are broken.

He’s our rock in the middle of a storm.

Joe Puggelli, head of the Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences, tells of a time his perspective on the world suddenly changed.  It happened when he was talking with a helicopter pilot about things that can go wrong, especially when flying over enemy terrain inhabited by angry people with automatic weapons.

The pilot said he had been shot down twice, but each time he managed to bring his damaged aircraft to the ground.  He said, “No matter where you’re hit, there’s always something a good pilot can do to adjust and get his ship down and keep his people safe.”

Then he paused, and said, “Except when the ‘Jesus Nut’ goes.”

What’s the “Jesus Nut”?  It’s a huge bolt that secures the main rotor to the aircraft.  It’s the first and last thing every pilot checks before takeoff.

Apparently it got its name back in Vietnam when they said that, if a helicopter were ever to detach from its rotors, it would drop like a rock.  And the only thing left would be to pray to Jesus.

That’s why they call it the “Jesus Nut.”

We have a Savior, one we can rest on, one we can rely on.  And this is what He said:  “I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

In the words of a hymn:  “Lord, gather all Your children, wherever they may be, and lead them on to heaven to live eternally with You, our loving Father, and Christ, our Brother dear, whose Spirit guards and gives us the joy to persevere.”

 

We thank You, dear Father, for the strength You give and for the life You bring.  Keep us faithful, always connected to Jesus Christ.  We pray in His name.  Amen

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