April 28: We Bear Fruit

April 28: We Bear Fruit

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Audio of Scripture reading and sermon only

April 28: 5th Sunday of Easter

Other sermons in this series
“How Shall We Love?”

Scripture: John 15:1-8

Somewhere along the way in life, all of us learn about the essential nature of love. For as long as humans have been around, love has been the central theme of the songs we’ve sung and the stories we’ve written. Some would even argue that love is the key ingredient of good cooking! Love is the quintessential human motivator.

There’s a six-word phrase that pretty much sums up the essential nature of love. I’ll say the first two words and you complete the statement.

Love makes _______________ [the world go round].

I knew you’d know it! Love makes the world go round. Love drives our world. Without love, the world dies. A world without love wouldn’t last a day because we’d destroy ourselves. A world full of love keeps going.

So, the question isn’t Is love important? or even How important is it? But rather, What is the love we show supposed to look like?

The answer to that is…it depends! It depends upon who you ask. To a 3-year old, love looks like getting everything they ask for. To a teenager, love looks like doing whatever they want to do; having no boundaries or rules to follow. To a drug addict, love looks like someone feeding their addiction. But most of know that these aren’t examples of love. In fact, we’d all agree that there are times when saying “no” to someone is the truly loving thing to do. Would it be an act of love to let your toddler run and play along the rim of the Grand Canyon? Of course not!

On the other hand, there are other times when we say “no” to someone truly believing it’s the most loving thing to do when, in fact, it may not be. For example, there are times a parent forces a child to do something the child really doesn’t want to do, but the parent insists they do it anyway, the reason being “Because I really do want the very best for you.” Certainly, there are times when this is true, and what we’re insisting on is ultimately an act of love. But there are other times when our actions reflect more what we think is in their best interest when it may not be.

An example of this might be when a parent won’t let their college-bound child begin a course of study which the child is very interested in, and maybe even gifted in, because it’s a field of study that generally doesn’t lead to steady post-graduation employment. As a parent, what would be your reaction if your high school senior announced that they wanted to go to college and major in Ancient Mesopotamian anthropology? Many parents would probably respond, “Well, as long as your college degree is on my dime, you’ll major in something that’ll lead to actual job!” But what if…what if…for that person, becoming an ancient Mesopotamian anthropologist is exactly the thing that God has put on their heart and which excites them more than doing anything else?

white pickup truck stuck in a very muddy road
A typical Congolese road during the rainy season

Sometimes, we think we know what’s best, what’s the most loving thing to do but it turns out to not be so. A real-life example of this was when a church in the United States heard about a hospital in a remote part of the Democratic Republic of Congo that needed reliable transportation for patients. They got very excited about helping meet that need. So they went right to work and raised a ton of money and did something they truly believed was an answer to their prayers. They bought a full-sized American ambulance and had it shipped to the Congo. When it finally arrived, the Congolese hospital staff was in utter shock—not because it was exactly what they needed, but because it was exactly what they didn’t need. That ambulance wasn’t designed for muddy roads in the rainy season. It required way more fuel to run than they could afford. They had no one there who knew how to service it. And even if they did, they had nowhere to get parts. They were located in remote Congo where they have almost no electricity, let alone gas stations and repair shops. The American congregation had great intentions, and their heart was in the right place—providing a hospital with an ambulance was an act of love on their part. The problem was, in their excitement to show love to their Congolese brothers and sisters, they did what they themselves thought was best. The question they were really answering was, What would we want? What they should have done was ask the hospital workers what vehicle would work best for them given their context.

When it comes to loving others—as Jesus clearly commands us to do—the task is to love as God wants us to love more than doing what we think is the loving thing to do.

Let’s return to the Bible reading Sheila read for us a moment ago.

John [chapter] 15 is part of larger body of teaching Jesus gave to his disciples during their last evening together. Back in chapter 13, Jesus gives them the “new” command to love one another (and others). The command is to love. In chapter 15, he tells them–in a general way–what that love should look like. He begins by putting a new twist on a well-known metaphor about a grape vine. In their writings, the Old Testament prophets Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all spoke of Israel, the people of God, as a vine. Hosea 10:1 says, “Israel is a growing vine that yields its fruit.” In this metaphor, the people as a whole are the vine and God is the one who planted and tends to them. But then Jesus changed up that metaphor. Instead of the people of Israel being the vine, he says that he himself is the vine. And that we the people are the branches within the vine.

Even though it may seem obvious to most of us, let’s quickly clarify the difference between vine and branches. A vine is the whole stem of the plant. It’s comprised of many branches. With this said, Jesus is the whole. Each of us is a single part of the whole. I’m a branch. You’re a branch. Our church is a kind of branch. Together, then, we comprise the content of the vine.

The role of the vine is to be the connection to the root system. Water flows from the roots to the branches through the vine. As the vine, Jesus is the source of our sustenance. He provides everything we the branches need to be stable and fed. Take note that producing fruit is not the role of the vine, but the role of the branches. In this sense, Jesus isn’t called to bear fruit. As the vine, he simply provides the sustenance necessary for the production of fruit on our part.

So, what’s the point of all of this? Well, I think there’s an important connection between the command to love others and the production of fruit. The connection is this: the fruit is the product of effectively loving others. By God’s design, loving others is supposed to lead to transformed lives. Hmm, transformed lives. Sounds familiar. What’s our church’s mission? To makes disciples (or followers) of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And that transformation happens one person at a time–through our intentional actions of love.

Which brings us back to our original question, What is this love we show others supposed to look like? If we’re called to love others (John 13), and there’s a huge range of what’s considered a loving thing to do, how do know what we should do?

I think what Jesus says in John 15:8 points us in the right direction. My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit. As branches in the vine of Jesus Christ, it’s our joy to bring glory to God. How do we do this?

  • By producing the kind of fruit that says more about who God is and what God wants than about who we are and what we want.
  • By producing the kind of fruit God calls for rather than what might be our preferences.

That’s how we give glory to God.

Where this notion becomes the proverbial rubber hitting the road is in the ministries and programs that we as a church embark on. Hypothetically, let’s say someone gave us $5000 to start a new ministry, something we’ve never done before. What would be a show of true love towards the people of our community that would result in transformed lives, all of which glorifies God above all?

A common approach to figuring this out would be to get together and ask, “What you think we should do?” But that’s the wrong question. I’m pretty sure that was the question which led to the answer, We should send them an ambulance. The right question is, What might God be calling us to do? And to know that, it would be very helpful to know what the real needs of the people in this community are, not what we perceive them to be. A ministry or program may be a great idea, but if it doesn’t actually address a real issue or a real need on the part of the people we’re trying to reach, it’ll probably go nowhere.

A perfect example of this are the thousands of churches over the past 30 years who put all sorts of time and energy and financial resources into starting a contemporary worship service on the assumption that that’s what would bring in new people. And my guess is that for 90% of them, that contemporary worship service fizzled out quickly, or if it kept going, it never achieved its desired effect. Why? Because most of the time, those worship services were begun without really looking at what people were looking for or needed. That’s not to suggest that they weren’t sincere in their desire to connect with new people, but simply that in most cases it was a good idea that didn’t come from God.

Henry Blackaby and Claude King, authors of the book, Experiencing God: How the live the full adventure of knowing and doing the will of God, have a lot to say on the topic of figuring out what to do for God. One of the section subheadings in one chapter is this, “Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!” Their main point is that we don’t choose what we’ll do for God; rather, God invites us to join him where he wants to involve us in what he’s already doing. An example they give is when a collage campus ministry wanted to start a Bible study in one of the dorms. They did everything they could think of to get a Bible study up and running, but over the course of many months, it went nowhere. No matter how much advertising they did, no one showed up. Just when they were about to give up on it, figuring it wasn’t God’s will, one of the student leaders was unexpectedly approached by a couple of students after class one day. They said, “You’re a Christian, right?” “Yes,” he responded. “Well, the two of us have been meeting together for a Bible study, and neither of us know much about the Bible. We’re wondering if you know someone who might be willing to help us?” And from that encounter came a very vibrant Bible study in the very dorm they’d been trying to get one going in. The difference was that it was when he joined in where God was already at work that things took off, not when they were trying to implement their own good idea.

This week, stay alert and take note of where God’s already at work. Listen for clues about what people are needing and looking for. And where those things converge will be a wonderful opportunity for us to put love to work in a way that will result in changed lives and God’s glory.

Let’s pray…

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