How many of you have sent your kids off to college? Do you remember that day where you unloaded all their things, maybe went to lunch, and spent a little time together before you got back on the road? I don’t know that it’s universal, but for a lot of parents, there’s this pressure to make sure you reiterate all the most important lessons you’ve ever taught your child over the years. You’ve spent years trying to teach them and raise them in the proper way. You want them to be a good human being with kindness and compassion for others. You want them to be intelligent, studious and successful and do well in school, especially if you’re footing the bill. You want them to have fun and enjoy life, though hopefully not too much as they’re on their own for the first time. And you’re scared to death that everything you’ve ever taught them will fly out of their brain the moment you walk out the door. You won’t be there to caution them. You won’t be there to help them out in a jam. You won’t be there to teach them and mold them. Of course there’s cell phones and internet but we all know it’s not the same. It’s no where near the same as when they’re living in your house, supposedly following your rules. So as you spend your last meal together before you go, you run through all the wisdom you have in your head. You give tips and pointers for every possible scenario, at least all those you can cram into an hour of time. You talk about eating well, getting good rest, going to class, being a good student, making friends, being a friend to those who are loners, being kind, being honest, helping someone who is having trouble, working hard. When in doubt, don’t do it. Just remember where you came from and who you are. Be who you are. Remember that and you’ll be fine. As many topics as you might cover, it always feels like you’re missing something. But you do you best to remind them of all the most important things they’ll need to know to be successful out on their own.
Now, if we look at our scripture for today, in essence, Jesus is giving his last minute pep talk to the disciples. I don’t mean to trivialize it, but Jesus is talking to his disciples just hours before the crucifixion and he wants them to remember all that they have learned together. They have already shared in the foot washing at the Passover meal and he has been reminding them of various lessons and emphasizing the things he wants them to know. His death is imminent and his need to share what really matters is growing stronger. Jesus and the 12 disciples have been together for 3 years. They have worked together, laughed together. I’m sure they've vented and even cried together. They have built a strong repor of trust and Jesus knows he won’t be there with them forever. He anticipates the resurrection, but even still his days are numbered and he wants them to have all they need…to be ready for the next thing.
So he tells them he is the vine, he is the source of who they have become and if they want to be strong, if they want to stay steadfast in God’s ways and the things Jesus has taught them, then they need to stay close to his teaching. They need to remain close to all that he has taught them. If they do that, then they will be fruitful. If they do that God will be glorified. They just need to stay true to what Jesus has taught them. Simple enough—remain in me and I will remain in you.
Now this teaching isn’t universal, it’s not a message to the masses, it’s a message to his disciples, to those who have chosen to follow him and be in ministry with him. So when we look at what it means to us today we can’t apply it universally, it’s not a message for the anonymous bystanders, it’s a message for those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus and be in ministry with him. But for us, for disciples…those who choose to follow Christ, the same truth remains—for us to stay close to Jesus and be fruitful, for us to glorify God, we have to stay connected to his teachings. We have to do what he has taught us. We have to live the lessons of faith that we gather on Sunday mornings and in our small groups.
Now that’s easy to say, but tough to do. Jesus says, remain in me—stay close and steadfast—he doesn’t say, come back occasionally, but STAY with me. To become like Christ, to be fruitful and to really glorify God, it’s not a once in a while, as needed, kind of thing. It’s a round-the-clock all the time commitment.
We have to choose to do the things Christ has taught us:
• to love our neighbor as ourself
• to pray for those who persecute us
• to include the marginalized and the outcast
• to give selflessly
• to be generous
• to be compassionate
• to extend grace
• to be humble
• to be faithful to God’s teaching
• to follow the 10 commandments
And we have to do them over and over again. That means biting our tongue when we are angry, it means caring for the homeless man we pass on the street. It means offering help to strangers, even when it may inconvenience us. It means being forgiving even when we’ve been hurt by a friend or family member. It means all kinds of things in our daily life where we choose to embody the love of Christ in who we are and what we do.
And, to really live this lesson, there’s one more thing…we have to allow that which doesn’t bear the fruit of the Spirit…the fruits of love, joy peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control….to be pruned. If it isn’t making us more like Christ, if it isn’t glorifying God, then it needs to be pruned. Following Christ and living his teachings isn’t just about what we add in…it’s also very much about what we cut out. We have to submit to pruning that which is
• mean spirited
• hard hearted
If we really want to be like Christ, those things have got to go. Now, it’d be nice if we could just make a cut and be done. But more often than not, our bad habits run deep and we have to cut them often, and repeatedly. We have to continuously give ourselves over to Jesus as we learn to be more like him. We have to practice his actions until they become natural and engrained in us. And when we notice the ugly stuff…the fruitless habits that don’t give God glory starting to take root in us, we start pruning all over again.