In My Life, Lord, Be Glorified
Grace & Fairview United Methodist Churches
May 6, 2012
John 15: 1-8 (CEB)
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. 2He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. 3You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. 6If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.
We are created to glorify God. We are formed in God’s image for the purpose of reflecting God to the world. The whole purpose of our lives is to bring glory to God and God’s kingdom! Have you ever given much consideration to this idea? Because the truth of the matter is, it has major implications for our lives.
We are a narcissistic society. There are no two ways about it. We are about as selfish as selfish can be. We are concerned only with our own glory, we live our lives accordingly, and the consequences are vast. Some of those consequences are obvious – wars and hunger abound around the world. Other consequences are not so obvious, but nevertheless severe – broken relationships and an ever-mounting debt, both personally and corporately to name a few. Then there are the problems of a more spiritual nature because you can’t have both. That is, when we are concerned with our own glory, we cannot bring glory to God.
Let’s consider this for a moment because we give lip service to glorifying God at least once every week, when in reality we are only concerned about ourselves. We call it worship. The purpose of worship is to glorify God, plan and simple! That’s why the Sabbath day has been set aside. For one day a week, God calls us, no commands us, to step away from everything else going on in our lives and to focus on him; to praise him for his creation, to thank him for his blessings, to lay our every trouble at his feet, to bask in his love, and to rest in his grace. When we worship each week, God is the audience. God is the recipient of the glory and praise. And yet, what is our mindset when we come to worship? We come wondering what we will get out of worship, whether we will like the music or the sermon. And then we leave measuring the value of the worship experience based on how much or how little we enjoyed it. God is not glorified in this process.
So this morning, let’s allow these words from Jesus to bring our lives back into focus. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything.” Our life purpose is to remain in God in Christ Jesus. Only when we do this is God glorified. So here’s how it works; Jesus is the true vine, God is the grower, and we are the branches.
The vine grower has tough work to do, indeed. The Greek word, kathairo is translated as “prune” or “cleanse.” It is the same word used in the foot-washing scene in John 13, and it carries the sense of cleansing, making pure, free from blemishes or shame. Vines have to be tended to in order for the branches to bear fruit. Jesus’ words to his disciples and to us invite all to stay close to him by placing their trust in him. He warns that no one can go it alone, trusting in their own strength. On our own, we are cut off from our life source. We cannot bear fruit. This is a word we all need to hear today, friends. The temptation to live for ourselves is great. The temptation to “go it on our own” is tremendous. We live in a society that promotes independence and making something of yourself. We value personal achievement over shared sacrifice. The question most commonly asked these days is not, “What can I give,” but “what can I get?” It becomes very easy to think that it is all up to us and our own resources as we try to solve problems and meet challenges. But to this, Christ says, “If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned.”
Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel “burned out”? Perhaps we can begin to understand why. Because we are growing away from God, because we are separating ourselves from the life-giving branch and bearing no fruit. Following Christ is never any easy road, but God will take care of us. But we have to have trust that God’s work in us is good, because that is a difficult process as well. Even branches that do produce fruit are cut or pruned in order to produce more fruit. So how does this process of pruning come into play in our lives? How does this keep us connected to Jesus? How does this bring glory to God?
As beginning gardeners soon learn, certain flowers benefit from being “deadheaded.” “Deadheading” is pinching off the first flowers produced by plant, which results in fuller plants with more blossoms down the road. But it’s hard to do even that, isn’t it? Those first flowers are so pretty that it’s so difficult to pinch them off! Yet that is what is required. The laws of nature seem to contradict what we desire. Still, there it is. Pruning now results in more beautiful plants later. But that takes faith, doesn’t it. And this is no less true when it comes to our life with God in Christ Jesus. In faith, we have to allow God to cut back the surplus. We have to be open to his movement within us, pruning away even the “good” so that we become “great” in God, so that God is glorified.
In a vineyard, the best grapes are produced closest to the central vine. As you can imagine, that is where the nutrients are most concentrated. So, the branches are not allowed to ramble all over the arbor. They are pruned and kept short. Cleansing and pruning are the work of God and the words of Jesus. They determine which branches are cut off and removed, and which are pruned. The mystery of these actions, the cleansing and pruning, is that the plant looks useless and dead. Yet the branches’ connection with the vine ensures new life and new growth. With God as the grower, with God doing the maintenance, we are assured that new life and new growth will result. Though sights may deceive, “never judge a book by its cover.” Despite how the plant looks, its connection to the vine makes it alive and not dead.
There was a teenager who didn’t want to be seen in public with her mother, because her mother’s arms were terribly disfigured. One day when her mother took her shopping and reached out her hand, a clerk looked horrified. Later, crying, the girl told her how embarrassed she was.
Understandably hurt, the mother waited an hour before going to her daughter’s room to tell her, for the first time, what happened.
“When you were a baby, I woke up to a burning house. Your room was an inferno. Flames were everywhere. I could have gotten out the front door, but I decided I’d rather die with you than leave you to die alone. I ran through the fire and wrapped my arms around you. Then I went back through the flames, my arms on fire. When I got outside on the lawn, the pain was agonizing but when I looked at you, all I could do was rejoice that the flames hadn’t touched you.”
Every day, that mother faced a sign of death. But in reality, what had been cut away had allowed for her daughter’s life to thrive. There is no doubt that was a painful experience. And she lived not only with the physical scars, but the emotional ones everyday. And we must be prepared for some pain as well. We have to be ready for the Father’s pruning knife, though it always hurts. Because we sit here this morning, we are connected to the vine. But so that we might produce good fruit, we have to let the Father cut away our growth away from Christ.
God is glorified, as are we, by the bearing good quality fruit, and lots of it. For that to happen, there will be extra growth that needs cutting away. The temptation to go it alone, the desire to serve self, the illusion that our lives and experiences are only about ourselves. Wherever we have strayed, we have to know and allow that God is looking out after our best interests, he is molding us and forming us so that we are never too far from the life-giving vine. So this morning, I pray that we might all say, “Lord, I live in you so that you may be glorified through me.”
“Lord, I live in you so that you may be glorified through me.”
It is appropriately fitting that we celebrate this morning the sacrament of Holy Communion. As we prepare to share in the feast of the Lord’s Table, may we be especially aware of the juice that we drink; the fruit of the vine poured out for us. As we drink this morning, it becomes a part of us, a physical reminder of Christ’s love flowing through us, bringing life. “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit…My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.”
“In my life, Lord, be glorified.”