Text: John 15
Date: Lent Midweek III + 3/14/07
We are still in the Upper Room with Jesus. It is the Passover, the night in which he was betrayed. But this has been a Passover like no other. Some mighty strange things have happened. First was the embarrassment of Jesus doing what we knew one of us ought to have done, washing the feet before coming to the table. Then were the usual prayers and the recitation of the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt and the Passover meal. But even then we are still wondering what Jesus meant when, before supper, he gave us the bread and said, “This is my body,” and, after supper, the third Passover cup of wine, saying, “This is my blood.” We still don’t know where Jesus had Judas Iscariot hurry off to. Then Jesus talked about going away somewhere where we can’t go. Anyway, when he said, “Rise, let us go from here” (John 14:31) we all got up from the table. But before we left he had a few more things to say as we stood around him.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, even as Jesus had promised, some time later John wrote down Jesus’ words. We now hang on those words. We read and reread and hear them again and again, because he was there telling us ahead of time what our situation would be after his death. Two things. He told us how we must and would ever remain in connection with him and he with us and, secondly, how the world around us would continually be hostile toward us because of our connection and loyalty to him.
“I am the true vine,” he said, “and my Father is the vinedresser.” This was different than the little parable he told once when he spoke of the Father as the owner of the vineyard looking for fruit and Jesus was the vinedresser. In this picture Jesus is like a vine and we are the branches of the vine. And the point is bearing fruit.
It’s important to get the theology right, here. First is the doctrine of Justification—the teaching on which the entire Church either stands when it gets it right or falls when it gets it wrong. Justification is all God’s work. We are branches of Jesus, the Vine, because God made us his branches. We didn’t “do anything” to become branches. Second, however, is the doctrine of Sanctification or living the life of faith. Now that’s where we either live and grow and bear fruit or wither and die depending whether we remain connected to him in the way he has said, or go our own way; cut ourselves off.
“Already you are clean,” he said, “because of the word that I have spoken to you.” That’s the doctrine of Justification! It is simply through the words of Jesus that the Holy Spirit creates faith when and where it pleases God in those who hear those words. It’s all God’s work! In fact, it’s a sort of surprise to find that you believe in God’s word and promise. That you believe is evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit.
But now he continues, saying, “Abide in me.” The entire life of a disciple after Jesus’ death is marked by this “abiding” in him. And how is that done? By means of the daily exercise of reading and practicing God’s Word. That’s why we find it so necessary and love to read and constantly hear his words, because, in the reading and hearing, it’s sort of like we’re eating and drinking through our ears! As food nourishes the body only when it is consumed through the mouth, so faith is nourished by the Divine Word received through the ears and even through the eyes as when we see the holy sacraments being celebrated.
But even better: We not only abide in Jesus by his Word and sacraments, but he abides in us! “Abide in me, and I in you” he said. The proof of it is that we keep is commandments. And what commandments are those, you ask? We heard the second table of the Law, commandments 4-10 in our first reading tonight. But all Ten Commandments are summed up in one word. “This is my commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” Once again, it is our handling and speaking and singing and reading and hearing and teaching and preaching his Word and observing his sacraments that is both the proof and the means of his love. Loving one another among us means having the same concern to keep each other in connection with Jesus.
That night he told us that our life after his death would be marked by staying in connection with him through his Word. But he also told us that, because of our connection with him, our relationship with the world around us would be different. “If the world hates you,” he said, “know that it has hated me before it hated you.” You see, he said, “you are not of the world.” Simply put, when we no longer play the “games” people play in the world—the games of pride, one-upmanship, self-promotion. As a result the world counts us as traitors. Behind the world’s hatred, distrust or even persecution of Christians is nothing less than hostile unbelief. Oh, sometimes it is that they just politely ignore you. But other times it can be violent rage. It’s all the same. Each year in this early, first decade of the 21st century you have observed that it is more and more in vogue, more and more politically and socially acceptable for unbelievers to criticize and ridicule not all religions but specifically Christians and the Christian Church.
So we find and experience today more so than in decades past that, as we believe in his name, and admit it, confessing his name, and pray in his name, so we suffer because of his name. The more the world sees of Jesus in us, the more the world turns against us, because the world always turns against Jesus. Sadly, some disciples leave his name at home or fail to confess it before men and thus avoid the world’s hatred. I say “sadly” because as St. James wrote, “friendship with the world is enmity with God…whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” [James 4:4 (ESV)].
You may think that bearing the hatred and hostility of the world is a strange thing. But that is why Jesus also said that we will have the Holy Spirit with us. “When the Helper comes,” he said, “he will bear witness about me.” And how is the Spirit with us? The Spirit uses the Word of God, those words which he had the holy writers record, and the Church, which he has built and maintained.
Following Jesus means two things: staying in connection with him and he with us by means of his Word and sacraments, and facing the hostility of the unbelieving world for the sake of his name that we bear. In the next chapter of John’s Gospel our Lord will arm us with what we need to abide in him and for the facing of this hour. Tonight we’re still standing around him in the Upper Room. We have not yet left. There are yet a few more things he has to say before we actually walk out the door and leave the Passover meal behind. John chapter 16 next time.