Friday, March 4, 2016

Jesus said: I Am (John 15:1-17) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Do you recall when you first got your driver's license and access to a car, either your own or your parent's car.  What an exhilarating feeling.  What symbolism.  A rite of passage.  A passport to a brand new life.  It radically changed your life.  Independence.  Freedom.  Autonomy.  You were no longer dependent on your parents.    Free at last.

But ironically, interdependence, connectedness relationships is God's plan for our lives.  Some practical examples quickly come to mind: you are living on the streets, alone and hungry, and a church welcomes you and serves you a hot meal, you’re car breaks down on the highway, you call AAA and they arrive shortly, you discover the value of networking when you’re job hunting, you qualify for an organ transplant and get the call that the organ is ready, you receive pints of blood donated by volunteers, you are having chest pains, someone dials 911 and paramedics and fire fighters arrive in minutes.

A newspaper reporter interviewed a successful entrepreneur.  “Sir, how did you make all your money?”  The entrepreneur replied: “Well, when my wife and I married, we started out in a tiny apartment, with barely any food in the pantry and five cents between us.  I took that nickel, went down to the grocery store, bought an apple, and sold it for ten cents.”  And then the reporter asked.   “Then I bought two more apples and sold them for 25 cents.”  And then, the reporter asked, hanging on his every word.  “Then my father-in-law died and left us a fortune.”  Yes, it’s good to be connected.

Jesus' metaphors have become known as the I AM sayings.  Each one conveys the nature of Jesus' relationship with His followers.

Jesus said: “I am the vine, you are the branches.”   Christ is the source of our faith and hope and power.  His perfect faithfulness is the source of life for all believers.   He has life in himself and as the vine, passes on life to the branches.  Because of sin, you and I cannot become the persons, and live the lives God created us to live, apart from Him.

Jesus says as branches we are to abide in Him, that is, rest in His presence, remain in relationship with Him, pray to Him, open ourselves to Christ's guidance, direction, strength, peace and power.   We are to receive life from the vine.

We see in life how this truth is incontrovertible.  A flower torn from its stem will wither.   A baby separated from its mother will not survive.   A marriage will not flourish without the two persons sharing, supporting, encouraging and working out their love together.   A church relationship will fade if there is no active participation in worship and ministry.

Jesus says as branches of the vine we are to bear fruit.  We abide in order to bear fruit.  “By their fruits you will know them.” It is our fruit that identifies us as Christians.  Fruit is the joyful result of our existence in the vine.   There will be no fruit if the branch is not connected to the vine.  But in the vine, branches bear much fruit.   Jesus Christ is our source for bearing fruit.

Bearing fruit is both a marvelous gift and an awesome responsibility. A gift and task.  Jesus said: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will last.”

God wants to see lasting fruit come from your life and mine, yes, and from our ministry as a church.   What fruit are you bearing?  Being fruitful pleases God.

What does God consider as fruit?  Here are some biblical examples:  true repentance, standing up for the truth of Christ, speaking the truth in love, praying for others, an offering of money, feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, ministering to the sick, winning unbelievers to Christ, showing forth a Christ-like character - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Christ doesn’t expect you to produce more fruit than you are able, but he does expect you to produce all that you can, by His power working within you.   Are you abiding in Christ?   Are you bearing fruit?

Jesus further said:  “I am the Door.”  Doors play a pivotal function in our lives.  They are entry points and exit points.  We can open them and close them.  Jesus was saying that He is the door to salvation, the entrance to God's family, the entrance to God’s household, the entrance to the Kingdom of God, the entrance to life and everlasting life.

It was a familiar picture for the people of Jesus' day. There was but one entrance to the sheepfold, a gerry-rigged gate.  Shepherds also often acted as human doors or gates.  The shepherd would lie across the opening to the sheepfold at night and sheep could not get out or wolves get in without crossing over his body.  "I am the door if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture."   It's a beautiful image.

Doors are critical.  We can close the door to our past.  It may be the pain of that divorce that tore your family apart, the door needs to be shut. It may be an untimely death when you felt you were robbed of a loved one, and find you cannot function.  It may be the door of guilt or shame from something you did or should have done. The door needs to be closed on that pain.   A door functions to close something behind us.  And if we don't allow a door to be closed, we can't experience the future, we can't experience a new day and a new time.   What do you need to close the door on?

But doors also open us to something new.   Jesus says he is the door to abundant life.  Jesus is the door to a new life. There's a quality of life that we will never know apart from Jesus Christ. For not only are persons saved, delivered, and healed through Jesus but if they enter the door of Christ, they will go in and out and find pasture.

There are many doors in life.  Some lead to nowhere, some doors lead to destruction.  Jesus was declaring that there is only one door into God’s family.  This is an exclusive statement and offensive in our pluralistic society where any belief is considered as valid as any other belief.

Jesus says by entering through the door you will find pasture.  That is, a place of rest and refuge and safety, a place to be protected and sustained, a secure place of forgiveness and peace with God, a safe haven in the storms of life, a place of freedom in Christ, a place of nurture and growth for body and spirit.   Pasture is a place to learn more and more about Christ and becoming like Him.  What door do you need to close?  What door do you need to open?

Jesus also said: “I am the Bread of Life.”  Before 1922 bread was only sold in whole loaves.  In 1919, the first automatic electric toaster was designed by Charles Strite, a man tired of burned toast.  Prior to his invention, an earlier model of an electric toaster could only toast one side of the bread at a time.  Strite’s toaster was automatic. From 1922 to 1930 sales of his toaster tripled, thanks in part to the introduction of, you guessed it, sliced bread, by Wonder Bread.  Yes, that’s where the saying comes from, “It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

There are few aromas more tantalizing than the smell of freshly baked bread.  An Armenian Christian wrote that Westerners do not understand bread's place in middle eastern culture and therefore we do not understand what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the Bread of Life.”  Pita bread is the heart of every meal.  Forks aren't used to eat food.   Bread is used to scoop up other foods on your plate.

As one poet wrote:  “Be gentle when you touch bread.  Let it not lie uncared for and unwanted.  There is so much beauty in bread: beauty of sun and soil, beauty of patient toil.  Winds and rains have caressed it; Christ often blessed it.  Be gentle when you touch bread.”

I am the Bread of Life.”   Jesus' followers knew he was claiming to be the staff of life; the sum and substance of life, the essence of life.  Jesus meant that He gives us Himself to sustain us, to feed our souls, to feed our spirits.  His indwelling Spirit gives us the power to live a meaningful and quality of life.  We are more than material beings.  We are also spiritual beings.  Scripture teaches that we are made in the image of God, and since God is Spirit, we are spiritual beings as well as material beings, made of the dust of the ground.

Man shall not live by bread alone, Jesus said, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”   Jesus is God's Word.

I recall a conversation with a man, who by every standard was successful.  He told me his life was empty.  Why?  There is a deep, inner hunger in the human heart that only God can satisfy, a hunger of the soul.   Materialism alone leads to emptiness. There is a hunger that stalks our lives.  The eyes cannot see it, the hands cannot touch it, the tongue cannot taste it, the nose cannot smell it, and ears cannot hear it.  There is a deep hunger in us that must be satisfied, the hunger of knowing God, finding refuge in God, worshiping God, the hunger that only Christ's Spirit can feed, the hunger of being reunited with our creator.

Man shall not live by bread alone.” Human beings live by truth, by faith, by relationships, by feeling, by creativity, by meaning, by worship, by hope, by joy, by beauty, by inspiration, by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  All of these sustain the soul.  There is a need in the core of our being for love, appreciation, acceptance, forgiveness, joy, and a relationship to a spiritual power and person greater than ourselves.  The great father of the church St. Augustine said, “Oh Lord you have made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”  

Jesus is saying “Welcome to my table!”  I invite you to enter into Holy Communion, to enter into my spiritual reality.  Jesus offers himself as bread for your soul.  Jesus says:  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven, whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

The “I Am” sayings of Jesus.  I am the Vine, the Door, the Bread.  In this Lenten season, which of Jesus' sayings speaks directly to you today?  Amen.

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