Updated: May 7
Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Being a Pastor is not very much fun at some parties.
People ask you what you do, and you hesitate before you answer, because you know that the conversation is going to take one of three tracks after this point.
In fact I know one pastor who lies, and tells people he meets at parties or on planes that he is a spy, working for a foreign power. It’s sort of true, anyway.
The first thing that people do, is to start telling you everything that is wrong with the church, Christianity and organised religion, while expecting you to be happy to hear all this, like you have never thought of it before. They can’t understand why you get a bit upset as they systematically deride everything that you hold dear.
Or the second alternative is that they start apologising. “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not a very religious person, I’ve never had time for any of that, or “I can’t go to church, I’ve done some terrible things. The walls would collapse if I set foot in a church.”
It is normally at about this stage that you start wishing that the walls would collapse, or that you could find some excuse to move on. It is almost as if people feel that you are a pastor at a party to make them feel bad.
The third one, and often the most common, is that people start to rationalise, to justify themselves, and the best one , the old chestnut that you hear over and over is “Oh yes, I’m Christian, but I just don’t feel that I need to go to church ever. God and I are alright. I can be Christian just as well at home.”
Well, sick of playing Mr. nice guy, and happy to challenge people more these days, my reply now is often: how on earth would you know?
How can you know what your life would be like a part of the flock, part of the vine, if you are never there?
A Christian who is cut off from the means by which the Holy Spirit comes to us, the word and the sacraments, is like a light bulb held in your hand. It is still a light bulb, but it is not doing anything unless it is connected to a power cord, and it is fed with electricity. Then it shines, doing what it was supposed to do.
Or indeed, a Christian who does not remain in touch with the means of grace is like a branch that is pruned from a grapevine. It is still a grapevine branch, but it is not going to bear any fruit.
I am reminded when I read this passage, of a method of wine production that takes place in some places.
My uncle owns a winery where they produce a dessert wine that is very sweet.
Instead of the grapes being picked from live branches, the branches that hold the grapes are cut with the grapes still on them, and they are hung up in a shed.
You might say, ”see, they are still bearing fruit, even though they are not attached to the vine.”
But! They are dying. The sweetness in the grape comes from the fact that there is no more water coming through the vine into the grapes, and so the moisture in them evaporates, as they die.
The sugar in the grapes is concentrated, and a sweet wine is produced.
A nice product comes from the immediate process, but the branches will never again bear fruit. After the grapes are taken, the branches, just as we hear in the gospel lesson, wither and die, and are thrown away or burnt.
Jesus said: “apart from me you can do nothing”. Apart from the vine the branches are as good as dead.
Interestingly, Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you…
People wonder why pastors always want people to come to church, it isn’t just so that there is more money in the offering plates, or so that the statistics look better for their congregation, it is so the words of Christ can abide in people. It is in worship that people hear the word of God; it washes over them in some of the hymns, the psalms, the readings, and the sermon. The word of God.
We all know how hard it is to read the word when we are on our own. How hard would it be if there was nothing in your life to remind you of God?
Apart from Jesus we can do nothing, regardless of how capable we think we are.
The truth is that we will fall away. When our enemy tempts us, as he always does, we will have less and less strength, less and less ammunition to fight him.
We will be less likely to call in the one who has already beaten him, and more likely to try and fight him on our own, which is a fight that we can not win.
But we are here gathered around the means of God’s grace, and it is only by his grace that we are here. Can you see the way that the effect of this snowballs?
Through the means of grace, the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and lives, which builds faith in us, and enables us to come to receive the means of grace, where again the Holy Spirit works on us, which builds faith, and enables us to come to receive the means of grace, where again… I think you see the pattern here.
The danger is getting outside of this circle.
If the Spirit only works through means, which we believe that he does, and you cut yourself off from those means, then you are cutting yourself off from the work of the Spirit.
The only way to receive the Holy Spirit is through the means of grace, but the longer that you are away from them, the harder it is to come back to receive them, as you have cut yourself off from the Spirit’s help. Again a pattern forms, but a negative one, a downward spiral.
Those who do abide in Christ, and he in them, bear much fruit. This is a promise that we receive from God.
It is not a command, or a suggestion, it is a promise.
It is not conditional on our mental state, or our personality, or our time constraints, it is a promise.
If we remain in Christ, he remains in us, and we bear much fruit. The criticism levelled at Lutherans, that they believe in faith without works, is shot down right here.
There is no faith with out works; there is no faith with out fruit. We have that on the word of our Lord himself.
The fruit of the spirit, as we are told in Galatians 5, is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
These are fruit that the vine grower, our Heavenly Father, is happy to have on his grapevine.
Sometimes these fruits are hidden, but they are there, and they are what makes our lives together sweet.
Have no fear, Christ will remain with you. We never need to fear the strength or supply of the vine.
Go out and bear fruit, and by this will glory be given to God the Father, that you bear much fruit, and remain as his disciples.