5/18/03, E5B

“Hanging In There”
John 15: 1-8

ay has produced more tornadoes than ever in recorded weather history. Over five hundred reported tornadoes across Middle America and the South have left homes, businesses, schools and churches destroyed. The helter-skelter nature of nature has frightened us as we have watched news video. An Oklahoma church member was asked, "Will your church survive this devastation?" She replied, "We're still hanging in there!"

We are reminded that, "The rain falls on the just and the unjust just alike." (Matt. 5:45) Randomness is a fact of nature. However, another absolute is that amid the chaotic, hit-or-miss nature of the storms of life, God wants to bring about his plan for our lives. But we must cooperate as we seek, and feel, his will. We used to be more mystified than we are in this computer age that God could chart a course in a chaotic world; however, theologians have always experiences a plan amid the pain; an order folded into the chaos.

In today's text we will hear how Jesus promised to fulfill his purpose in us if we will continue to abide in him. His will for our lives is assured, but we must hang in there. Jesus says that he is like the grapevine and we are like the branches. If we remain connected to the vine we will produce fruit, but whenever we are cut away from the vine we dry up. Jesus also says that even the branches that remain attached are pruned back so that they can produce more fruit. Typically we interpret the pain of being pruned back as our adversity of life, but it is the essential temporary pain that eventually increases growth. If we will keep hanging in there, remain attached to the vine, we will achieve greater productivity. Yet, usually this is not the first thing we think about when the storms of life are raging. Later we look back and realize that God has been faithful throughout the tough times. Our joy in Christ transcends circumstances resulting from the unavoidable problems of life.

We cause a lot of problems with our bad choices. Sometimes we blame others for our personal decisions. Environmental factors obviously play a role in leading us toward a life of wrong decisions; but ultimately, we all are familiar with our freedom of selection. We all have heroes who have decided to pick themselves up out of a dysfunctional or abusive situation. Some folks survive terrible human catastrophes and put their lives back together. We have known others who have made the best of good fortune while many have messed up their lives when they have had everything going for them.

I graduated from high school with a handsome young man from a great family who was an all-state receiver on our state championship "Blue-Comets" football team. He finished Duke medical school with relative ease and then he disappeared. Years later it was discovered that he had become addicted to narcotics and was a street person. We still wonder how it happened, but somehow, somewhere, he had to have made a string of bad choices. The psychological sciences still do not know exactly how genetics plays a role in our choices, and certainly we have observed that many persons have been born with powerful forces that have turned them in certain directions, but we also know that all humans have within them the power to pull up out of the congenital forces that have bent us in the wrong way.

The God factor usually makes the difference. He can re-bend the twig so that it will grow in the way God has chosen. He prunes and fertilizes the branches that produce fruit so that they will produce even more. In other words, after we have committed to a life of discipleship, God focuses on us individually to shepherd our plan for spiritual growth. In last Sunday's metaphor we learned that The Good Shepherd knows our names and cares for us individually with great love. My Marilyn has several sizes of pruning shears in her yard cart. She reads book on flowers and weeds and has learned what to pull up and throw away and which bushes to prune back. We have a beautiful yard because of her "Divine Concern." We have folks in our subdivision who just leave their yards to random chance, and they have a mess. Our Father is concerned about his family and cares how we spin and grow and loves to see our fruit and flower production.

However, from reading the cartoon strip DILBERT, on page 2 of the "Business" section of "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution," I know that there are totally unproductive and useless employees who are still drawing a paycheck and reporting for work, who are broken spokes in the wheel. Usually, the only hope of turning a failing company into a productive enterprise is to conduct a reorganization, which our text likens to "gathering the dead branches into a pile and burning them." (v. 6) Unlike Dilbert's fictitious company however, God does not make the mistake of firing the productive workers and keeping unproductive ones who happen to be relatives of the founder.

The Good News is that we can all become "fruit bearing limbs," by being grafted into the vine and feeding upon a higher power. Our productivity in the Kingdom is not by our weakness but by the Divine force at work within our lives. Without Him we can do nothing but with Him all things are possible!

The choice is ours. God planned it that way. If He had created us as preprogrammed robots we would have had no choices and everything would have been perfect. Yet God breathed into us a living soul and a spark of the Divine and that has allowed disorderly conduct on our part.

My neighborhood friend and I used to play with my electric train. He was a year younger than I and enjoyed causing train wrecks. He said it was more interesting that way. He would disconnect the rail and run the train off the bridge. I will admit that I did like repairing the damage. Dare I say that God seems to be allowing us to create our own train wrecks? However, he also gives us the capacity and freedom of choice to repair the damage. He even helps us keep the train running on time. Much of life might be seen as an effort to grow beyond self destruction and keeping it on track.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

5/18/03, E5B