I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.John 15:5
“Apart from me,” Jesus tells us in today’s gospel reading, “you can do nothing.”
This may not seem true, at first blush. After all, there are many people doing many good things apart from Jesus – worthwhile things, for their families, communities, and world. But they are not us. And we are not trying to do good things – we are trying to do Jesus things. We are trying to help usher in God’s loving kingdom. What could be more important than that? But we cannot do that apart from Jesus. We cannot be the people that God is calling us to be, individually or as a church, apart from Jesus. In fact, we cannot do anything truly worthwhile for God and the world God loves, apart from Jesus.
This is the simple truth we are being reminded of today. That apart from Jesus, we can do nothing that we will really care about, as his followers, in the end. Nothing.
A.W. Tozer, an American Christian pastor and writer, puts it this way: “I guess my philosophy is this: Everything is wrong until God sets it right.” Everything is wrong, when we are trying to serve God, until God makes it right.
And Martin Luther, in a prayer that I have posted where I robe for worship, and that I pray before every worship service, concludes his sacristy prayer this way: “Use me as your instrument — but do not forsake me, for if ever I should be on my own, I would easily wreck it all.”
Yes, I would. On my own, I would easily wreck it all. And so would you. This is the simple truth lying at the heart of today’s gospel reading.
So, how do we make sure that we are not on our own, that we are not doing anything apart from Jesus? He tells us: “Abide in me.” Abide in Jesus. Just as he abides in us. Those who abide in Jesus bear much fruit. That’s it. That’s the answer. Abide in Jesus.
But, we might ask, how do we do that? How do we abide in Jesus? The answer is not some great mystery – it is exactly what we have always been taught, what the people of God have always tried to do, throughout the centuries, in order to abide in Jesus:
Daily prayer, spending time with God’s Word, and weekly worship.
This has always been the way that Christians have sought to abide in Jesus. And there is nothing in this world that has changed that. It still comes down to daily prayer, spending time with God’s Word, and weekly worship. Let me say a little more about each of these.
First, daily prayer. Each and every day, turn back to God in prayer. Pray in the morning, before meals, at bedtime, and whenever you feel yourself slipping away from Jesus. Pray when you are in trouble. As the writer Isaac Singer famously put it, “I only pray when I’m in trouble, but I’m in trouble all the time.”
I have been sharing this week a way of praying each day called the Divine Office. It is an ancient way of praying that can be helpful if your prayer-life needs a booster shot, so to speak. You can go to my blog, or to our YouTube channel, to learn more about that.
But you don’t have to pray the Divine Office to pray daily. A short “arrow prayer” is often enough. An arrow prayer is one of those short phrases or sentences that we send to heaven. A quick little prayer that we send to God. It could be a verse of scripture, or it could be a simple plea for help. Do this throughout the day, and you will find yourself abiding in Jesus.
Spending Time with God’s Word
But also important is spending time with God’s Word. God’s Word feeds our prayers, and our souls, with bread that lasts. We are not meant to live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. And where do we find these words? In the Bible. The Word of God. Daily manna for our souls. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “Every day in which I do not penetrate more deeply into the knowledge of God’s Word in Holy Scripture is a lost day for me. I can only move forward with certainty upon the firm ground of the Word of God.” There are lots of different ways to spend time daily with God’s Word. The only wrong way is not to do it at all.
Daily prayer, spending time with God’s Word, and then: weekly worship. If we want to abide in Jesus, all three of these are essential. Including what we are doing right now. Here at church, or at home, but worshiping each week. This is essential if we are to abide in Jesus. No matter how good our week has been, and how faithful we have been in daily prayer and spending time with God’s word, we tend to slip away from Jesus. There is just too much going on in this world, and in our life, for it to be otherwise. By the end of the week, we need to reset ourselves spiritually. And we do this by remembering the sabbath day and keeping it holy. We do this by worshiping together.
The Fruit of the Spirit
These three are the keys to abiding in Jesus. But here is a follow-up question: how do we know when we are abiding in Jesus well?
When you go to a doctor for a physical, there are certain numbers that tell your doctor how you are doing physically. Your blood pressure, for example, your temperature, your heart rate, etc. These are indicators of your physical health.
So, are there indicators of your spiritual health? The answer is yes. We can look at the fruit that we bear when we abide in Jesus. “Those who abide in me,” Jesus tells us, “and I in them bear much fruit.”
And the good news is that we have a list of fruit that we bear when we abide in Jesus. Paul gives us this list in Galatians 5, in what he calls the “fruit of the Spirit.” Remember them? They are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Nine fruit of the Spirit that are indicators of our spiritual health. They are the fruit that we bear when we abide in Jesus. Let me take a quick walk through them.
Love is first, as it should be. Those who abide in Jesus are filled with love, for God, for all of God’s children, for God’s creation, even for their enemies. “God is love,” we read in 1 John 4, “and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” This is why love is the first and most important indicator of our spiritual health, of whether we are abiding in Jesus.
But then there is joy. Not happiness, but joy. Those who abide in Jesus are filled with joy. It’s simple, really. When we are not experiencing joy in life, it is an indicator that we need more Jesus. More daily prayer, more of God’s Word, more weekly worship, more time with God’s people. More Jesus. Who gives us joy, and peace.
Are you experiencing the peace of God? The peace that surpasses all understanding? The peace that comes only from abiding in Jesus?
Or, how about patience, the next fruit of the Spirit? We certainly live in an impatient world, don’t we? But Christians should be, of all people, the most patient. Not because we decide to be, or because we think that God wants us to. No. We are patient because we are abiding in Jesus.
And we are kind, the next fruit. Christians are not just loving, but kind. And there is a difference, don’t you think? When we are faithfully abiding in Jesus, we are filled with kindness.
And, Christians are generous. When we are abiding in Jesus, we have confidence that God will take care of us, and so we can afford to be generous.
Christians are faithful; literally, full of faith. We trust in God. We have faith in Jesus. And this gives us a lightness of spirit that is noticeable to those around us. God will provide. What have we to fear?
We are also gentle, or meek, just as Jesus was meek. This does not mean that we are doormats, but that we want to serve God, to be led by Jesus. We don’t want or need to be in control. We know that God is. And so, we can be meek, and gentle, when we are abiding in Jesus.
And finally: Self-control. We are in control of our passions and appetites. Not through willpower. But through abiding in Jesus.
Just as with all of the fruit of the Spirit, we don’t will our way to them. We don’t work our way to them. They are not works, they are fruit. Which is an important distinction. Just like a tree, we don’t bear more fruit by working harder, but by planting our roots deeper. By abiding in Jesus. That is how to bear fruit for Jesus, and to help to usher in God’s loving kingdom.
So, how are you doing spiritually? When you look at these fruit of the Spirit, what are they telling you? This is a simple way to check in whether we are abiding in Jesus or not.
Apart from Jesus we can do nothing. Everything is wrong until God makes it right. On our own, we easily wreck it all. We need Jesus. We can’t bear fruit without him. We can’t do anything in this world that God is calling us to do without Jesus. Individually. Or as a congregation.
As we begin to come out of this pandemic and have more and more activities, there is nothing more important for us to do than to abide in Jesus, so that we can bear his fruit.
“My Father is glorified by this,” Jesus concludes this gospel reading, “that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
Let us glorify the Father. Let us bear much fruit. As individuals, and as a congregation. Let us be known for our love, and our joy, and our peace, and our patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Let us bear this fruit, in the only way that we can: By abiding in Jesus. Amen.