Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 1, 2005
The Gospel: John 15:1-8
Sermon: "Abiding and Accountability"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 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. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown in to the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."
Abiding and Accountability
Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 1, 2005
What do we think of when I use the term accountability? Most of us would probably think of the term in a vary individualistic sense. For example, most of us are accountable to someone or some group concerning our jobs. We feel there are certain expectations placed on us as employees. Those expectations are usually found in a personal job description. It is our responsibility to follow the expectations. The boss or the company holds us accountable to those expectations and we have to meet them on our individual level.
Similarly we may have other areas where we feel held accountable or we actually are accountable. In our families, in public office, or as members of boards we might feel accountable to certain expectations. In all of these cases we tend to feel this accountability as an individual. Everything rests on our shoulders individually. I have to do the tasks. I have to do the work or I will pay for it.
A quick reading of the Gospel this morning can also be interpreted to be on an individual basis. We particularly think of this reading as individualized at verse 6, "Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned." Now if we believe this reading is individualized then usually one of two possible things happens. The first is that we get scared. We start asking ourselves if we are doing the right things. We question our own integrity. We find ourselves responding to God out of fear, if we respond at all. The second possible response is that we look at our neighbor and say, Hey! Didn't you hear Jesus just now? He's talking to you. He can't be talking to me because I'm good. He must be talking about you.
Neither of these interpretations in John is quite accurate. First of all, John believes in the community of believers. Every story is about community. Secondly, Jesus is talking to all of the disciples. He is talking to the community of followers and believers that have been with him for some time. Some have been with him from the beginning of his ministry. Others have joined in along the way. They are all tightly connected to Jesus.
Finally, it is this type of connection Jesus refers to in his vine analogy. It is a connection described by the word abiding. Jesus uses the word abiding to describe the type of relationship he has with God. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit have a deep loving relationship. Their relationship is based on the existence of true love, faith and trust. They are intertwined in this deep, abiding relationship. They can not be separated. They are totally one.
Jesus is so sure of the power of God that he trusts that nothing can separate the heart, the center, the core of this deep abiding love. We see him exhibit this understanding in the Garden of Gethsemane. When Jesus is praying he asks if the cup can be removed from him. At that moment Jesus could decide to stop being the Son of God and just be Jesus the man. Think about it, what would have happened if Jesus had said, No, God, not your will but my will. My will is Superior to yours. I'll bring them back without suffering, without dying, and then, we don't have to bother with the resurrection. The world would be in an even greater mess now than it already is. The mess would be solely related to someone' s individualism.
However, Jesus did not act that way. Jesus followed God's will. The people crucified Jesus and God raised him from the dead. God reestablished the broken relationship with humanity because of the deep abiding relationship present between them and the Holy Spirit.
Now, here is where we see Good News for us. Jesus is telling us that we can have the same deep abiding relationship with God that he enjoys. If we have a deep relationship with Jesus then we automatically have the deep abiding relationship with God. We can be and are the recipients of that same trust, and true love. But we also get confused. This relationship is communal. I said earlier that Jesus was talking to the community. He used the analogy of a vine. If we go and look at a grape arbor, we see the vines all intertwined. The individual branches are woven together tightly. It is impossible to distinguish one branch from another. The vine is Christ and we are the branches. In this relationship we are all woven together tightly as one loving community that trusts one another and cares for one another. We live and die as the community of believers in Reidsville, not individually but corporately.
If we do not love one another, then we can not love Christ and we can not be in relationship with God the way God intends. However, if we abide with each other, if we abide with Christ, then we do abide with God. We live together in that perfect love, perfect trust, and perfect unity .
What does it look like for us to abide with God? We become forgiving people. We all know churches are not perfect places. Churches are a lot like families. We have good times and bad, loving times and squabbles, and even downright ugliness. If we want to be like God we have to be forgiving. Those old hurts in our families and those old hurts here in this community have to be healed. Forgiveness is offered and hopefully received. Relationship between us and between Jesus is restored. Finally, we look to see what God has planned for us. We look to see how we can follow God's will for this community's life. If we are indeed serious about abiding with Jesus then we have to be serious about loving and forgiving each other. We have to be serious about determining God's will for this community and then commit to follow it.
We are not individualistic. As much as we might want to be we can't. We belong to God. God is love. Therefore, we are asked and encouraged to do what Jesus did for others. We tell people about the love of God. We practice forgiveness as Jesus did from the cross. We look to follow God with each and every step. If we attempt to do these things then God will indeed be glorified and we will find and have peace.