I am the Vine, You are the Branches

By the Rev. Lee Woofenden

Bridgewater, Massachusetts
 April 6, 2003

Readings


Deuteronomy 7:7-14
The Lord will love, bless,
and multiply you

It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you--for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and who repays in their own person those who reject him. He does not delay but repays in their own person those who reject him. Therefore, observe diligently the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances that I am commanding you today.

If you heed these ordinances by diligently observing them, the Lord your God will maintain with you the covenant loyalty that he swore to your ancestors; he will love you, bless you, and multiply you; he will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock, in the land that he swore to your ancestors to give you. You shall be the most blessed of peoples.


John 15:1-12
I am the vine, you are the branches

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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 into 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.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; now abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."


Heaven and Hell #230
All power is from the Lord

Angels have no power at all on their own. All the power they have comes from the Lord--and they are powerful just as much as they recognize this fact. Any of them who believe that their power comes from themselves immediately become so weak that they cannot resist even a single evil spirit. This is why angels take no credit at all for themselves, and will not accept any praise or admiration for anything they have done, but attribute it all to the Lord.


Sermon

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)

If only we believed these words--truly believed them--what tremendous power we would have at our fingertips! Jesus said in another place, "Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, . . . nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20). Nothing will be impossible!

If we truly believed from our soul, and with all our heart, that the Lord is the vine and we are the branches, nothing we wanted to do would be impossible for us. Why? Because the only things we would want to do would be those that are according to the Lord's will--and the infinite power of the Lord's will is available to accomplish all of God's purposes. If we were to put ourselves fully in harmony with the Lord's will, and draw all our strength from God, each of us as individuals, and all of us together, would become powerful centers from which the Lord's love and truth, the Lord's understanding and kindness, would flow out to everyone around us. If only we truly believed.

During the last three months, we have gone through a series of four visioning and planning workshops for our church. And in truth, the results seem rather modest. I am a person who likes visioning and planning. When I took the Myers-Briggs personality type test back in seminary, I came out in a very small (just 2% of the population) sector of the personality map that includes people who tend to be visionary thinkers. That's good to know, since it explains why ever since I've been involved with this church, and with our Massachusetts Association--not to mention our denomination--I have struggled to develop or draw out a common vision for how we as a church can move forward strongly into our future.

So far, this effort doesn't seem to have gone very far. In fact, to be honest, it's been quite frustrating. There are a few exceptions here and there around our denomination. However, as I survey our church, I don't see a clearly articulated vision and plan at any level--not for our denomination as a whole, not for our Massachusetts Association, and not for our church here in Bridgewater.

And I'd like to dispose of one fallacy about this right away. I can't count how many times I've heard it said that we "don't have the money" to do this or that. First of all, the Swedenborgian Church has got to be one of the wealthiest churches per capita in the entire world. At least, we have more money for fewer people than any other church I am aware of. One of the earlier leaders in the Swedenborgian Church was fond of saying that we would run out of people before we ran out of money. Collectively, we have tens of millions of dollars at our disposal. The question is not where the money will come from, but whether we have the vision, the plan, and the commitment to use our money wisely and effectively in doing the work of the Lord.

But there is a deeper fallacy in the common idea that our money determines what we can do. Money, in itself, is nothing. It is simply a means of exchange--a tool to help us accomplish our purposes and our goals more efficiently. Money has no reality of its own. It is simply a representative of the things we value and the things we want to do. From a spiritual perspective, money is simply a representative of our thoughts and our desires. It is a physical symbol of what we believe and love. If we trace where our money comes from and where it goes, we will have a good picture of what we believe, what we love, and what we value.

Money is simply a tool in our hands. It is meant to be our servant, and we are to be its master. It is to do our will--not dictate to us what we will or won't do. And as Jesus said in yet another place, "You cannot serve both God and money" (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13).

Especially since we are a church, our decision should always be to serve God, and not to serve money. If our concern and our care is focused on where the money is going to come from to survive as a church--to keep our doors open, to pay for the salaries, building maintenance, insurance, utilities, and so on--we have begun to serve money. We have made money our God, instead of serving God, and making the Lord our God.

Yes, of course we do have to be practical and take care of the financial side of being a church. But this is a secondary consideration, not a primary one. Our primary concern as a church is how we are called upon to do the work of the Lord. Everything else--including money, property, salaries, building maintenance, and all the rest of those things that "the world runs after" (Luke 12:30)--are simply a means to accomplish the Lord's work.

We are so concerned with whether we will have the money to do this or that. But we shouldn't be. We are a church. We believe in the Lord, and in the Lord's care and provision for us! And the Lord knows that we need all these things (Luke 12:30 again).

However, the Lord has given us a deeper vision of the spiritual realities and the spiritual power available to us. "I am the vine, you are the branches." For the branches, the nourishing sap that comes to them from the vine is money. It is their sustenance. It is their lifeblood. And the Lord tells us where the true nourishment, the true lifeblood comes from. The Lord is that lifeblood. The Lord is the source of everything we have and everything we are. The Lord is our spiritual "money tree," providing for all our wants and needs--and doing it freely, out of pure love. As the Lord said in our reading from Deuteronomy:

It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you--for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

When the Lord chose Israel to be a special, dedicated nation, it was not necessary that they be rich or numerous or powerful. Only that they be willing to listen to the Lord, and obey the commandments that the Lord gave them:

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations. . . . Therefore, observe diligently the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances that I am commanding you today.

And the passage goes on to say that if we will do this, the Lord will love us, bless us, and multiply our fruitfulness to a great abundance, so that we would be the most blessed of people. And I state it this way intentionally, because even though the promise was originally made to the ancient Israelites, it is enshrined in the Word of God because it is a promise made not just to one people and one nation, but to all people, communities, and nations everywhere, throughout all time. "Your word, O Lord, is eternal" (Psalms 119:89).

That promise is made to us today just as much as it was made to the ancient Israelites. The Lord tells us--tells you, tells me, tells this congregation, our Association, our denomination--that if we will obey the divine commandments, we will be richly blessed with all the abundance we could ever want. And though that especially means spiritual abundance, I believe that if the Lord sees that we will use it well, then it also includes material abundance. The Lord wants to give us every gift! The Lord wants us to have everything we need to do the good work of the kingdom of God. And the Lord will give those things to us--including the money--if we are ready and willing to use them prayerfully, wisely, and generously in serving God's children here on earth. "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit."

What is the fruit that we wish to bear? What is the work of the Lord that we wish to do? Simply keeping our doors open and our church in existence; simply paying the minister's salary and taking care of the building maintenance as needed; simply providing for our own continuation as a church is doing the Lord's work only in the most minimal way.

What is the work of the Lord that we want to do for this community? Why are we here as a church? What is our mission? Why has the Lord entrusted us with this building, and with the money that flows through our treasury? And are we using that money well and wisely? Are we loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength as a congregation? Are we loving our neighbor as ourselves? How are we serving our neighbors here in Bridgewater and the surrounding communities? How are we called to serve them in our own unique way?

So many questions. And if we truly wish to be a church; if we truly wish to be a center from which the Lord's love and truth flows out into this human community, then we need to ask ourselves these questions.

The power is available. Infinite power is available from the Lord. And it will flow to us when we dedicate our lives and our church to serving the Lord fully. It will flow through us when we focus our church, not on our own survival as a church, but on the work for our community, for our neighbor, that the Lord has put us here to do.

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Amen.




Music: Heart to Heart
2003 Bruce DeBoer

Used with Permission