5th Sunday of Easter – April 29, 2018
”I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5”I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:1-8)
There’s a new social anxiety that is all the rage. It’s called the “fear of missing out.” And this anxiety is exactly what it is described to be. A person puts down his phone. He picks up a book, and one minute later looks at his phone, wondering what happened in those 60 seconds. Did he miss something? What is everybody talking about? What is everybody doing? Whether he knows it or not, he’s afraid of missing out.
I suppose we all are afraid of missing out, to a certain extent. We watch the news so that we know what’s going on. We read the paper to stay connected to our community “goings-on.” Email helps us stay connected to others digitally. Websites like Facebook let us look at what others are doing. And all of this can be found on your phone at any moment. But hopefully you aren’t at this moment.
We live in an age where we are super-connected. We can feel as though we are always “in the know.” And we don’t have to feel afraid that we are missing out – because how could we when we are so connected?
But is this a good thing? Almost every study says, “No, it isn’t.” One study revealed that parents have become so connected to their phones that they are missing living in the real world with their own children. Other studies have revealed that people become so used to connecting over their phones that they struggle to actually communicate in person!
And then their was this another amazing study: researchers brought two people into a room to talk with each other at a table. When it was just the two people, the conversations went well. But when the researchers placed a phone on the table, the conversations were shorter and less involved. And they figured out why. The presence of a phone reminded the people that they might be missing out on something else.
With all that in mind, many people are making a push to become less connected. They dispense of their phones. They shut off the tv. They stay away from the news for a while. It all leads to more independence. And, believe it or not, they become more connected to people in real life.
This morning Jesus wants to talk with you about how connected you are. He isn’t talking about watching the news from morning until night. He isn’t going to bring up anything that has to do with a screen. Instead, Jesus is going to remind you, and me, of the most important connection we can ever have. And wouldn’t you know it, this connection will all start with him.
In the defining verse of our Gospel reading, Jesus said to his followers, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” You know what a vine looks like. It curls its way up other plants and across the yard. And you know what it looks like when a part of that vine is severed. “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”
Every gardener knows that if you cut a part of the vine, the rest of that vine slowly withers and dies. Now, Jesus isn’t just sharing good gardening tips for us this spring. He is telling you something about yourself. You are that branch and he is that vine. And just as he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
But here’s the problem – we just talked about all the problems with over-connecting ourselves. We live in a world of super-connection. And there are times when we want to become completely disconnected. We want to be our own person!
The devil knows that, too. As he always does, the devil flips everything upside down. He tries to get us completely connected to the things of this world. He makes us worry that we’re missing out on what’s happening in the news, or among our friends, or in our own town. And in the meantime, he tries to convince us to disconnect from Christ.
And how has that battle been going? Do you spend more time connecting on Facebook than you do connection to God in his Word? Do you connect to the world by watching tv more than you connect to Christ through prayer? Where are our strongest connections? If we’re being honest, we’ve been connected to our world far more than we have been connected to our Savior.
But look at the true vine again. He came down to our super-connected, self-absorbed world but he never gave himself into that worldly mindset. Jesus took time to connect with people that no one else wanted to connect with. He always focused on his mission. And in the end, on the cross, Jesus allowed himself to be cut off from everyone, including his Father in heaven. And he did all that to connect you to himself.
Jesus died on the tree of the cross in order to put you in his garden. Now listen to your place in God’s garden. Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Do you see all the cutting that God is doing? The fruitless branches are cut off because they are severing their connection with God. But the fruitful branches are cut as well. They are being pruned so that they can be even more fruitful.
I don’t have to tell you how painful that pruning can be. But it has to be done. The difficulties of disconnecting yourself from the worldly temptations can hurt. Trimming away our sinful desires doesn’t always feel nice. But the Lord does it out of love. And through it all he makes his connection with you even stronger. He will enable you to pray, and to pray according to his will.
There are a lot of ways a person stays connected. Most of them come through your phone and your computer and your tv. Take time to disconnect from all that stuff. Take time to reconnect with the true vine. Because really, that is the only connection that matters eternally. And then you will be able to connect others to Christ by sharing his Word…in person…with real people. You can tell them what Jesus reminded you of today. “Remain in me,” Jesus says, “And I will remain in you.” Amen.