This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on May 2, 2021. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.
“I am the true vine, and my God is the vine grower. God 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 God is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
When I was in high school, I learned the hard way about the value of rest. As a young person, having a lot of energy is generally part of that season. But when I got diagnosed with lupus, I no longer had the ability to do all the things I wanted to do. It turns out, that was the best thing in the world for me, because it forced me to rest, and to be present and in the moment, rather than overstimulated and pulled in all different directions. Now, doing nothing is a part of my life that I crave and I need, because it reminds me that I am not effective at work, in relationships, or anywhere else, unless I take time to pause and listen.
When was the last time you did absolutely nothing, when you had a time to simply ‘be’?
When was the last time you did nothing?
Now, I just told you about how much I value that time of doing nothing, but I’ll admit I’m still working on it every day. Because in my type-A personality, I feel the need to do and not always to be. So for me, doing nothing sometimes is really doing nothing, and sometimes doing nothing is watching a reality tv show where I can shut my brain off. This doing nothing is a constant growth area and spiritual practice for me still. I say this as a reminder that Wesley tells us we are moving on to perfection, not that we need to be there already.
The act of doing nothing is important because it shows us that God is still working, even when we aren’t. Perhaps you’ve felt this before. The Good News is that Christ is alive. To abide in Christ is to believe that God is with us, alive and active in not only the world, but in our lives.
Sometimes, I’ll admit, this language can make me a little uncomfortable. In my own spiritual life, I talk about faith as action, and so things like justice and ethics pave the way for the aliveness of Christ. But when I do that, when we do that too much, sometimes the spiritual-ness, the Spirit-filled-ness can be left out.
Sometimes, abiding in Christ means that just like those moments when we sit and do nothing, the absence of action helps us recognize the Divine. Sometimes, stillness is exactly what we need in order to recognize the Spirit working. And further, when we take time to be still, to listen and see the Spirit at work, our own spiritual glass gets filled, so that we can pour into others out of abundance and not scarcity.
The passage today, about the vine and the branches, offers a message of grace. If God is the grower of the vines, and Christ is the vine, and we are the branches, it means that there’s a deep-rooted connection (no pun intended). This connection is a holy one for many reasons, but one of them is because we cannot be separated from those things. No matter how far we feel from God, Jesus is still holding us as that branch on the vine. In other words, we can abide with Christ, simply by acknowledging that God is the grower of the vine.
Each week, I talk about the 5 means by which we give. Prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. I talk about presence as showing up, which is true. But sometimes showing up sounds really active, and so we can understand it twofold. Yes, presence is about showing up; to worship, to serve, to help someone. And, presence is also, and more importantly, about showing up for the Holy Spirit. It’s kind of like a ‘hurry up and wait’ thing. We have to choose to be present, and when we make that choice, to abide in Christ, to intentionally show up and make space in our lives for the Divine to speak, she will.
Today, for our offering time, I want to invite you to practice that spiritual gift of presence. Listen for God in the music. Hear God in the quiet. Take note of your mind and your body-where there is clutter or questions or ideas popping up. This, friends, is how we abide with Christ.
This week, we are being called by these words to look inside of ourselves, and to find our own sense of groundedness, so that in turn, we can be that for others. As you leave this place, may you give yourself permission to be present, recognizing the Spirit’s aliveness at work. And may you rest in the grace of God, a grace that reminds us that we grow and exist and live because of God’s goodness and life.