Fruitful or Firewood?

Fruitful or Firewood?

The 19th and 20th centuries
saw the most rapid technological growth
in the history of the world.

We went from horse and buggy
to walking on the moon in less than 100 years.
The vast majority of these advances
came in the latter half of the 20th century
bringing computers from machines that took up entire rooms
to devices that can be worn on the wrist or carried in a pocket.

In 1936 there were fewer than
200 television sets in use in the WORLD
in a blink, by 1937 the first major Television network was born.
And nowadays the television
is as common a piece of furniture to find in a home as a chair.

Most of us in here, in our lifetimes,
have seen the progression of the telephone
from a clunky, stationary, box
to a device that fits in your pocket,
goes with you anywhere,
and contains more computing power
than the rockets that carried humanity to the moon and back.

All of that rapid advancement though comes at a cost.
For those of us who can remember
a time before the internet
there comes a technological saturation point.
A point at which we decide to give up
trying to figure out the next thing.
We decide that we are comfortable
with this level of technology and will go no further.

But that doesn’t stop the new technology from coming out
and no matter how comfortable we may be
with our older technology
there comes a point where it wears out
and cannot be replaced
except by something more advanced
that we do not fully understand.
It is at that point, that our children and grandchildren,
get pressed into service as tech support.

They help us figure out
all the weird extra buttons on the remote control
or they install the new wifi router
we need in order for our refrigerator to connect to the internet.
Or why we can’t get something to turn on.

I live with my mom,
so a lot of the time its just a matter
of her handing me her phone or tablet
and telling me what it is or isn’t doing.
By now though, thankfully,
she has learned that most of the time
the fix is turning it off and back on.

What’s really surreal for me though
is watching my mom,
who very much remembers a world before the internet,
give tech support to my 85 year old grandmother.

I remember at one point
my grandmother asking my mom
to help her figure out a problem with her new tv.
It seemed no matter what my grandmother did
she couldn’t get the TV to turn on.
She tried turning it on with the power button on the tv itself.
And she tried using the power button on the remote control.
And they were both getting flabbergasted.

Finally my mom explained all that they had tried to me,
she thought perhaps
there was some secret unlock code
that had to be entered into the remote in order for it to work.
Some new sort of security feature.

After listening to all the hoops they had been jumping through
I looked at my grandmother
through the magic video calling device
and said “Grandma, is the tv plugged in?”
Apparently in 20 minutes of trouble shooting
neither one had thought to make sure
the tv was actually connected to its power supply.

Something simple.
Something we have had to do with our electronic devices
since their inception.
We have to make sure they are connected to their power source
if we want them to do the work for which they were created.

Imagine trying to vacuum your living room rug
without plugging in the vacuum cleaner first.
It is a ridiculous notion. We would never consider it.
Yet that is exactly how we try to live out our Christianity.

We plug in on Sunday for an hour
and think that it will sustain us through the week.
It won’t. It doesn’t. It can’t.
Not even our cell phones can last a week on one hour’s charge…
why do we think that we can?

What’s more, what we call church,
the worship service we are all taking part in right now,
is not our power source. It is not the place from which life flows.

In John chapter 15
Jesus is making it pretty clear
that JESUS is the source to which we need to be plugged in,
and he uses an even better analogy.

“I am the vine, and you are the branches.”

It is a simple image,
one equally familiar to people living in first century Palestine,
and people living in 21st century Michigan.

If the branch is not connected to the vine, it is dead.
It can bear no fruit.
It can no longer do what it was created to do.
It is utterly useless, except to be tossed on the wood pile
to help provide some heat later on.
Being connected matters.
And not just connected to an institution we call church
but to Jesus, the ultimate source of power, and goodness, and life. The vine that brings life to the branches,
and through the branches bears good fruit.

This passage in John tells us
that if we are not connected to the vine
we will end up tossed into the bonfire.
And while firewood is useful,
the problem that creeps up
is we can still walk around thinking
we are connected while we wait on the wood pile.

And there is little in this life more terrifying
than someone who thinks they are connected to Christ
and doing God’s will
when they are a dead branch laying on the heap.

One that makes me so careful to make sure
that I am connected to Jesus is a man named John Chivington.

On November 29, 1864 Col. John Chivington
lead 675 men in an early morning attack
against a camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho people.

Around 200 were slaughtered,
most of them were women and children and the elderly.
There were reports of atrocities
committed during that attack including
some taking body parts of fallen Cheyenne and Arapaho people
as trophies.

What makes this story even more horrible,
if that is indeed possible,
is the fact that John Chivington
was a pastor in the Methodist Episcopal Church.

I can promise you, that man,
a man who could do such acts,
was not connected to the vine,
and did not know the vinegrower.
And friends, I wish, I wish, that was the end of the story.

It wasn’t until 1996, nearly 150 years later,
that the United Methodist Church
attempted to apologize and repent for their role in the massacre.

Though it wasn’t the church that directed the attack,
it did not speak against it either, and in fact,
at points defended Chivington,
and whole heartedly pursued the dream
of westward expansion that drove indigenous people
from their lands and destroyed families
and cultures for mere avarice.

So our faith and spirituality
cannot just be about connecting to the church,
because friends, the church can get it wrong.
A brief overview of history makes that plain to see.
It always has been and always will be about connecting to Jesus.

“Abide in me as I abide in you.
Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself
unless it abides I 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.”

What makes the image and idea
of the vine and the branches in the gospel of John so vital though
is where it comes in the story.

This metaphor is not part of the sermon on the mount.
And this is not part of a dispute
Jesus was having with the Pharisees.
This teaching, the analogy of the vine and the branches.
The staying connected and bearing fruit
or disconnected and becoming firewood, or worse.
Comes during the last supper.

Jesus and his disciples
come into the room that has been prepared
to celebrate the feast of Passover.
The table has been set.
Jesus puts on a towel and grabs a bowl
and some water and washes the disciples feet.
He breaks the bread and blesses the cup.
Then Jesus prophesies his betrayal at the hand of Judas Iscariot. And Judas flees to go and collect his 30 pieces of silver.

From that point it is a matter of hours
before Jesus is arrested, beaten, tried, and crucified.
Jesus’ time with his disciples is very limited.
And before it is all over,
these disciples who thought they would follow him to the end
will scatter.

If you knew that your hour had come,
that your time on earth was about to be over,
what would you say to your loved ones?
To your closest friends?
To those in whom you are trusting your legacy?
To those who will hold the keys to your kingdom?
What would your parting words be?

I would argue, that those words,
would be the MOST IMPORTANT words.
The ones you want them to never forget.

And this is what Jesus does.
Not for a great crowd,
mixed of disciples and seekers
and those looking to be entertained.

Not to an adversarial group looking to trip him up.
But to his disciples, his friends,
those who followed him, those who would BE the Church.

And friends, by now you should know, that means us.
We are the Church.
We are the ones who are supposed to be following Christ, connected to the vine.
We are the ones who need to hear these words
and hold onto them
as one of the most important lessons Christ is trying to teach us.


Not connected for an hour a week to a church.
Not for a few minutes here or there.
But stay connected.
Like a branch to a vine, if you are living,
if you are seeking to do that
for which you were created and called,
then stay connected.
Because a branch, not connected to the vine,
has no nourishment. It has no power. It has no life.

The only use for a disconnected branch is as firewood.

And that is not a threat of hell,
but an explanation of reality.
If you want to be a Christian,
you have to stay connected to Christ.

If you want to bear the fruit for which you were created,
you have to stay connected.
You cannot run off on your own.
You cannot swing in to the gas station
once in a while for a top up and expect to bear fruit.

Spiritually speaking, we are not compatible with wireless charging.
We are corded and we need to stay plugged in
in order to function as followers of Jesus Christ.

So how do we do it?
How do we stay plugged in?
How do we remain connected to the vine?

Church is a part, hear me on this,
being connected to each other
can help us be connected to Christ.
But Sunday morning is not enough. It just isn’t.

We need to connect with each other in our homes,
in bible study, in praying for each other,
in taking an active interest in each others lives,
in helping one another to navigate through this world.

We connect with the vine in our own study of the scriptures
in groups and on our own.
It is impossible my friends, to follow Jesus,
if you are not reading about Jesus.

I can understand hesitancy to read the Old Testament.
And I can understand that the letters of the New Testament
can strain our understanding at times.

But the Gospels, that is where we see Jesus,
where we see God, most clearly.
We read what Jesus did and said
and how he lived and how he wants us to live.
So skip the rest of it if you have to,
but read about Jesus.
Get to know him and keep getting to know him.

I have lost count of the number of times
I have read the four gospels
in my 20 years of walking with Jesus.
But I can promise you,
I am not done reading them,
and I am not done learning from them.
I am not done, not by a long shot.

We connect when we pray.
Last week I told you about the sage wisdom of my uncle.
When I didn’t know how or why to pray
he told me to just pray.
For no other reason than to connect my heart to God’s.

Do that. Don’t worry about what to say, just say it.
Just connect to God. Not once a week.
Not once a day. But as often as you can.
In any moment that you can.

If you are feeling adventurous
explore some deeper spiritual disciplines.
Fast, engage in lectio divina,
meditate on the scriptures, pray through the Psalms.

Connect in ministry to the world.
Be where Jesus is.
Work where Jesus is working.
Bring food to the hungry.
Bring compassion to the hurting.
It would be difficult
to walk more than a few steps outside your door these days
without running into someone in need
that you are in a position to help.

The bottom line is, being a Christian,
is not about what we do for an hour on Sunday.
It is about the life we live as branches connected to the vine.
The branch isn’t a branch one day a week.
The branch is a branch every day of its life.
All that it is, all that it does,
is in service to the vine,
just as all the vine does is in service to the branches.

We live in a time and a culture that is about self.
About what we want, about what we deserve.

So it is hard for us to realize that our life in Christ,
if we really want to be his disciples,
needs to be lived with others in mind,
with connection to Jesus
and ministry to others
being the dominant thoughts in our hearts and minds.

And I know that for some of you,
maybe a lot of you, that doesn’t sound like much fun,
or it doesn’t fit into your worldview.

And that’s ok. It shouldn’t.
Jesus didn’t come to leave us the same.
Jesus came to help us change,
to come back to the image of God in which we were created,
to become connected again to the source of life.
It is not easy. It will cost you. Sometimes it will cost you a lot.

But I promise you, as you move in that direction,
as your life becomes more and more fully connected to the vine,
life becomes a whole lot clearer,
and the purpose of Christ in your life
will drive you to passion and that passion will bear good fruit.
And friends there is little in life more satisfying
than doing that for which you were created.

So friends, let’s stay connected -to the the vine,
the very source of our life,
to one another, and to the world. Amen? Amen.

John 15:1-8


2 Replies to “Fruitful or Firewood?”

    1. Thanks Kathy. Its my hope that it can be a resource for folks who can’t make it and for people who need to hear but may not be ready to actually walk into a church. Feel free to share it or any of my writing.

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