Britches, Buildings and Blossoms

From a sermon given by Glen Dawursk, Jr. on November 17, 2002

Sermon Text: John 15:1-11: The Vine and the Branches

1"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 [1] 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.  9"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands; you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Please listen to a parody on one of my favorite poems, "Foot prints in the sand." 

This version is called "Seat Prints in the Sand"


One night I had a wondrous dream,

One set of footprints there was seen,

The footprints of my precious Lord,

But mine were not along the shore.


But then some stranger prints appeared,

And I asked the Lord, "What have we here?"

Those prints are large and round and neat,

"But Lord, they are too big for feet."


"My child," He said in somber tones,

"For miles I carried you alone.

I challenged you to walk in faith,

But you refused and made me wait."


"You disobeyed, you would not grow,

The walk of faith, you would not know,

So I got tired, I didn't repeat,

And there I dropped you on your seat."


"Because in life, there comes a time,

When one must fight, and one must climb,

When one must rise and take a stand,

Or leave their seat prints in the sand."


Today's Gospel seems to be a "no-brainer."  Everyone knows that a branch will die without the main vine.  Even a small child knows that a flower can not bloom without its stem and a tree can not bear fruit without its trunk.  This metaphor representing Jesus as our source for all our needs has been spoken about over and over again.  So then, why another sermon on it?  Simply stated, a lot of you aren't listening!


We are a congregation of over 2300 baptized members.  In addition, we estimate that we have 4-500 non-members who also call Divine Redeemer their church home. So we are a congregation of about 2800 people.   Out of this, we average between 850 and 900 each week in worship.  That means only 30% of our actual congregation is really attending worship regularly.  That means almost 70% are NOT in our church right now.


We currently have about 300 children registered for our Sunday school; however, we average only about 150 per week currently.  An average of about 150 adults also attend a weekly Bible Study at Divine Redeemer.  Totally, we have about 300 youth and adults in some form of Bible study each week.  Again, that comes to only 30% of our regular attendees also attend a weekly Bible study.  Again, 70 % do not. 


But even more disturbing is that out of our total membership and faithful non-members, we have almost 2000 adults at this church – that means that less than 8% of our adults attend a regular Bible study here at Divine Redeemer.  Yes, some of us are attached to the vine, but most of us are not.  Most of us are not listening to what Jesus is saying!


You see if we truly understand what our Lord is saying in today's Gospel, we would understand that we must be in church, we must be in a Bible study, we must be in fellowship with other Christians, we must be in a personal prayer life, we must --NOT because we are commanded to -- BUT because our spiritual life depends on it. 


But we have too many excuses; too many reasons to stifle our growth.  And many of us will simply wither and die spiritually.  I would say there are two issues here.  First, often people say that we don't have time or that we don't get anything out of Bible study anyway, so why bother.  They prioritize other things above their relationship with God.  Especially for Bible Study, they listen to Satan's deception that if we attend church, "we have enough religion" for one week.    In the Old Testament, we are told to offer God a tithe.  A tithe represented 10% of our first fruits.  But 10% was not the maximum; it was the minimum.  Consider how our congregation’s ministry would be if every person gave a minimum of 10%.  We would never have any financial issues; in fact, we would probably be looking for innovative ways to use the excess money for God’s ministry. But consider this for a moment.  Tithing did not just apply to our finances.  What if we were to give 10% minimum of our time to God each week?  Out of 168 in a week, we would owe a minimum of almost 17 hours to God.  Yet, we as Lutheran Christians complain if the service goes longer than an hour and we miss some of the Packer preview on television.  Many who come from other Christian denominations are used to spending 90 minutes on Sunday in worship and another 90 minutes in Bible Study.  Many even come back in the evening for more spiritual growth.  Yet we complain that spending an hour in worship and an hour in Bible study or Sunday school is too much.  Have we have become a congregation of “fast-food” religion?  


Secondly, many people are convinced that they should not have to do anything in their faith.  Because they have been taught as good Lutherans that faith is a gift from God and that we can do nothing for our salvation, they are miss-guided into believing that they don't have to do anything else to maintain that faith.   Many even falsely believe that if they are baptized, that they are saved forever -- no matter what their relationship with God is like.  And when their church doesn't cater to their spiritual needs, they leave -- often floundering aimlessly from one church or spiritual experience to another.  Never becoming firmly rooted -- or grafted to the vine of God.  God never called our relationship with our savior a “Sit with Jesus.”   It is a “Walk with Jesus.”  We participate.  If Peter never got out of the boat, he would never have experienced what Jesus had to offer him. 


If there is no connection with the vine, there will be no nourishment and strength -- and we are NOT assured of eternal life.  Yet, many of these same people then complain about having no direction, no purpose and no hope in there life. 


An elderly carpenter was ready to retire.  He told his employer-contractor of his plans to leave the house-building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family.  He would miss the paycheck, but he needed to retire.  They could get by. The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work.  He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials.  It was an unfortunate way to end a dedicated career. When the carpenter finished his work the employer came to inspect the house.  He handed the front-door key to the carpenter.  "This is your house," he said, "my gift to you." The carpenter was shocked!


What a shame!  If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently.  So it is with us.  We build our lives, a day at a time, often putting Less than our best into the building.  Then with a shock we realize we have to live in the house we have built.  If we could do it over, we'd do it much differently.  But we cannot go back.

In the same way, we try to get by with a "shabby" relationship with God.  We only do the bare minimum and then wonder why lack focus in our life.


If our we are connected to God through Bible Study, prayer, fellowship with the body of Christ and worship, not only will our eternal life be in tact -- but our life here on earth will blessed.  We will blossom on the vine.  Not necessarily with wealth -- but with spiritual gifts which will give us direction, purpose and hope.  Yes, God gives us a free gift, but we too must participate in our faith walk.


At my prior congregation, we had over 3000 members.  We also saw that our Bible study percentage was low.  So we set out to build a ministry concentrating on spiritual growth centering on worship, Bible Study, fellowship and prayer.  We set our goal at 50% of our active members.  In just two years, we had surpassed that percentage and as I left, the congregation had now raised the goal to 75% of their active members.  I challenge to today to do the same.   I challenge Divine Redeemer to rise up and participate in the process of maintaining their faith.  I challenge us to achieve that 50% by next year.  We can do it if our leaders, our staff, our parents and our families take it seriously.  I challenge you to join a Bible study.  While your child is in Sunday school, go to Bible study.  I challenge you to start one in your home.  Our connection to the vine depends upon it.


I want to close with one more story.  Another variation on the footprints theme:


Imagine you dream that you and the Lord Jesus are walking down the road together. For much of the way, the Lord’s footprints go along steadily, consistently, rarely varying the pace. But your footprints are a disorganized stream of zigzags, starts, stops, turn arounds, circles, departures and returns. For much of the way, it seems to go like that, but gradually your footprints come more in line with the Lord’s, soon paralleling His consistently. You and Jesus are walking as true friends!

This seems perfect, but then an interesting thing happens. Your footprints, the ones etched in the sand next to Jesus’, are now walking precisely in His steps. Inside His larger footprints are your smaller ones. You and Jesus are becoming one.

This goes on for many miles, but gradually you notice another change. The footprints inside the large footprints seem to grow larger. Eventually they disappear altogether. There is only one set of footprints. They have become one. This goes on for a long time, but suddenly the second set of footprints is back. This time it seems even worse; zigzags all over the place. There were stops, starts, deep gashes in the sand; a veritable mess of prints. You are amazed and shocked. Your dream ends.


Now you pray: “Lord, I understand the first scene with zigzags and fits. I was a new Christian; I was just learning. But you walked on through the storm and helped me learn to walk with you.” “That is correct.”  “... and when the smaller footprints were inside of Yours, I was actually learning to walk in Your steps; following you very closely.” “Very good; you have understood everything so far.”


“... when the smaller footprints grew and filled in Yours, I suppose that I was becoming like you in every way.”  ‘‘Precisely.”  So, Lord, was there a regression or something? The footprints separated, and this time it was worse than at first.” 

There is a pause as the Lord answers with a smile in his voice.   In Ecclesiastes 3:1,4 I had Solomon write, "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to weep, a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance."  “You didn’t know? That was when we danced.”

 May your connection to the vine be strong and healthy, may you commit to a walk with the Lord dedicated to worship, Bible study, prayer and fellowship, so that you too may blossom and dance with Son.  Amen.