Giving Up: I am the True Vine

April 5, 2020 – Pastor Samantha Tidball

I want to thank those of you who are tuning in and taking time to stay connected with us as a church. These are crazy times for everyone. We, as a Pastoral team, hope and pray you are all staying safe and doing what you can to limit contact with people to help slow the spread of this virus.

Our church has been doing a sermon series called “Giving Up” for the series of Lent. Lent is the time Christians typically give something up for 40 days before Easter. This is a way Christians practice the idea of surrendering and lamenting before Easter arrives. I normally participate in Lent by choosing to give something up, but this year I was pretty adamant about not giving up anything. I know you must be thinking, “But aren’t you a Pastor? Aren’t you supposed to be extra spiritual?”  The joke is on me, well all of us actually, because none of us imagined due to coronavirus we would have to give up this much stuff! Anyway, I was adamant about not giving anything up for Lent because I spent the past seven months giving up way too many things I loved. I had to give up eating nearly every food I loved. I gave up sports and exercise (which I love), long walks and hikes, most social outings. I gave up traveling and had to cancel every trip I had planned. I had to give up conferences I was scheduled to speak at and turn down preaching sermons. I stayed home as much as possible and was incredibly depressed. Sounding a little familiar? It wasn’t due to coronavirus, but I was dealing with an ulcerative colitis flare up which is a chronic illness I have suffered with for a long time. Most of you probably didn’t realize because for the past three years, I experienced the healthiest time of my adult life! It all came crashing down this past summer. However, I discovered something in the pit of despair. When you give up things you cling to (whether by choice or because a situation forces you to), your hands are open to receive so much more. More of what? More of the good things Jesus wants to give us. This is the heart of what we have been learning in our sermons series. We have been focusing on the “I am” statements Jesus said in the book of John.

  • Giving up scarcity/anxiety- I am the bread of Life
  • Giving up fear- I am the Light
  • Giving up success- I am the way, the truth, the life

This morning I get to teach you about Giving up control, when Jesus said, “I am the true vine.”

What was Jesus talking? John 15:1-6

“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[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also 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

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 

During Jesus’ time, the vine was a symbol of blessing in Israel’s culture. Israel itself is pictured as a vine owned by God. Knowing Jesus as the vine paints a beautiful visual of being connected with Christ. I don’t have much of a green thumb, but from what I read, grapevines need pruning that requires the grapes to be exposed to the sun but not too much. So in this image God, the gardener, does that precision tending for the perfect balance of light and shade knowing exactly what each branch needs. This amazes me because frankly, that sounds like a lot of work!  So here we have God as the Gardner, Jesus as the vine, and we are the branches that produce fruit. We see in this imagery we are connected to God through Jesus, and our purpose is to produce fruit.

Knowing Jesus as the vine and God as the gardener teaches us we are not in control. We are just branches, not the vine and certainly not in charge of the vine. We don’t even make fruit ourselves. We can’t control when the sun shines, when the rain falls, or how or when the gardener will prune us. This is true for our lives as well. There are many parts of our lives we can’t control. We don’t control what family we are born in or what diseases we might get. We can’t control if a meteor is going to hit the earth or if the stock market crashes. And we certainly can’t control viruses or other world crisis. We aren’t really in control of all that much when we think about the big picture of life, yet we still try to cling to control. 

What ways are you clinging to control? Now before you think to yourself you are a pretty “chill person” and don’t struggle with this, control reveals itself in different ways.

Signs of Clinging to Control:

  1. Prideful/Egocentric
  2. Individualism
  3. Self Hatred and self disapproval
  4. Lack of trust in others
  5. Perfectionism (obsessive behavior)
  6. Anxiety, excessive worrying

What do you identify with? How do we do what Elsa from Frozen says and just let it go? It starts with acknowledging our place in the universe. We are not in charge, but we can trust our God of love is sovereign over everything.

What does it mean to trust God is in control, when the world feels out of control? It doesn’t mean devastation won’t happen or that God caused suffering. Believing God is in control means we can trust the goodness of God will shine through even in the darkest times.  This is a lesson I keep learning over and over in my life. One would think I would get it by now, but every time life doesn’t go my way I slip into doubt and fear. Sometimes I wonder if God just set the world into motion and took a long vacation? One thing I continue to learn is when I remain in Jesus I can see where God’s light is shining in even the darkest of pits. 

The past seven months of sickness were a really dark time for me. Having an autoimmune disease where body attacks without knowing why reminds me I am not in control. I tried to control it with medicine, fasting, diet, yoga, supplements, meditation, healing prayers, you name it! Some things helped, but nothing fixed me. I begged God to heal me every day. I would read verses like John 15:7-8

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

I had grand plans this year to bear fruit! I had a so many plans to reach out to my kid’s school, to build a network of support for parents at church and in the community. I cried out to God, “Heal me so I can go out and bear your fruit!” Jesus said if I asked, I could have what I want! Is Jesus a liar? Of course, Jesus is not a liar. The Gardener had pruning to do in my heart. Through the long suffering and wrestling with God in prayer, I began to let go of trying to control my life. This didn’t mean I stopped taking medicine or going to the doctor. Thanks to counseling and prayer, I learned to accept the suffering and cling to the vine, the source of life. 

Eventually, I had to lose my colon, which I didn’t understand at the time. But the Gardener’s timing is perfect even though it doesn’t feel like it in the moment. I didn’t know Coronavirus was looming around the corner. Now that my colon is out, I am off medicine that made me immuno-suppressed! Good timing!

I am grateful God didn’t answer my prayer the way I wanted. Suffering and wrestling with God created in me an inner strength and peace I can’t explain. When I was in the pit of despair, that’s when I clung to Jesus. Even though sometimes I wondered if God even cared any more, I never stopped trying to connect with God. Sometime this looked like yelling or begging for God to show up. The darkest moments had me feeling like the Gardner abandoned me, but I realized Jesus the Vine was still there connecting me to the source of life. Remaining in God doesn’t mean we pray all the right things or live our lives perfectly, it means we don’t stop trying to connect and seek God with all our heart. “Remain in me.” Jesus said. We remain in Jesus by letting go of control, and clinging to Jesus with everything we have even if all we have is doubt and despair. And when we remain in Jesus, God’s will and our will grow in a way where they become intertwined. God’s will is for us to bear fruit, and who doesn’t want to be fruity?

If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing – John 15:6

John 15:6 reminds us we are not in control of the universe, but still have a responsibility to bear fruit. The fruit happens organically because the vine is true and the gardener good. We only bear fruit because we are extensions of the vine and pruned by the gardener who cares for us. Our fruit will be known by how well we love each other. 

 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 

-John 15:9-12

In fact, we closed the church building not out of fear or a lack of faith, but out of love to keep others safe.  Yes, God is in control, but we still have a responsibility to use our common sense by listening to wisdom of healthcare workers and scientists. We can bear fruit during this crisis, by staying home so we don’t put people at risk in danger. We can bear fruit by checking in on those who are lonely or need some human contact during times of isolation. However, we can’t bear any fruit if we don’t stay connected to the vine. This is what it means in verse five when Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing.” We don’t bear fruit without being connecting to the vine, Jesus.

If you want to bear fruit you have to let go of control and let God be sovereign over your life. Remember the list of ways we cling to control that I mentioned earlier? Let’s look at that again.

Signs of Trying to be in Control:

  1. Prideful/Egocentric
  2. Individualism
  3. Self Hatred and self disapproval
  4. Lack of trust in others
  5. Perfectionism (obsessive behavior)
  6. Anxiety, excessive worrying

Now, take a moment to think of one or two of these areas you struggle with most. Imagine just letting that go! Let’s physically hold out our hands if you need to. Looking over this list… what do you need to let go of?

When we let go of control we replace it with good things God has for us…

  1. Give us Freedom! We are not meant to be in charge. That doesn’t mean we don’t do anything. There’s something beautifully humbling about not knowing everything, not being able to do everything… It again puts us in our right place as a human.
  2. Brings us closer to God because we choose to DEPEND on God- sometimes we are able to see God more clearly when we hand over our problems, sins, struggles, or let God take the reigns.
  3. Allows others to use their gifts– we are created to depend on others. We are all different because we need each other.
  4. Humbles us- reminds us God is sovereign.

During this crisis, I encourage you to look for the ways God’s light is shining through the darkness. Remain in the true vine by surrendering each moment to God, the good Gardener who is sovereign over the universe.