Memorial Day Weekend
Rev. Kit Billings
May 25, 2003
I want to begin my message with you today by inviting you to be open to your own beautiful center of wisdom, which lives deep within your soul. Do you believe that it's there, your personal connection to wisdom, which is the Lord who lives and moves and has His Being within you? I believe its there, and I invite you to be deeply in tune with it right now. See if what you're about to hear feels like the truth for you. If it does, then I rejoice in that. If my words do not connect for you, then I hope you will trust yourself to not digest them.
In this church, we each are esteemed to search out and find the truth that is sensible and meaningful…that is both tasty as grapes from a vine and therefore nourishing and digestible. I pray that my message will help you in some significant way.
It can clearly be said that God is automatically inside of everyone. This is a given…God's gracious right to live inside of every person, no matter how good or evil they may be. As Swedenborg noted, this is more than an act of love on God's part, it's a necessity to sustain our life. For we each are created beings. The Lord is “Life Itself”…Self-sustaining Life. And this is why Paul Tillich spoke of God as being the very “Ground of Being.” One of the blessings of this, my friends, is that in order for anyone to simply live, they must have God within them, for the physical body is actually sustained and vivified by the presence and life-force of the human soul, and the soul receives its life from God. But our spiritual equation of life doesn't end there. Since the Lord's Word declares that God is Love, we therefore can open ourselves to yet another life-altering truth, which is something SO PRECIOUS, SO AMAZING, that it will only take an eternity for each of us to understand and grasp and feel into what it means that a God like this dwells within us. It means, that you are being loved by “LOVE ITSELF”… from more than the “outside in” as they say, but also from the “inside out!”
God is cherishing you
from within the inward parts of your being.
And you don't have to work for this.
It's a given. A GIFT.
And so we say, merry Christmas my friends!
And this is exactly what we're faced with my friends…you're faced every day with the wonderful and amazing truth that God loves you! Intimately. Tenderly. Personally. With deep mercy and understanding. And more than this, we're talking here about an intentional, conscious loving and caring for you happening down in the depths of your heart and your soul, such that the Lord is able to see and know you totally, even more than you know yourself, and is helping you intimately and ever so wisely with your innermost struggles, your hurts, your fears, your misunderstandings, your doubts, everything that troubles you.
This is all part of the “Good News” in God's Word, in the Bible, which is partly why we revere it so much. It's saying in short that the Lord lives within you and that He has a fundamental role in our lives as our constant, ever-present Source of life's most important ingredients of what literally creates internal happiness, peace, faith, and a deepening desire to love others…..just because!
In Genesis we read of the story of the Garden of Eden, about the Tree of Life living in the center of that paradisiacal garden. That image delivers a certain angle on what is true. This morning we're blessed to reflect upon another angle of this truth, which is to look at and reflect about God as the basic Divine Vine of life. This image is even more intimate and personal than the Tree of Life. And it's a key passage for us to understand and hopefully embrace as Christians.
In it we hear God Incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ, saying simply, “I AM THE TRUE VINE, and my Father is the gardener. Remain 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.”
So, the simple yet powerful question I want to ask you today is, are you in the Lord?
And what do I mean exactly by asking, are you in the Lord?
Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Divine-Human, and do you hear His words as truth that give you life and set you free?
Will you seriously and hopefully INGRAFT YOURSELF to the Lord and to the truth that you are cherished by Jesus, and from this fundamental loving of God toward you, will you try every day to love others, just as Jesus loves you?
Will you bear the fruits of love and just enjoy and be passionate about your own, personal and unique ability to make use of this spiritual relationship you're blessed with as a Christian?
This is what the Lord meant, I believe, by saying that we must “remain in Him,” as He also remains in you.
Donald Grey Barnhouse cites an amazing example of lasting fruitfulness. In Hampton Court near London, there is a grapevine under glass; it is about 1,000 years old and has but one root which is at least two feet thick. Some of the branches are 200 feet long. Because of skillful cutting and pruning, the vine produces several tons of grapes each year. Even though some of the smaller branches are 200 feet from the main stem, they bear much fruit because they are joined to the vine and allow the life of the vine to flow through them.
God gives us many awesome graces or powers in life—to be sure, we're each inherently powerful creatures. One of the greatest of these is the power within you, which God gives to you, to learn about the Lord and to read His thoughts in the Bible and to believe that Jesus is the Son of God……or rather, God with us in Glorified Human form. This power of spiritual understanding you might say prospers as individual strands of faith and understanding combine into an ever-growing stalk of life-perception. Each strand may consist of a person coming to see things and know things that deal with spiritual life such as the nature of God, the Incarnation, how the Lord accomplished Redemption, what true charity is, the journey of spiritual regeneration throughout life, concepts and insights about life after death, and so on and so on.
Each of these individual strands of faith ultimately join together into a growing stalk of faith within you, which joins into the Lord as the Divine Vine. But the Lord is simply reminding us today in John's Gospel that such growing and living faith comes to you as a choice, and it's an enormously relevant choice indeed. If we open our ears to hear the truth of this lesson this morning, it reveals a fundamental relationship between us and the Lord God. That if we want to be open to real love and spiritual goodness, then Jesus Christ is the One we depend upon to nourish our spirits with Love and empower us to bear fruit or works of love that will last. As the Lord said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing. Remain 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. This is to My Father's glory that you bear much fruit. As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Remain in My love.”
I Am The One Who Jesus Loves
Author and speaker Brennan Manning came up with a slogan. The slogan is, "I am the one Jesus loves." It sounds a little arrogant doesn't it? But he is actually quoting Scripture. Jesus' closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, is identified in the Gospels as "the one Jesus loved." Manning said, "If John were to be asked, 'What is your primary identity in life?' he would not reply, 'I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,' but rather, 'I am the one Jesus loves.'"
What would it mean, I ask myself, if I too came to the place where I saw my primary identity in life as "the one Jesus loves"? How differently would I view myself at the end of a day? Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible's astounding words about God's love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?
Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, sees an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest says to the man, "You must be very close to God." The peasant looks up from his prayers, thinks a moment, and then smiles, "Yes, he's very fond of me."
This fundamental and transforming truth of the Lord's love for you is such a core part of the Christian faith. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love.” But then God's love in us moves up and out and functions in a way to bear fruit that contains this love within it, which is why life in Christ is called, “heaven.”
In a beautiful sermon entitled "The Power of Love," Paul Tillich, one of the great theological minds of the twentieth century, writes of a Swedish woman who aided prisoners and orphans during the first World War. She ended up in a concentration camp herself because she gave aid and comfort. Tillich writes, "It is a rare gift to meet a human being in whom love—this means God—is so overwhelmingly manifest. It undercuts theological arrogance as well as pious isolation. It is more than justice and greater than faith or hope. It is the very presence of God in the form of a human being. For God is love. In every moment of genuine love we are dwelling in God and God in us."
There are other sorts of vines we can choose to graft ourselves onto—which we know as thistles and brambles. There are noxious ideas and belief systems that will give us the juice to bear sour fruit, and which can make us rather “prickly” to others trying to get close to us. Are you sometimes too thorny to the approach of others? Only those Christians who personally choose to be spiritually ingrafted to Christ regularly and often throughout life will be helped to shun and let go of such prickly selfish inclinations that can ultimately strangle life in our hearts and minds with noxious brambles, thorns and choking weeds.
A story is told of a farmer who said that years ago a thunderstorm swept through southern Kentucky at the farm where his Claypool forebears have lived for six generations. The old farmer recounts this poignant tale: “In the orchard, the wind blew over an old pear tree that had been there as long as anybody could remember. My grandfather was grieved to lose the tree on which he had climbed as a boy and whose fruit he had eaten all his life.”
A neighbor boy came by and said, "Doc, I'm really sorry to see your pear tree get blown down."
"I'm sorry too," said my grandfather. "It was a real part of my past."
"What are you going to do?" the neighbor boy asked.
The grandfather paused for a moment and then said, "I'm going to pick the fruit and burn what is left."
That is the wise way to deal with certain things in our past. We need to learn their lessons, enjoy their pleasures, and go on with the present and the future. Christ is the Vine, and we are the branches. And when we need pruning, the goal is always more fruit.
The Lord Jesus Christ is in you and loves you from the inside out. Are you in the Lord? The Lord gives us His powerful commandment: “Love each other.” Amen.