Roots (Message for May 3rd, 2015)

Scripture:  John 15:1-8

A common sentiment that I have heard from people a decade or more older than me is that they feel like they should know how to use new technology, but they would not even know where to start.   Also, they doubt if they would even be able to learn how because they know so little about the subject.   Now when it comes to that sentiment, I can appreciate exactly how they feel.   I am very comfortable with modern technology, but the way those people feel about technology is the exact same way that I feel about gardening and growing things.   I feel like the ability to grow one’s own food is a fairly important life skill to have.   However, I did not grow up in a family that did that, so I am completely and totally clueless.   If I wanted to grow something I do not know where the start and I would be so far behind the curve on basic skills the idea of even trying is daunting.    This puts me at a bit of a disadvantage with scriptures like this mornings.   Jesus spent a lot of time teaching rural people, people who understood how to make green things grow, and as a result he uses a lot of agriculture metaphors.   This morning’s scripture where he calls himself the “true vine” is one such example.   I may not know a lot about gardening, but I know enough to appreciate this analogy.  In a lot of ways the image of a growing plant is a good representation of what a healthy faith should be like.  Like a healthy plant, our faith should continue to grow and this growth is expressed in fruit.   Also, like a plant connection is vital to our faith.   In a plant, specifically a vine, the branches are connected to the vine and the vine is connected to the roots which give nourishment.    In the same way for our faith to grow and be vibrant we need to be connected and we need deep roots. 

Since I do not know anything about growing vines and fruit, I needed to rely on a skill I do have and that is using google.   In doing so, I discovered the most amazing vine.   This vine blooms with large purple flower, its tubers are an edible crop, and the vine itself can even be harvested for fibers that can be weaved.  Its leaves can be used to feed livestock, and the US government has even used this vine as a natural way to prevent soil erosion.    I was really surprised to learn that this vine even had its own fan club, that the height had over 20,000 members.   For all of your gardeners, do you know what this potential wonder plant is?   The fan club, which had over 20,000 members in 1943 was the Kudzu Appreciation Society.    If you have ever driven in a southern state and have seen trees overgrown with kudzu, then you know that today kudzu is not appreciated at all.   Today, kudzu is considered a weed and a pest.   All of the benefits of kudzu are overshadowed by the fact that it is invasive, grows like crazy, and is notoriously hard to kill.   Kudzu is a very vibrant plant that can grow fifty feet a year and a foot a day during the height of growing season.    The secret for kudzu’s explosive growth and the reason why it is so hard to get rid of it’s because of the roots.   The roots of a kudzu vine go deep, as far as 20 feet deep.

In our faith we need deep roots.    We need the life giving essence of our faith to go deep, to grow wide and provide a strong connection.   Jesus said in this morning’s scripture, “Remain in me and I will remain in you.”    We need to be rooted deep in Jesus.   That sounds good, but what does that mean?   I think there are three ways that we can be rooted in Jesus.   First, we have to follow him and follow him closely.   From the ancient Jewish book of wisdom literature, the Mishnah, there is the idea of being powdered in the dust of the rabbi.  The idea is that we should stay close to a wise teacher, whether it be from sitting at their feet listening or following closely behind them, that the dust that comes off their feet will get on us.   In recent years, Rob Bell teacher of the Nooma video series, turned this idea into the blessing:  ”May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.”   Jesus is our rabbi, our teacher, he taught us a better way to live.   Our natural approach to life is to put ourselves first, but Jesus taught us to put others first.   Our natural approach is to seek to control our own life, but Jesus taught that we should entrust our lives to our loving Father in heaven.   Our natural approach is to desire being served, but Jesus taught that true fulfillment and joy comes from serving others.   In the book of Acts we are told that the early church was referred to as the Way, this is because Jesus taught us a new way to live.  A way where we are free from death, free from guilt, and free from sin.   To have deep roots in this way, we need to follow Jesus.   We learn and we know the things that are important to us.   For example, if you are a sports fan you can probably name the entire roster of your team.   You can probably sing all of the words of your favorite song, but how many of us know the words that Jesus taught?   How many of us can quote Jesus’ teachings?   We should follow closely, we should write those teachings on our hearts and minds so that they are always right there, under the surface, anchoring us in.    We need to remain in Jesus and he will remain in us.   We need to be covered in the dust of our rabbi.  

Knowing what Jesus said and did is vitally important to having deep roots in our faith, but there is more to it than that.    If we kept reading in John chapter 15 we would read verse 14 where Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command.”   Remaining in Jesus and having deep roots is much more than just having a head knowledge of Jesus.  It is more than just memorizing scripture for the sake of memorizing scripture, or having a deep pool of information about the historical setting in which Jesus lived.   After all, there are plenty of atheists who have an encyclopedic knowledge of the historical Jesus.   To have deep roots in Jesus, to remain in him, we need to know him.   The second way that we can be rooted in Jesus is have a deep, personal relationship with him.   If we are not careful, we can make our faith about being a fan of Jesus, not a friend of Jesus.   If someone is a fan of a celebrity they know a lot about that person.  They know their work, they may even know personal information like birthdates, and they may follow their every detail.  In the end of the day, though a fan does not truly know the object of their devotion.  It is a one way relationship.    Too often we have fans of Jesus in churches not friends.  A fan of Jesus enjoys hearing the stories of him, they like the pomp and circumstance of church, and they admire Jesus’ style.  However, a fan only lets Jesus be a small part of their life, it is a one way relationship where there is no change.   If we are friends of Jesus though, there is a relationship, a commitment.    We know that Jesus does not give up on us and we do not give up on Him.   A relationship though requires investment.   It requires us to spend time with one another.  Think about your friends, what do you do with friends?   We share our lives together, we should do the same with Jesus.   One of my weekly highlights is reading a comic strip called Coffee with Jesus.  This is a very sharp and convicting comic strip that uses humor to make incredible points.   I also love the basic idea behind it.  In the comic strip the characters have daily coffee with Jesus.  We need to have coffee with Jesus, a time where we share our lives with our Savior, where we seek his wisdom, and where we submit to follow his commands in our daily life that day.   We need to have a relationship with Jesus.  We need to be more than just his fan, our relationship should be one of friendship.       

The final way that we can have deep roots is a culmination of the other two.  If we truly follow Jesus and our covered in his dust and if we do this not as a fan but as a friend, then we will come to trust Jesus.   I hope in your life, you have that one friend.   A friend who you can always, always count to be there for you and a friend who you can tell and trust with anything.   That depth and that level of friendship is the kind of friendship that we should have with Jesus.   To have deep roots, to remain connected to Jesus, the true vine, we need to trust him.   We need to trust that Jesus will always be there for us, will always lead us, and will remain in us no matter what.   A good example of someone who illustrated this trust was Lousia Stead.   Lousia had a big heart for God and a desire to remain in Jesus.  However, she had several set back in life.   She felt a deep conviction to share the love of God with people who did not yet know Christ, and she wanted to enter the mission field.   Unfortunately, she had several issues which often caused her to be in frail health.   Later she met the love of her life, married him, and soon gave birth to a daughter.  While her girl was still a young child, tragedy struck and Lousia’s husband died in an attempt to save a drowning child.  Full of grief and full of unanswerable questions, Louisa did what she often did.  She sought Jesus, and in the midst of dealing with the loss of her husband, Lousia wrote these words:   “Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus and to take him at his word.  Just to rest upon his promise and to know thus says the Lord!  Jesus, Jesus!  How I trust Him!  How I have proved him o’er and o’er.  Jesus, Jesus, oh precious Jesus!  O for grace to trust him more.”    In the midst of life’s hardships, in the midst of life’s sorrow, in the midst of life’s pain we can trust in Jesus.   We can take him at his word.   We can trust that Jesus love us.  We can trust that he will be with us always, and we can trust that if we remain in him he will remain in us.   

The old story goes that a couple that had been married for over 50 years was in a truck going to somewhere or another.  They sat in silence, as they did far too often now.   She looked over at him in the driver’s seat and sighed.  The design of pickup trucks had changed over the years.  It used to be that instead of having individual seats with cup holders in between that a single bench seat filled the entire front.   She said, “Do you remember when we were young and when we drove I would sit right next to you really close with your arm around me?”   He nodded his head and affirmed that he did indeed remember those days.   She asked, “Why don’t we do that anymore?”    He shrugged and said “I don’t know.  I haven’t moved.”   

            Jesus said remain in me and I will remain in you.   Jesus has not moved.   On this day, do you feel like a branch that is withered or do you feel deeply rooted in good soil?    When you wake up in the morning are you more likely to feel joyful or hopeless?    Jesus has not moved.    If you feel like Jesus is not as close as he used to be, if the fire is not there like it once was, and your faith feels dried out, then odds are good you have moved.    Perhaps you do not follow Jesus as closely as you used to.  Perhaps you find yourself relating to Jesus more as a member of his fan club and less as a trusted friend, or perhaps because of fear or pride you are having difficulty trusting Jesus with where he is leading you.    If you feel separated, cut off, or dried out on this day, the turn back to Jesus remain in Him and he will remain in you.    If we remain in Jesus, if we follow him, if we befriend him, and if we trust him then Jesus himself is clear what will happen.  We will bear fruit, the love that Jesus shows, the joy that comes from following him, and the peace that comes from trusting him will define our lives.   Not only will it define our lives, but fruit by its very nature is designed to spread.   Fruit carries seeds that plant themselves and put down roots of their own.  When we bear fruit we share God’s love and the gospel with the world.   May you be rooted in Jesus the Christ.   May your roots grow deep, and may your life bear a fruit that makes disciples and transforms our world.