Today was Confirmation Sunday at Langmeil, when six young people – Tim, Brooke, Dylan, Lachlan, Cooper and Samuel – gave expression to their faith through the individual Faith Statements that they had prepared. These young folk, after spending most of this year attending a course of Confirmation instruction, demonstrated an encouraging level of Christian maturity as they told the congregation what their faith means to them. It was a day of celebration!
The message for today, the songs and prayers were centred on the words in John 15: 5, “I am the vine, and you are the branches. If any remain in me, and I remain in them, they produce much fruit. But without me you can do nothing.”
We can think about Confirmation Day as a new start. There are many things in life that we approach with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement as we start out on them – but then after a while the reality sets in and we find that there might be a lot of hard work involved in achieving our goals, and our initial enthusiasm and excitement wanes and it’s just easier to stop.
When Jesus used the picture of the vine and the branches He wanted to encourage His disciples and equip them for the future. So Jesus, on this Confirmation Day, is giving us a picture of the Christian life – what it means to be a Christian. Being a Christian is not a short-term thrill, nor is it a quick exciting dash – it’s a lifelong walk with Jesus – more like a marathon than a 100 metre sprint.
Walking with Jesus by your side means going through good and bad times – but above all it means hanging on to Jesus – but more importantly it means knowing that He hangs on to us.
There are three things that we can expect in our life as a Christian – as we walk with Him and as He walks with us:
Firstly, Jesus promises that we will bear fruit. Think of a conversation between a vine-grower and a vine:
Grower: Good morning vine, how are you doing today?
Vine: Just fine! Isn’t it a lovely morning?
Grower: Yes, it is – except for one thing – where is your fruit? You look well and healthy, BUT WHERE IS YOUR FRUIT?
Vine: Well, you should notice that I am a spectacular specimen of a vine – I have the most beautiful leaves and no sagging or broken branches . . . . .
Grower: That’s well and good, but I planted you to bear fruit – not to look pretty! Why have you not produced fruit?
Vine: I tried bearing fruit a few years ago, but then the fruit got diseased and smelt something awful. Then another time I produced so much fruit that my branches bent and broke and my whole system was strained. Then if you bear fruit, have you ever been around when the grape harvesters come along – those machines really bash you around. But to top it all, when I produced the most fruit in the vineyard I didn’t get any thanks from anybody. So now, I’m content to stay right here and leave the fruit-bearing to someone else. After experiences like these, what do you expect?
Grower: I expect that you will make great logs for my fireplace!
As we grow as Christians we also produce fruit. God’s promise is that when we become more like Jesus that we will keep growing in our faith, growing in our love for God and others, growing in kindness and compassion, growing in patience and forgiveness – that is our prayer for our confirmees, and for all of us, today.
Secondly, we see that the gardener prunes the branches. That happens in our lives as well. Sometimes things happen in our lives when it feels like God is “pruning” – even hurting or harming us – and most of us don’t like that! But in the vineyard, the vine grower quickly learns that pruning is necessary so that the vines bear fruit.
One of the hardest lessons to learn is that when God is at work in the lives of His loved ones, there might be pruning – hurts and harms – which we will not understand at the time. But, as we look back we see that we have grown and where God has been at work in our lives. At these times, God wants us to know that His love and presence is always greater than any temporary pain that we might experience.
Thirdly, Jesus wants us to stay with Him, to remain with Him and to walk with Him. We walk with Jesus when read or hear His Word, when we worship, when we pray, when we obey Him, and when we love one another just as He loves us.
There will be times when we will say, “Lord, I can’t – I don’t know how – your Word is not speaking to me – obedience is difficult – I just keep messing up!’ That is when Jesus says, “He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus has left this world, but before He went He told His disciples – and us – “When I go, the Holy Spirit will come to you.” Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus stays with us.
There are many things in life that we start with a lot of enthusiasm, thrill, and excitement. Usually we start off in our own strength, and then we get hit by the reality that there is a lot of hard work involved and we give them up.
Living our lives with Jesus is also a lot of hard work. If we relied just on our own strength we could not do it. But Jesus promises to abide in us to help us through. Through the Holy Spirit God is at work in us, helping us to produce fruit.
Jesus abides in us all the time with His love, even when we feel like we are running out of strength, when we feel like we can no longer hold on, when we feel that God’s pruning is too hard for us, or when we feel like there is no fruit and we are just shrivelling plants.
So, may you continue to grow on your exciting journey, your Christian walk, your living with and in Jesus. Trust that Jesus lives in and with you!
The audio of this sermon is also available on this website