Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 1 and 2, 2021
“A Pod of P’s”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
How do you remember names? What trick do you use so you can remember that person the next time you see them? Do you associate them with a member of your family? If they have the same name as your brother or sister, your mom or your dad you may be able to remember them the next time you meet. And if they have the same name as your dog, or if they look like your dog, I bet you’ll never forget them. Sometimes you can remember others by a physical or mental attribute they possess. Brian – Brilliant. If they have little hair then that new guy you just met – his name is Harry – is easy to remember.
In this sermon I hope to help you remember what Jesus said being a Christian would be like. In 8 verses from John 15 Jesus says that being a Christian is like a “Pod of P’s”. Plant. Prune. Plump. Those three P’s tell us what we should know about being a Christian.
Plant. This section is part of what is known as the “Farewell Discourses” of Jesus. Thursday, Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday, was much more than a day for the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus was preparing them for His death, resurrection and ascension. In John 13 Jesus washes His disciples feet. In John 14 and 16 He tells them about the coming of the Holy Spirit. And John 15 – our reading – He gives them a “Pod of P’s” as He tells them the account of the Vine and the Branches. “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 to itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:1, 4)
How did you become a branch of the vine? How did you become a limb of the tree? All by yourself? Did you just start growing independent of the trunk of the tree or of the vine? No. You and I are established in faith because God created that faith in us. Here Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” (John 15:5)
How did you come to faith? In Hebrews it says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2) When Paul was in Athens, speaking to folks who had not even heard of Jesus, he says this about God, “In him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Or when Nicodemus, a Jew, was told that he had to be born again, born from above, Jesus said the path of God’s planting was like this, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:5-7)
The first “P” is plant. God is the one planting faith. In your baptism the seed of faith was begun. God’s Spirit came to you. You were adopted, chosen, born again by water and the Spirit.
God plants the stuff that is foundational to our lives. In Corinthians we hear, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (I Corinthians 15:3-4) And also in Corinthians, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (I Corinthians 2:2)
But God wants to do more than plant. He has a plan for us. That plan has to do with the growth of that vine. To do this God is involved in the second of the “Pod of P’s” – pruning. “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 so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-2) Pruning – if you have roses or other flowers, if you have tomato plants or other vegetables you have to prune the plants or bushes so that the end result is how it should be. We do it. So does God. The Greek word for “prune” is the same one for “cleanse”. God is cleansing us. The end of Psalm 139 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Verses 23-24) How much pruning does God need to do in me? How much does He need to do in you? Sometimes His shearers are pretty sharp – but He is doing a purposeful work.
Dr. Jon Diefenthaler was the President of one of our Districts in Maryland. He was working with a congregation that was disgruntled. (I remember talking to our District President some years ago and he said that his work primarily was with congregations who were vacant or who wanted to be.) Diefenthaler, after hearing the moaning of the congregation and the pastor, asked them a straightforward question, “Who does this church belong to?” That question made them very uncomfortable. He said that their answer did not come quickly. Finally, some brave soul gave the right answer, “This church belongs to Jesus.”
In that gathering, at that moment, God was pruning those Christians. He had to cut deep that day. The church doesn’t belong to the people. The church doesn’t belong to the pastor. The church belongs to Jesus. The church is not some exclusive club but is an instrument through which God wants to bless all the peoples on earth. Just as He prunes individuals he prunes congregations and pastors.
Just as we need God to plant the faith so we can be a branch of the vine and just as we need God to prune us, we want Him to do even more. He wants to make us plump. Fat. A number of us got a head start on the plump part, haven’t we?
Jesus says of us, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:8) That word “much” fruit can also be translated “great” fruit. Do you ever find that you have had the best day when you did something that benefitted another person? You called them. You listened to them. You prayed for them. You cared for them. Paul, in Ephesians, writes, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
Plant. Prune. Plump. But this doesn’t come by self. God is at work in you to do all of this. Jesus said, “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.” (John 15:4) Then Jesus goes on, “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.” (John 15:5) Get it? He wants our life to be filled with much fruit, great fruit, He wants it to be plump, but you won’t find the strength to do it in yourself. “Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” “Apart from me you can do nothing.” The lesson for Christian living is the same as that of Christian salvation – God is the source of all things. He plants. He prunes. He allows us to be full of the Spirit and the Spirit’s benefit to others.
This “Pod of P’s” comes with a warning though. If we are cut off from Christ and alienated from God there is an emptiness to all of life. The outcome is a disaster and quite tragic. Jesus said, “If 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.” (John 15:6) This is quite different from the words, “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2a,c) If your life is without Christ, if He has not planted you, if He is not within you cleansing you, pruning you or if your life shows no fruit of God’s Holy Spirit, take His warning to heart. Turn to Him. Remain in Jesus. Trust Him. Confess Jesus to be your Savior. As Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
I hope you like peas. In John 15 Jesus had a pod of them. Plant. Prune. Plump. You know what? That’s perfect. Amen!!