“The Beginning”  John 15:1-8

New Year’s Day  January 1, 2023

“The Beginning”  John 15:1-8

Rev. John R. Larson  Ascension Lutheran Church  Littleton, Colorado

            What is the most important part of a building?  There is nothing like entering a hotel that has a brilliant lobby.  Art-work, big chairs, lots of extra space.  How about having vaulted ceilings, magnificent windows or the right combination of colors in the paint?  That might be the most expensive part to a building but the most important part of any building, including our homes or apartments is the foundation.  It’s the ugly part that no one usually sees.  It is the dirt, the gravel, the rebar, the cement.  If the foundation is off, if it is not level or square, the rest of the building won’t be right – ever.

            Yesterday, on New Year’s Eve, I preached about “The End.”  Today, on New Year’s Day, I will preach about “The Beginning.”  If you start something, you have to start it right – you have to have the right foundation.  Jesus, speaking to His disciples about exhibiting a life that would do many good things, starts at the beginning.  He says, “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.  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 15:4-5)

            I heard that the average American gains 6 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.  Is that all?  I guess some of us are a little above average!!  So, for many of us a New Year means a new beginning.  We’re going to do things different.  Eating right.  Exercising.  I bet a few of us made some resolutions as we begin 2023.  New beginnings can be wonderful events in our life.

            Sometimes it is certain days that call for new beginnings.  We have “red letter days” – like today, or a birthday or an anniversary of some big event, and we vow that we are going improve our life.  Even in the Christian Church we have certain days when we expect something greater to happen in our lives – Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent can be those momentous days for some of us.  Confirmation Sunday – the day when our youth renew their Baptismal vows can be a day of a new beginning.

            But as I was thinking of this, I believe that it is events in the life of Jesus that create a new beginning for Christians, more than simply our special days.  In our reading we are told that we are to “Abide in Christ”.  Abiding – having a close and intimate faith relationship with Jesus.  How is it done?  Events.  Christ’s events. 

            The death of Jesus is central for any Christian who is abiding in Christ.  His death is not secondary.  Good Friday wasn’t an unfortunate mistake.  Paul, speaking to the Corinthians believers, centered their faith on the crucifixion of Jesus.  “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  (I Corinthians 1:23-24)  In the next chapter to those same believers he says, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  (I Corinthians 2:2)  If you abide in Christ you abide in Him being your sacrifice, your substitute.  “Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  (See John 1:29)

            What is more foundational than the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  You know the words, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”  Later Paul adds, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”  (I Corinthians 15:14, 17-19)  The beginning, the start, the foundation for us, not just on this day, but every day, is Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection.  That makes this building, our body and soul, strong.   

            Those events, 2000 years ago, become ours when the events of confession and absolution, Baptism and Holy Communion become our events.  To be engaged in these events is for us to abide in Christ.  Each of those events bring us the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

            When you confess your sins and receive the cleansing of your heart, soul and mind, isn’t that abiding in Christ and Him in you?  Scripture says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  (I John 1:9)

            When you remember the washing that you received in Holy Baptism, the claiming that God placed on your life, you are connected to Jesus.  And this is what God says about that, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”  (II Corinthians 5:17)  Sounds like a beginning.

            And when you receive the personal gospel – the body and blood of Jesus Christ – you have a new beginning.  Jesus speaks of His abiding with us in this meal with words like this, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”  Then He says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”  (John 6:51, 54)

            Three months ago, this past Thursday, (the day when I spent a number of hours shoveling out from the 1-3 inches of snow the weatherman told me we would receive overnight,) I preached for my dad’s service.  My dad built homes – that was his life’s work – so I used I Corinthians 3:10-12 as the text for the sermon, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it.  But each one should be careful how he builds.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

            We make a beginning today and it is a good beginning.  We have a foundation that lasts.  Christ crucified and risen.  We abide in Christ and He abides in us.

            The faith that we have?  It isn’t stagnant.  It is alive.  It is full of breath and actions and joy.  Jesus says, “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 it will be even more fruitful.”  “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  (John 15:1-2, 8)

            Isn’t it exciting to have a new beginning?  God gives that to us every day.  We have the opportunity to be a light in the world.  Or as Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:16)

            Happy New Year!!  A Blessed New Beginning!!  A New Beginning comes when we know and appreciate that Jesus Christ is our Savior.  Our foundation is secure.  A New Beginning is ours when our life flows with good fruit to all whom God brings into our life.  A New Beginning is ours when Jesus Christ is our Lord. 

            The beginning.  The start of wonderful things to come.  Amen!!