June 16, 2016
Dr. Bryan Collier
On my last visit to North Carolina, I was asked to preach at a church which was preparing to launch their associate pastor out to plant a new church. I arrived on Saturday, spent some time with the new church planter and then with the Senior Pastor as we prepared for Sunday’s service. We talked details, music, order, scriptures and then he said “I need to tell you about Cowboy.” I need to tell you about Cowboy because I don’t want you to be distracted. The conversation then went something like this—“When you stand up to preach tomorrow, there on the front row about 4 feet away, will be a man in a cowboy hat, with a long gray beard—like the guy in deliverance, (now he has my attention!) and with him he will have his pet squirrel. A stuffed squirrel? A toy squirrel? Nope—a live squirrel; but don’t worry he has it on a leash! Now sometimes the music freaks that squirrel out, but if it does he will slap that squirrel and it will settle down. And (there’s an and?)…he wears a loaded revolver, AND he brings his wife with him (Oh this ought to be good)—well her ashes in a pouch—which is a whole other story. I remember thinking, “I am so glad you are telling me because there is no way I am going to be distracted by an elderly gentleman who has a beard like the guy in deliverance, with a cowboy hat and a pet squirrel and a revolver and his wife’s ashes in a pouch!” Then the pastor friend corrected me and said, “oh he doesn’t look like the guy from deliverance—he IS the guy from Deliverance—he played that character!” Now I am distracted for a wholly other reason—I am a backpacker and I am thinking “how cool is that!” Distractions of every kind, everywhere! But what I was really thinking was, “FINALLY a unique story I can tell about a unique person from somewhere other than Mississippi!”
My pastor friend didn’t want me to be distracted and the context of our reading tonight is that Jesus is trying to help the disciples focus as they enter the greatest days of distraction they will ever know.
And so Jesus, knowing what is just ahead gathers them in an upper room and prepares them for a time when he will no longer be with them in body—so that they may be faithful to the mission he has begun in the coming days of great distraction.
I don’t want to begin in chapter 15 where Jesus begins; before we get to where Jesus begins and ends—I want to point out that in the face of enormous distraction Jesus issues a…
Clear Call (16)
Right in the middle of chapter 15, Jesus says simply, “You didn’t choose me, I chose you to go and produce lasting fruit…”
Jesus obviously uses multiple metaphors to call the disciples to his mission in the world. The one of this annual conference, “Go Light your world” is one of them as is this call to bear fruit.
I have been partial to this chapter and this fruit-bearing imagery for the last 18 years, not only because it is the place from which we draw the name of the church I serve, but also because the word fruit if very instructive throughout the New Testament. If you look at the word fruit throughout the New Testament, it occurs about 43 times (depending on translation) but those 43 uses gather up nicely into 3 baskets—people who are introduced to Christ; people who by the work of the Holy Spirit grow up to be like Christ, people who go out into the world to act like Christ.
And so when Jesus says to the disciples; I have appointed you for this—to go bear fruit! He is calling them to introduce people to Him; teach and help them to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to grow up to be like Him, and to go out into the world to act like him.
In a day of distraction…a clear call. But Jesus warns them at this point that there will more than distraction. There will be…
Clear Opposition (18-26)
Jesus uses one word 7 times in 7 verses—that word is hate and it is used to describe the reception that the disciples and this message of Jesus are going to get from the world.
Jesus could have used a softer word, or a different word, but he used the word hate. Do you know what this word in the original language is—to detest or to pursue with hatred.
Makes you wonder if we are announcing the message of Christ when the world embraces a message our Lord said the world would hate.
We don’t have time, but Jesus points out in verse 21 that some hate the message and messengers out of ignorance and some hate the message and messengers out of conviction. I think Jesus explains this to the disciples so that they will not be surprised that, for any number of reasons, the world’s reception of the message and them as messengers will be hatred—detestable, pursuant hatred.
But Jesus (26) promises them the power of the Holy Spirit in order to remind and strengthen them in the face of this opposition.
That the work of ministry is difficult and opposed is not surprising or new to many of us. When it is, we are in the company of Jesus and the disciples, and in the company of our forefather, John Wesley. I keep taped in the back of my Bible, a copy of one page of John Wesley’s journal that records a particularly difficult stretch—and I read it during particularly difficult stretches.
A single page from the journal of John Wesley:
- Sunday a.m., May 5 – Preached in St. Anne’s; was asked not to come back anymore.
- Sunday p.m., May 5 – Preached at St. John’s; deacon’s said, “Get out and stay out.”
- Sunday a.m., May 12 – Preached at St. Jude’s; can’t go back there either.
- Sunday p.m., May 12 – Preached at St. George’s; kicked out again.
- Sunday a.m., May 19 – Preached at St. Somebody Else’s; deacons called a special meeting and said I couldn’t return.
- Sunday p.m., May 19 – Preached on the street; kicked off the street.
- Sunday a.m., May 26 – Preached out in a meadow; chased out of the meadow when a bull was turned loose during the service.
- Sunday a.m., June 2 – Preached out at the edge of town; kick off the highway
When we preach and live the message of Christ there is clear opposition. But…Jesus also marks for the disciples in every age a…
Clear Path to Faithfulness (and Fruitfulness) (1-7, 27)
And that clear path is not the next program, or emphasis, CEU opportunity, special Sunday or (excuse me bishop) episcopal initiative.
The clear path to faithfulness of mission in the face of opposition is simply this—an ongoing, intimate relationship with Jesus.
And this is true no matter what Scriptural image for the mission of God that we connect too. We cannot Go Light our World if we are not connected in an ongoing intimate relationship with the Light of the World. We cannot share living water if we have not drunk deeply ourselves. We cannot bear fruit if we are severed from the vine.
Jesus chooses the word abide in our text and by it he means intentional, ongoing, vibrant relationship. He goes on for 7 verses about His being the Vine and we being the branches and includes both a warning for being disconnected—fruitlessness and uselessness and being discarded and a promise for remaining in him—bearing much fruit.
But there is a verse, the very last verse, which ties both the mission and the path to faithfulness together perfectly (27)—“And you must also testify about me because you have been with me from the beginning of my ministry.” My favorite translation of this verse says it this way, “You must tell others about me as those who know me best.”
Tell others about me. And do it as one who knows me best.
The world is full of distractions—programs, emphases, causes. Our one call is this—tell others about Jesus. Our message must be singular and our living no less. I am not suggesting that we lay aside programs, emphases and causes—but the Gospel must drive us to the cause and not the cause drive us to the Gospel. We are called to tell others about HIM. That is clear.
And to do it as those who know him best—This is the difference between me telling you about MY wife and Bishop Goodpaster’s wife. I have known Debra my whole life—and yet I know her in a decidedly different way than I know my wife Wendy. I have no idea what Debra’s favorite color, or food, or hobby it (though I might guess it has something to do with grandchildren). But my wife loves pink, boiled peanuts and shopping—where else do you find that combination except in a Mississippi woman? I know her exceedingly better than I know Debra.
We are invited to tell others about Jesus as those who know him best and because of this call–we can not be a church distracted by what we want, wish, hope or prefer that Jesus do or say. We cannot be a church that tells others about him as those who knew him or heard of him or met him once.
Your church and my church and our church (UMC) must recapture the priority of an ongoing vibrant relationship with Jesus or there will be no fruit—because apart from him we can do nothing. And this must begin with out pastors and leaders because what we want to see in the world, we must first see in the church and what we want to see in the church we must first see in our leaders and what we want to see in our leaders we must first see in our pastors.
Jesus marks out a clear path to faithfulness—relationship with him out of which there is a…
Clear Result—Fruit. (8)
In the spring of 1998, I was finishing up a 1-year residential Doctor of Ministry program and I was in a class called Anthropology for Christian Missions. As a church-planter-to-be it was a very helpful class but one assignment was particularly interesting. We were assigned to do an ethnography—a study of a sociological system—in this instance a church. We had to study and write a report about things like, who did they say was in charge as opposed to was actually in charge and how did they say they made decision compared to how they actually made decisions. There was one caveat, you had to choose a church that was unlike any you had ever been a part of; so my study partner and I got out the yellow pages and looked through the churches and decided on The Greater Soul Deliverance Apostolic Tabernacle and Revival Center in downtown Lexington, Kentucky. We came to find out that it was named The Greater Soul Deliverance Apostolic Tabernacle and Revival Center because there was already a Soul Deliverance Apostolic Tabernacle and Revival Center—this one was clearly the greater one. GSDAT was a Multi-racial, Jesus only congregation led by Bishop Booker and First Lady Booker. There are lots of stories I could tell I want to tell you just one. My study partner and I showed up for prayer service on Wednesday night and we walked into the back of an old downtown sanctuary that seated about 400. We couldn’t see anybody, but we could hear everybody because they were all on their knees, elbows on the pew seats praying out loud at the same time. You know the Korean way of praying outlined in the back of our hymnal where we all pray out loud together at the same time and we do it in respectful, considerate voices? Well it was nothing like that! They were all praying loudly, at the top of their lungs at the same time. So this was about the time that I knew I was headed back to Tupelo to plant a new church and I had been working for the better part of a year on a vision or goal and so I found my way down the aisle and knelt down like the others on one of the first pews and said to God, “I have a vision for you God, I have an offer. What if in the first 5 years of this new church we had 500 people who have come to faith in Christ or back to the church after being far away from you.” I thought that is a pretty big deal! That is a pretty awesome offer. Not literally, but you imagine me sitting down across the desk from God and sliding my offer sheet across the desk to him, sitting back, folding my arms and saying, “How do you like that?” And as audibly as I have ever heard the voice of God, he said to me, “Is that all?” Is that all it is going to be about Bryan? What you can do? How many you can count? What you can manufacture? OR, OR, OR could I do something so amazing that when people see it they say, “That has got to be God because it isn’t that guy”? And I repented and said, God I will never talk to you about numbers again, I want to be in an ongoing conversation about what it means to be faithful.
This is what Jesus means in 15:8 when he says, “By this my Father receives great glory; that you bear much fruit.
This is The Orchard’s story—I could have never imagined what God had planned AND God wants to do something so amazing in your place and my place and our church that when people see it they say, “that must be God.”
And lest you think I am simply talking about numbers of people here I would remind you that fruit is people introduced to Jesus, people growing up to be like Jesus, and people going out into the world to act like Jesus—so they can introduce people to Jesus.
This is what fruit looks like and it is the promised result when our church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, on mission, in the face of opposition, from an ongoing vibrant relationship with Jesus tell others about him as those who know him best!
We live in a World full of distractions…but in this age of distraction we must return to the clear call of Jesus. We did not choose him, he chose us to go and bear fruit! Hear the words of John Wesley in one of his 12 rules for preachers: “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work.
We live in a world of opposition to the message of Christ; in the power of the Holy Spirit we must faithfully persevere–Permit me to finish what I started earlier…one more day from Wesley’s journal—it started as all the others started and ended…
- Sunday a.m., June 2 – Preached out at the edge of town; kick off the highway
- Sunday p.m. June 2 – Afternoon service, preached in a pasture; 10,000 people came.
In this age of distraction, answering a clear call, in the face of clear opposition, by walking a clearly marked path to faithfulness—so that we may tell the 10,000 people who show up about Jesus as those who know him best.
When we do that, we will once again be a faithful, vibrant, Kingdom instrument in the hand of God. Not before. Not until. Amen.