May 21 :: Fr. Bob Davis :: On Christian Identity

Good morning! It is so good to be here with you…and our scripture lessons contain some powerful and

challenging themes! Themes like: who God truly is; what a Christ centered life looks like; and how that

life actually comes to be possible. Themes that could be preached for quite a few Sundays without

mining all of the goodness within them! Amen?

I love the way that Paul deals with the folks in Acts chapter 17. We read that he encountered a

community of people who were very religious… very spiritually minded… but they apparently struggled

to identify who God truly is and have perhaps settled into a sort of contentment with their position.

Have you ever met someone like that? I bet most, if not all of us have! In the military we are all issued

service identification tags…more commonly called “dog tags”. They have been around for some

time…really back to the Civil War… but it wasn’t until WWII that they began to look like they are today.

A Soldiers name, social, blood type and religious preference are indicated. In WW2 days there were only

3 categories a fella could choose from… Prot, Cath, or Jewish. That really limited some folks from

declaring who they truly were, so over the years “no religious pref” and “none” were added. Just this

past week the DoD released a list of 221 recognized religions. A Soldier can put quite a few things on

his/her dog tags today!

I see all sorts of stuff! I’m serious… I have seen Jedi… druid…atheist…agnostic…spaghetti monster …

(that’s a whole discussion by itself) all in an attempt to really communicate who they are. You know

what really bothers me though? What burdens my heart…is when I see a young Trooper that lists none…

or no preference.

At least the guy who claims spaghetti monster claims to know who he is and what he stands for! No

preference… none…

In some ways our Acts text seems really familiar to me. It sure seems a lot like our culture… there is a

great interest in spirituality, but a real struggle or unwillingness to narrowly define who God is… and of

course all of the things that would follow in such a conversation.

The folks Paul is talking to are Stoics and Epicureans… in many ways they are agnostics… oh, we believe

in a God, but he is distant and we really don’t know what to make of him. We know there is something

out there… but what exactly…who can be sure???

So if a community or culture worships an unknown God, then any sort of worship will do, right? I mean

you do your thing… I do my thing… what is truth for you might not be truth for me…

Yet with all of this latitude and “freedom” there is still brokenness. In other words… it isn’t working. I

meet with men and women every week who are wounded and broken because of all of the choices they

have freely made… because after all… when you worship and unknown God and kind of worship will

do….right? "When a person's actions are different from his or her stated values, the person lives with

inner conflict."

All of our texts today point to some phenomenal truths! First and foremost is the good news that God is

not unknown and so if the identity and character of God are known…then not just any old kind of

worship will do… are you following me? The psalmist declares that everyone and everything ought to

praise the Lord! All things are under his power, rule, and dominion!

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Our epistle gives a vivid and practical picture of what is expected of those who worship the living God. It

isn’t anything you haven’t heard before: have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart,

and a humble mind…all good stuff!

But it is really in our Gospel text that we find out how any of that kind of living is possible. It is here that

perhaps we start to get into the weeds… you know the hard stuff.

Jesus says I am the TRUE VINE…and my father is the vinedresser. This isn’t the first time the Bible talks

about a vine. The folks Jesus is speaking to know exactly what he is referring to… Israel had been called a

vine…Psalm 80: “You brought a vine out of Egypt, you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared

ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.”

But that vine was unruly…Israel did its own thing…and the vine was ravaged, it was plucked bare, it was

burnt and cut down…

So Jesus identifies himself as the true vine… he is the true Israel… the One on whom all of God’s

purposes now rest…and so it is all who follow him that are now truly God’s people. With that idea in

mind Jesus continues with the idea of abiding in him and how the father will prune the branches for his

purposes.

I doubt many of us have much experience with a grape vine…maybe somebody here does… but I don’t.

However, I do have some experience with gardening. I currently have a small garden with tomatoes and

peppers. One of the things I have learned over the years is the necessity of pruning my tomato plants.

There is a main stem…and there are branches. Anything that tries to grow from the joint of those two

areas is called a “sucker”. It is my job to go in a pinch the sucker branch off and throw it away. Why

would I do that? Why would I break off what seems to be a good part of the plant? The sucker will never

produce fruit. It looks healthy and it looks good, but it never flowers, it only uses up the resources of the

plant. The gardener has to prune the plant if it is going to reach its full potential and be healthy! In fact,

without this process the plant will not only produce a poorer quality, it will also have a shortened season

with far fewer tomatoes!

What is the point of the plant in the first place?? To bear much fruit! Right?

Jesus illustrates our spiritual lives with this simple picture…he tells the disciples they are already clean,

yet if they are going to bear fruit they have got to abide in him so that the Father might do the pruning.

You know what burdens my heart about this? People interpret this passage in so many different ways

because they are unsure as to what this might really look like. What does it mean to abide? What fruit

are we talking about? What is enough fruit? How much pruning do I really need? Why don’t you prune

old Jim over there a little more Lord… leave me alone for a bit! For goodness sakes I wish the Lord would

prune my spouse a little more…

You see that’s the problem with young folks these days… not enough pruning going on… there are too

busy worrying about foolish things!

You know if I am truthful, what really makes me uncomfortable is facing the truth that I really struggle

with abiding in Jesus. I get so caught up in my schedule, my plans, my abilities, my work, my needs, my

frustrations… I am so independent at times and work hard and strive to make life happen on my terms…

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that I forget that I need the father’s insights and skillful hands to shape my heart, my mind, and my soul

in ways that bear fruit for the Kingdom. And it isn’t just any old fruit…

Jesus goes on in John 15 to discuss exactly what he is talking about. “As the Father has loved me, so I

have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love… v12… this is

my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

The tense of the Greek verb for love used here means that we are to “habitually love”… it is a

continuous and progressive love…

Jesus is saying that as you abide in me and I in you this one thing is going to so identify you as a part of

me… a branch that is truly connected to the vine… connected in such a way that the essence of who I am

will flow into you and through you… and touch and change the world in a way that isn’t possible

otherwise…

Today is rogation Sunday… a day in which the church has historically asked God’s blessings upon the

fields and soil in order to produce a great harvest.

So in our current culture we may not be connected to the soil as our ancestors were…but we certainly

can’t avoid the parallels in our text today that do apply. A time to ask the father to renew us and remind

us of our dependence upon him… our deep need to abide in Christ and to be pruned for his purposes

and grow more and more into the likeness of Christ.

I want to close with this thought… if you had a set of dog tags, what would they say? Would they say

Anglican? Might they simply say Protestant…or Christian?

And secondly… would the fruit of your life validate that description? So many people declare their

identity in Christ, but there is no resulting fruit…specifically an overwhelming sense of Christ’s love in

their lives. Not because they are wicked people… just busy.

The good news today is that abiding in Christ places the emphasis on what God is doing in and through

you… not what you need to fix or get after. Paul and Jesus set some pretty clear expectations on how

this occurs… and some pretty blatant warnings of what happens when we do not stay connected to the

vine.

It is my prayer this week that you might take time each day to stop and simply pray… “Jesus, would you

live your life through me today. Father would you draw near and shape my heart in a way that is good

for me and brings glory to you. Holy Spirit, would you use me as a vessel to pour out your love upon

those who cross my path this day.”