Sermons

I Am the Vine

John 15:1-17

John 15 is a very deep passage of scripture. An entire sermon series could be preached on this passage, answering questions that I am not going to touch on today, including:

  • If we are bearing fruit, why do we have to be pruned? Sounds painful to me.
  • What does it mean to be pruned?
  • How does the pruning process help us bear more fruit?
  • Who are the useless branches that are cut out?
  • What does it mean to be thrown in the fire and burned?
  • What is the nature of the fruit?
  • How is the promise of answered prayer related to the rest of this passage?

My goal today must be to stick to the big picture of this passage. To do so, I need to begin by informing you that the Old Testament often pictures the nation of Israel as the vine in the vineyard of God. For example:

  • Isaiah 5 speaks of ‘the vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel’ (Isa 5:1-7).
  • Jeremiah proclaims on behalf of God: “I planted you a choice vine” (Jer 2:21)
  • Ezekiel (Eze 15:1-8) and Hosea (Hos 10:1) both use the same imagery.
  • Psalm 80:8 testifies: ‘You brought us from Egypt like a grapevine; you drove away the pagan nations and transplanted us into your land.”

As time went on, the Jewish people adopted the vine as a symbol of their nation. We in the US have the bald eagle . . . the Jews had the vine. They even put a vine on some of their 1st century coinage.

But the most interesting place they displayed the vine has much to do with today’s ‘I am’ saying. It was at the Holy Temple located in the heart of Jerusalem. + Read More

I Am the Good Shepherd

John 10:11-30

A shepherd was looking after his sheep one day on the side of a deserted road, when suddenly a brand new Porsche screeches to a halt. The driver, a man dressed in an Armani suit, Ray-Ban sunglasses, Rolex wrist-watch, and a Pierre Cardin tie, gets out and asks the shepherd: “If I can tell you how many sheep you have, will you give me one of them?”
The shepherd looks at the young man, and then looks at the large flock of grazing sheep and replies: “Okay.”
The young man parks the car, connects his laptop to his mobile, scans the ground using his GPS, opens a database with 60 Excel tables filled with logarithms and pivot tables, and finally prints out a 150-page report on his high-tech mini-printer. He turns to the shepherd and says, “You have exactly 1,586 sheep here.”
Rather surprised the shepherd replies, “That’s correct, you can have your sheep.”
The young man takes an animal and puts it in the back of his Porsche.
Just as the man is about to drive off, the shepherd asks him: “If I guess your profession, will you return my animal to me?”
The young man always up for gamesmanship answers, “Sure, why not?”
The shepherd says, “You are an IT consultant.”
“How did you know?” asks the young man.
“Very simple,” answers the shepherd. “Firstly, you came here without being called, secondly, you charged me a fee to tell me something I already knew, and thirdly, you don’t understand anything about my business. Now please can I have my dog back?”

One of the most loved sayings of Jesus is “I am the good shepherd.” In the Old Testament, God is often pictured as the shepherd and the people as his flock. Six Psalms display this imagery; epitomized by everyone’s favorite, the 23rd: “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want” (23:1). In the Old Testament, God’s Messiah is also pictured as the shepherd of the sheep: “He will feed His flock like a shepherd: He will gather the lambs in His arms, and will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11).

This picture passes over into the New Testament. Both Matthew (9:36) and Mark (6:34) inform us that Jesus had compassion for the people because they are as sheep without a shepherd. According to both Matthew and Luke, Jesus is the shepherd who will risk his life to seek and to save the one straying sheep (Matthew 18:12; Luke 15:4). Luke tells us Jesus referred to His disciples as His ‘little flock’ (Luke 12:32). And according to Peter’s first letter, Jesus is the shepherd of the souls of men (2:25).

Jesus is the ‘good shepherd.’ + Read More

I Am the Door of the Sheep

John 10:1-10

There are 2 “I am” sayings embedded in John 10. Today we’ll tackle “I am the door of the sheep;” and next Sunday we’ll address, “I am the good shepherd.”

But before we read it, it would be helpful to know that in the first century, there were two kinds of sheepfolds. One was the ‘communal sheepfold’ located in the villages and towns. During the winter, shepherds wouldn’t take the sheep very far from the villages and each night they would bring their sheep back into the village and they would enter these communal sheepfolds. It was a place with a strong door, and that door had a doorkeeper. Only the doorkeeper had a key to the door, no one could enter the sheepfold except a shepherd known by the doorkeeper. That’s the kind of fold Jesus was talking about in the first part of the text. 1

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice” (John 10:1-5).

Now, during the warm season, the shepherds would take the sheep out to range for weeks at a time, and at night they would enclose the sheep in folds that were simply walls about 4 feet high that enclosed a space with an open entrance. There was no door to that entrance. Once all the sheep were in the fold, the shepherd himself would lay down across the opening and thus was the door. And for the sheep to enter or depart from the sheepfold, they had to pass over the shepherd’s body. It was that kind of sheepfold Jesus is talking about in this next section where he refers to Himself as the door. 2

“Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: ‘I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life’” (John 10:6-10). + Read More

I Am the Light of the World

John 8:12, 31-59; 9:1-7

In Mark Twain’s story, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom and Becky Thatcher join some classmates for a game of hide and seek in a cave. But when Tom and Becky wander off the marked path, they get lost. They stumble around in that dark dungeon for several days and slowly lose hope as their flickering candle finally goes out, leaving them in the darkness. They can’t see a thing; not even their hands held close to their faces. Tom begins to crawl about, but Becky is afraid she might fall in a hole. Finally Tom catches a glimpse of daylight through a crevice, makes his way back to get Becky, takes her by the hand and leads her out of the darkness of the cave and into the bright light of the day. Hurray!

Reminds us of that famous proclamation of the prophet from Jerusalem Isaiah, “The people who wander in darkness will see,” what, not just a glimmer of light but a “great light” (9:2 NLT). If even the smallest glimmer of light can be a marvelous source of hope, guidance and direction as it was for Tom and Becky, just imagine what a bright light can do for anyone wandering in darkness, especially spiritual darkness.

750 years after Isaiah, along comes the prophet from Nazareth to boldly proclaim: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me will not walk in the darkness but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Let’s consider the context of this great ‘I am’ saying. + Read More

Hungry Hearts

John 6:22-59
Ephesians 2:4-9

Every time I read John 6, which features Jesus first offering bread to satisfy hunger and then offering the bread of life to satisfy spiritual hunger, I think of Bruce Springsteen’s song, Hungry Heart:

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back
Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing
I took a wrong turn and I just kept going
Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Lay down your money and you play your part
Everybody’s got a hungry heart

Both Springsteen and Jesus acknowledge a fundamental truth about human beings: that we possess a deep desire to seek and find that something in life that will truly satisfy.

In His ‘bread of life’ sermon, Jesus not only acknowledges this need to discover satisfaction but also attempts to derail two of the most common philosophies that falsely promise to deliver. + Read More

The Upward Look

Psalm 121
Hebrews 12:1-3

A Kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they drew. She would occasionally walk around to see each child’s artwork. As she got to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was.
The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.”
The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.”
Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing, the girl replied, “They will in a minute.”1

The little girl had her eyes set on God.

The same could be said of the writer of the 121st Psalm: “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord.” We don’t know the historical context for the writing of this Psalm, but it’s not hard to imagine that for whatever reason he was downcast. His opening line “I will lift up my eyes” implies that he had been focusing in the opposite direction. And perhaps someone has reminded him as he reminds us that when we are feeling down we need to lift up the eyes of our souls and fix our gaze on heavenly things and therein rediscover hope.

That’s good counsel for those of us who either live in or worship in Chippewa Lake, for a sadness fell over the community last Tuesday afternoon when we learned that Mr. Bryon Macron, who many had been praying for was gone. Many are downcast. We are sad for him, sad for his widow and three daughters. Sad for his colleagues, the firefighters who were so close to him in life, and who were closely involved in the recovery of his body. + Read More

Sowing and Reaping

Psalm 126
Mark 4:21-34

There was a church hymn that was written in 1874 and was still popular in the 1980’s when I first began attending church. The song was written by Knowles Shaw who was inspired by the last couple of verses in Psalm 126 (5-6).

Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy.
They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest.

Can anyone guess the song title?

“Bringing in the Sheaves.”

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

In his The Treasury of David Commentary, the 19th-century English preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon writes:

He that goes forth and weeps, bearing precious seed shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. He leaves his couch to go forth into the frosty air and tread the heavy soil; and as he goes he weeps because of past failures, or because the ground is so sterile, or the weather so unseasonable, or his corn so scarce, or his enemies so plentiful and so eager to rob him of his reward. He drops a seed and a tear, a seed and a tear, and so goes on his way. In his basket he has seed which is precious to him, for he has little of it, and it is his hope for the next year. Each grain leaves his hand with anxious prayer that it may not be lost: he thinks little of himself, but much of his seed, and he eagerly asks, “Will it prosper? Will I receive a reward for my labor?” Yes, good husbandman, doubtless you will gather sheaves from your sowing. 1

+ Read More

Let There Be Light

Matthew 5:13-16
II Corinthians 4:1-6

The prophet Isaiah uses light as a metaphor in describing Israel’s mission to the world.

Isaiah 42:6 says, “I the LORD have called unto you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and submitted you as the people’s covenant, as a light unto the nations.”

Isaiah 49:6 has it, “I have made you a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.”

And in 60:3, Isaiah says, “And unto your light, nations shall walk, and kings unto the brightness of your rising.”

In other words, God wanted Israel to be a light; that is to be a witness so that other nations would also come to know and worship Him. They were to be a witnessing people in two ways. First, by their lifestyle and then by their proclamation; deeds and words. It was not just a matter of speaking; it was also a matter of right living. They were to live a lifestyle so dramatically different that it was a testimony to God. And then they were to verbalize the things that God revealed to them. Words and deeds, deeds and words; the two go hand in hand. And the tragedy is, they failed! That’s all that can be said, they just plain failed.

It’s no wonder then, that before He ascended into heaven, Jesus told His disciples that they were going to be His witnesses. In those words, the torch was being passed from the Jewish people to the Church comprised of all those who have embraced Jesus as the Son of God who came to give His life for the forgiveness of sins. We are His witnessing people. Individually and collectively, we are given the privilege of shining light in the darkness, of sharing God’s grace with the community. Be it our church sharing God’s grace with the community of Chippewa Lake or you as an individual sharing God’s grace with your community of folks; that is those in the sphere of your influence. + Read More

A Healthy Body

Ephesians 4:1-16
Speaking of church, Johnny’s mother looked out the window and noticed him “playing church” with their cat. The cat was sitting quietly and he was preaching to it. She smiled and went about her work. A while later she heard loud meowing and hissing and ran back to the window to see Johnny baptizing the cat in a tub of water.
She called out, “Johnny, stop that! The cat’s afraid of water!”
Johnny looked up at her and said, “He should have thought about that before he joined my church.”

In the second week of January, I went to see my physician for a physical. As usual, Dr. Jackson ordered a complete blood workup, which indicated that I have a little inflammation somewhere in my body. So she wrote me a prescription for an antibiotic that will eliminate the inflammation and restore my body to health.

In today’s text, Paul is giving us a prescription aimed at maintaining a healthy body, as he states in the last sentence: “so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (16).

The big picture of this passage is that for the body of Christ to be healthy there must be UNITY.

“Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all” (Ephesians 4:3-6).

Now to be sure, theological unity already exists in the Spirit of Christ that binds us all together in love. That unity is an amazing gift of God to His Church. According to Paul it is our responsibility ‘to guard, to maintain and/or to preserve the unity’ that exists in the Spirit.

Unity has nothing to do with looking alike or wearing a uniform or thinking alike for as you know, we are, all of us, remarkably different. + Read More

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