As Davion Navar Henry Only walked to the pulpit for the first time in his life, his palms were sweating, his face was clammy, he was understandably nervous. His borrowed black shoes, white shirt, and black pants were unusual attire for the 15 year old as he turned and faced the crowd at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, FL. Davion had a sermon unlike any heard before from the church pulpit: As a lifelong orphan he declared boldly, “”I’ll take anyone, old or young, dad or mom, black, white, purple. I don’t care. And I would be really appreciative. The best I could be. If you can, reach out and get me and love me until I die,” Davion told ABC News. “I’m praying and still hoping,” he said. “I know God hasn’t given up and I’m not either.” Davion had been born while his mother was in jail; battling drugs she died before ever getting a chance to really parent him. He had gone to the church of all places, not a community center, or filled sports arena, but to a church asking to be welcomed into a forever family. He longed for something he never truly had experienced before inside orphanages and temporary foster care homes: to be welcomed home. He wanted more than to just be a number!
We’ve been in a series called the Great Exchange looking at the very purpose of our life as plugging into God’s eternal plan- for his glory and our good! When we focus our stuff, inward and outward on him, we are changed–our character–revealing our heart, calling–our place and our interactions-through compassion, tied together through our commitment, and today we find all that work isn’t in vain Yet For as much as we claim to want to be an individual, what starts to happen when we are isolated or alone is we start to wither. There used to be a movement called the “non-conformists,” a group of kids who wanted to buck the trends, but even then ironically they sold the t-shirts at stores, or maybe of Romans 12: “Do not be conformed to the pattern of the world.” Four chapters earlier in Romans 8, Paul tells us that instead of being pressed into the model of the world, that God has chosen us to be “conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sister” In other words, just like Davion wanted a family, God wants to welcome us into a forever family-as sons and daughters that look more and more like him. Today, we are going to look at a text from John 15:5-11, where we see how we are welcomed into the family and the harvest that follows.
Jesus starts laying out a metaphor of a gardener…showing that true Christ-centered belonging comes first through CONNECTION. (John 15:1-4) “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…Does rush over verse 1—Jesus gives us the final “I AM” statement about himself. The vineyard imagery wasn’t by mistake, in fact it carried with it a huge amount of significance. It commonly applied to Israel as the vine of God’s garden when they were faithful (fruitfulness), at Passover it symbolized God’s goodness, and now Jesus places himself into the role of God’s true growth combining it by applying the great eternal name of God, I AM, to himself. Jesus is God’s fruitfulness, goodness, and presence.
Jesus couldn’t be anymore clear. Being welcomed home comes through joining to Christ! (4) Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. The promise is profound, that God is working in our lives making us fruitful as we are an extension of Christ rather than extinguishing the power of Christ. Jesus isn’t just another prophet, another good teacher, another guy…The world has tried and failed with that before. Like the cult in San Diego that loved Star Trek and started to believe they could catch a comet if only they would take the poison. The world has tried charisma alone–and it crumbles under real world problems. The world has tried pleasure alone and it comes with a pit of problems rather than being paradise. Our gardener–God–is working with the vine—we find the ability to change isn’t just will-power or hard-work, but by being connected to the one that has worked through creation, throughout history, and offers to work within us.
In 2015, I took a group on a Mission Trip to West Virginia for a week long experience. 6 guys piled into a van and off we went through winding roads until finally we came to the small mining town of Gary,WV. We had brought along paint brushes, saws, tool boxes, and all sorts of things as we focused primarily on working on an elderly woman’s house. Yet, the first night was all about getting to know the other teams that had come. One huge team had come from North Carolina, another from Pittsburg, and we had come from IL. We went around the circle sharing briefly our names and stories and when we had finished the leader stood up to speak. He was blunt—“You guys don’t know each other—that is okay” He explained that he used to be a missionary in Africa—when he had first gotten there, he was assigned to work with a local farmer. The farmer planted fruit trees in a unique way…He wanted orange trees, even though apple trees grew better, so the young missionary watched as the farmer would dig down to the roots of the trees and literally connect the apple roots to the orange trees—so that the strengths of apple root system would build up the valuable orange harvest.
Then he looked at our three groups, from 3 different places, all across the United States, and he said you are going to see a valuable harvest this week, by trying to be good people or try to do good things, but by allowing yourself to be grafted onto the strongest of all root systems—Jesus Christ. In Galatians 3:29- Paul wrote, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise…” We get to enjoy the fulfillment of all God’s promises as they are fulfilled in Christ. We become more and more like the one we are connected to, the root of redemption.