John 15:1-11 “Spirit Flowing Through Us”
Last week in our series about the Holy Spirit, we focused on the idea that we are all “alive in the Spirit.” That was in fact the message title from last week. This week in our scripture, we have read that not only are we alive in the Spirit, but the Spirit is alive in us. Praise God! I love the idea that there is a Spirit of God living in me!
I remember as a child watching black and white cartoons on the old Zenith vacuum tube television. Bugs Bunny was one of my favorites. You all may recall Elmer Fudd going out with his musket to shoot poor Bugs Bunny. Yet, in true cartoon fashion if Bugs Bunny were shot by Elmer Fudd, we would see a lighter, somewhat gray version, of the rabbit coming out of the body and rising up into the sky. Inevitably Bugs’ spirit would find a reason to jump back into his body, and the cartoon would continue from there.
This fine tradition continues today in the Sponge Bob cartoon series. On Saturday morning now we always make pancakes and then watch Sponge Bob cartoons—just for the theological content of course! It is now a family tradition.
These cartoon representations of the spirit within us, and so many other movies and shows, tend to show each person with an individual spirit. I think our individualistic society causes us to think always in terms of just our own spirit. Yet, as we have read from the scripture today, that is not how Jesus talks at all. Jesus does not talk about the individual spirit that each one of us has. Jesus speaks about THE SPIRIT of God that flows through each of us. That is a huge difference.
In the first case, we have a spirit but not necessarily a connection to one another or to God’s presence found in our daily living. The case that Jesus tells of is that we are in constant connection with God and with one another. So, the question is: “Do you feel that spiritual connection in your life?”
The way that Jesus puts it is this: We are all part of a spiritual vine. This vine is nurtured through the vinedresser, who is God. The life giving sustenance that is flowing to all parts of the vine is the Holy Spirit of God. It is a beautiful metaphor to be sure. How does that work?
Last year at this time, Nelli our hanai daughter from Russia was with us here, and one day she and her friend Grace Cowell were out in Lihue. I was there as well, doing the Bible Study at Pua Kea. I got the call that they needed a ride back to the Westside from the Mall. I went and picked them up in the church van with the magnetic signs on the side.
As we were driving back to Waimea, passing the entrance to Kilohana, I saw another young lady with a backpack on the side of the road. She was not hitchhiking, but she looked confused. I told the other two girls that I was going to pull over and ask her if she needed help.
“Oh, thank you for stopping for me!” she said. “I need to get to Kalaheo where I have a bed for the night with AirBNB, but I do not know how to get there from here.” I offered her a ride, and showed her that I already had two other girls in the van, so that was not just trying to “pick her up” as it were. “It is okay to go with you,” she said, “You are a pastor. The Spirit just sent you over to help me.” As the girl opened up the door on the side of the van to put her backpack in, both of the other two girls questioned me what she had meant.
She came into the front seat of the van and started talking. By her accent, one could tell right away that she was from Down Under--Australia, not hell. She immediately started talking about her church family there that were praying for her while she was on Kauai and how those prayers had helped her again and again through connections of the Spirit with others on Kauai. She just knew that if she stood out right there at the entrance to Kilohana that she would be taken to where she needed to be.
Not all of us have that kind of sense of the Holy Spirit connecting us. But, I do believe that we are all connected through the Spirit of God and that we can gage this in one particular way: that is when you run into someone who is not connected. It is as if you go to take a shower and are expecting warm water to come out, but only cold water comes out, or maybe even no water at all!
Have you ever run into or had a conversation with someone who has seemingly no connection at all to God? There seems to be not even a hint of a shallow spiritual river flowing to the other person.
When we look at the entire ministry of Jesus Christ, we see that he has an incredible spiritual connection to almost everyone. I say “almost.” Right after he is baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, we read that the Holy Spirit takes him to the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Yes, it is the spirit that does this. Check it out in Luke 4: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” Jesus, full of the Spirit, does not have a spiritual connection with the devil.
At the end of the gospels, we read that this same spiritual connection seems to be missing with the chief priests and the Sadducees, those who sentence Jesus to death on the Cross. But then, on the cross itself, we see Jesus spiritually connecting to the two others who are being crucified along side of him. (Luke 23:39-43) One of those two is promised eternal life in heaven with Jesus for his faith.
Two weeks ago, I will be very honest with you, I found myself in conversation with someone who had simply no spirit running through her veins. I could tell right away even before she said anything. I FELT as if she were so incredibly alone. She was so filled with self-pity and spite that bubbled up in angry tones while speaking.
What Jesus said in the scripture today seemed to apply so well. She was on the vine. She was part of God’s creation—obviously, but it was as if that branch had no life flowing to it or through it. I found no way to spiritually connect to her. I wanted to let the Spirit of God flow to her, but there was no soft cambium layer left. As the vine dies, it only becomes like hard wood. I could not get through to her. The Spirit was blocked.
At that moment, I really appreciated the Spirit that flows through me. I could not imagine what life would be like without that Spirit flowing in my life to other people and back to me.
I used to help my family grow grapes for wine. We bottled about five hundred bottles a year of our own vintage. I remember pruning those vines with my father and brother. It is absolutely true that if you want good grapes, you have to trim that vine way back and let it grow new again. And, more importantly, one must take off the dead wood that only stunts the vine. It really hurts the potential growth of the vine. For those of you who are tree trimmers, you can confirm for me that a dead branch can bring down a whole tree! You have to cut it off.
I want to contrast this with something that happens sometimes with others, too. Sometimes we run into people who seem able to suck the Spirit right out of us. I think you all know what I am talking about. There may be just a lot of need in their life. But, that person is not the same as the one who is spiritually dead with no Spirit. For those who are drawing on the Spirit within you, please remember that it is not YOUR Spirit but rather the Spirit of God flowing through you. Because it is from God, an infinite amount of Spirit can flow through you to one who is needy of the spirit and by this one may bear great fruit for God. This is completely different from the dead branch, and we should not confuse the two. The dead branch will not receive the Spirit and will never bear fruit.
Throughout the gospels, we have stories and parables of Jesus telling us exactly this. Jesus tells us the Parable of Seed falling on barren ground. Jesus tells his disciples to brush the dust off their feet at the homes who reject the good news. Even in the Hebrew Scriptures we can read in Isaiah 5 about how God destroys His own vineyard because of the bad fruit of the vine.
Honestly, it is very hard for me to imagine that people would not want the Spirit in their lives, that they would not want to be on that spiritual connection with God and others. Yet, Jesus tells us again and again that there are those dead branches. We have to accept that.
According to our scripture for today, when we accept the Spirit abiding in us, that then it bears fruit, and that this is what glorifies God. This is the challenge for today: that we make sure that everything we do and say will in the end bear fruit for God. Everything we do or say must in the end bring glory to God. The Spirit that flows through us is for that purpose.
You can do this even while you are driving on the road. This last Tuesday I was coming back from Lihue. Right where the road squeezes from two lanes to one, I saw that the man behind was not going to let in the small Toyota SUV. The man behind me in his big pick-up truck inched closer and closer to my bumper—rather unsafely in fact. The lady in the SUV behind was exasperated and blew her horn as she had run out of road to drive on. For the Holy Spirit running through me and to the glory of God I simply stopped the van. Helen in the passenger seat waved her to come forward. The lady cried out a huge “thank-you” from her open window. And, just like traffic flows, so flowed the Spirit in that moment again. God was glorified! The dead branch behind me was cut off by me!