“We intentionally grow together in the likeness of Christ”
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
May 7, 2017
John 15:1-11 I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. 9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
Today, we have our second sermon in our series on the vision for Christ Church, that is, God’s desired future for us! Your Church Council prayed, discerned, and adopted a grand vision: Our mission, why we exist, “to make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” which leads and aims us toward our vision. We are a church that embraces people, the community, and the world with the boundless love of God.
In order to live into that vision all of our actions, ministries, and efforts need to be held against our core values. Our sermons are on these core values since they are really our God-given action points. Last week, we considered that in all we say, do, plan, and evaluate, we are to “love God, humanity, and all creation as an inviting, caring community.” Next week, we look at how we are to serve. This week, we consider how in all we say, do, plan, and evaluate, that we are to “grow intentionally together in the likeness of Christ.”
And what a wonderful scriptural basis we have today for growing intentionally together in the likeness of Christ! In our passage Jesus teaches us that of all the “vines” of life we may choose to grow from, He is the true vine. He teaches us that God the Father is the One who grows the vine. More, Jesus speaks hard truth to us in reminding us that we are to bear fruit or be pruned or even discarded. But, he gives us the way to fruit bearing, having prayers answered, and experiencing his love and joy, all through “abiding in Him and keeping His commandments.” This is how we grow intentionally together in the likeness of Christ!
At it’s foundation, “intentionally growing together in the likeness of Christ” means remembering who we are and practicing John Wesley’s means of Grace. Wesley taught that God’s grace is unearned. He also taught that we were not to be idle sitting on our pew pads, waiting to experience grace, but that we are to engage in the means of grace. The means of grace are ways God works invisibly through disciples, hastening, strengthening, and confirming faith so that God's grace pervades in and through disciples. As we look at the means of grace today, they can be divided into works of piety and the works of mercy.
Works of Piety which work on us inwardly, are:
Individual Practices: Reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
Congregational and Practices: Regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another) small groups, and Bible study.
Works of Mercy which transform the world in action are:
Individual Practices: Doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others.
Congregational Practices: Seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor
As we engage in the means of grace, that is, intentional practice of Wesleyan spiritual disciplines, we grow together, becoming like Jesus.
Then, intentional growth together in the likeness of Christ, through the means of grace, brings us closer together. Again, in our heritage this is called, social holiness. Social holiness can’t help but build Christian unity and community! Think about it: if everyone in the sanctuary moved to the altar, physically, right now, we’d get very close together, wouldn’t we? Get this, in classic church architectural thought, the altar represents Jesus! So, the same happens when we all move together toward Jesus, spiritually. Church fellowship isn’t just planned, canned, get to know each other events (though they’re important) the best church unity and community happens spiritually as we get closer to Jesus. This is the deepest and best meaning of church fellowship! Think of the word: Fellow – people. Ship – a vessel. Fellowship speaks of people traveling together on the same ship to the same destination. We have many loving groups, learning groups and doing groups that are the “ships” for the journey together, but they want help unless you get on board!
Finally, “intentionally growing together in the likeness of Christ” has an ultimate purpose: becoming like Jesus the Vine. Again, this is remembering that we Methodists are the people of sanctifying grace. In doing so we’ll be a part of the vine: abiding in Jesus, following the Father’s commands, experiencing his love, bearing fruit and being people of joy, no matter what our circumstances are.
I’m was just spiritually wired to be Methodist! Some traditions say some are saved or not, and there’s nothing a person can do to change that. Other traditions focus on a two-phase life: a person has a bad phase, then bam, they get saved and have their good phase. But in our tradition, we sense grace at work in all our lives: we sense grace is at work before we even claim Jesus. We sense grace is at work in our watershed moments spiritually, when we name the name of Jesus as Lord and savior like these comfirmands have affirmed personally to you pastors and will do so publicly. And then get this, we believe that grace continues to work on us, shape us and make us more like Jesus. He is the potter, and we are the clay, shaped through sanctifying grace.
You see, salvation is not a static, one-time event in our lives. It is the ongoing experience of God’s gracious presence transforming us into whom God intends us to be. This is what John Wesley as sanctification, or holiness.
Through God’s sanctifying grace, we grow and mature in our ability to live as Jesus lived. As we pray, study the Scriptures, fast, worship, and share in fellowship with other Christians, we deepen our knowledge of and love for God. As we respond with compassion to human need and work for fairness in our communities, we strengthen our capacity to love neighbor. Our inner thoughts and motives, as well as our outer actions and behavior, are aligned with God’s will and testify to our union with God.
This is what it means to abide in Jesus, to grow together like him.
- How are you currently growing as a Christian? What do you need to seek out or incorporate into your life in order to continue that growth?
- How have you experienced growth as a Christian with a small group or similar community of people?
- What does it mean to grow in the likeness of Christ?