Not-So-Secrets of New Life: Committed
Today is the last Sunday in our series the Not-So-Secrets of New Life. Since Easter morning, we’ve been talking about the promise of resurrection, the promise of new life, and how we can claim that new life, how we can start living as people who are resurrected, new creations. Resurrection, doubt, simplicity, generosity, love, and today: commitment. Commitment is a funny, loaded word that we use in multiple ways. We get asked to make a lot of commitments in life. When a bank makes you a loan, like when you’re buying a home and taking out a mortgage, there’s a commitment letter between you and the bank: the bank commits to lending you money, and you commit to providing them documentation about every single thing in your life, as far as I can tell! You might notice that a lot of advertising today will focus on the fact that you can get their product commitment-free, which certainly implies that a commitment is a bad thing, doesn’t it? Try this for 30 days, commitment free. While many cell phone and cable companies want to lock you into contracts and commitments, some companies also offer contract-free commitments, where you make no commitment to stick with that company for more than a month at a time. Of course, without the commitment, you also miss out on some of the benefits a particular company offers. We also use the word committed when someone is placed against their will in a rehabilitation program of some kind. Commitment here has the sense of boundaries that can’t be crossed, limits within which you will be contained. We talk about being in committed relationships. When we say a relationship is committed, we usually mean that it is both exclusive – we haven’t made this commitment to anyone else – and that it will endure – commitment has a sense of lasting, being permanent or at least long-term. We have all sorts of spoken and unspoken commitments to our loved ones. We expect parents to be committed to the well-being of their children. We commit to keeping confidences and looking out for each other in friendships. We commit to complete certain tasks, to serve on committees, to our jobs, to be part of teams, to attend events, to sponsor participants in some walk or cause, to go to the gym, and so on and so forth. We make commitments all the time. Every day.
Today, we’re talking about what kind of commitments are involved in being Jesus-followers, in having a relationship with God, in being part of this community. What commitments do we make to God, and what commitments does God make to us? For some reason or another, all of you have made a commitment to be here today in worship, in this place. Why is that? That’s a question Pastor Aaron and I have been and will continue to be asking around the church these past couple of weeks. Why are you here? And why do we do the things that we do here? Why do you spend your time come to worship, or going to a bible study, or hanging out with our young people, or teaching Sunday School, or being on a committee, or helping out at the auction or a barbeque or helping to fold newsletters or visit folks at Birchwood…why do you do it? Why? In so many ways, you’ve made a commitment of your time, your talents, your resources, to this particular part of the Body of Christ. Why? That’s a question we’re going to keep coming back to in the months ahead.
We heard a text from the gospel of John today, where Jesus says that he is the vine and we are the branches. John contains several of these “I am” statements of Christ – I am the light of the world, I am the resurrection, and so on – that tell us about the nature of Christ through vivid imagery. Jesus says that he is the vine, and we are the branches, and that we are meant to bear good fruit. In order to do this, we have to abide in God, and God will abide in us, because branches that become separated from the vine can do nothing, serve no purpose, can’t grow healthy fruit. To have God abide in us, and to abide in God, we have to be disciples – students and followers – of Jesus, and keep God’s commandments. But when we do this, we experience the joy of Christ in our hearts – complete joy. That word abide is repeated time after time in this passage. In fact, it is one of the most repeated words in a single passage in the gospels, giving us a pretty good idea how important it is. It means literally “to stay at home” or “to remain at home.” So when we read this passage, we can think of Jesus telling us that to be vine and branches, to experience this complete joy, we need to remain at home, make ourselves at home, with God, and let God be at home in our hearts in turn. Think of this image – when you have company over, or you visit someone at their house, sometimes you are just that – company. But other times, someone will say to you, “please, make yourself at home.” When they say this, what they mean is, “be yourself here. Act here as you would act at your own home. My home is your home.”
If we’re talking about commitment, this passage makes it pretty clear. God wants to move into your heart, permanently. And God wants you to move into God’s heart. Because if Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches, then we can have no real life apart from the vine. We’ve got Jesus’ blood, Jesus’ life, flowing right through our veins, because we are the body of Christ in the world. God wants a commitment from us, to be disciples, to follow Jesus, and we’d be smart to take it, because we die without it. Maybe not literally. But our living isn’t really abundant life. Branches just can’t exist on their own. I read this week that healthy branches, strong branches on a grape vine become so strong that unless you carefully inspect, you can’t tell at first glance which is the vine and which is the branches. That’s actually what Jesus wants! For our discipleship, for our fruit-bearing, for our Jesus-following, to make our lives so patterned after Jesus that we look like him! The more deeply we commit to Christ, the more we make our life like his, the more we commit to following Jesus, the more like the vine our strong branch becomes, so that our branch closely resembles the Christ vine, the more we will find that we have space and time and energy for God to make a home in our hearts and transform our lives as God’s dreams take root in us and in our community and in our world.
What kind of commitment are you ready to make in our life with God? Today is Commitment Sunday, and we have some opportunities to make commitments today, as expressions of our discipleship. We’re experiencing one form of commitment that some choose to make related to this community of faith, and our commitment to follow God. At (9:30) and at (11) during worship today, we’ve received new members of the congregation, people who want to make a particular commitment to this congregation, belonging in a particular way. You don’t have to be a member here to be fully involved in the life of the congregation, but this group of people wanted to make this particular kind of commitment, and you heard them publicly vow – along with you – that your commitment is expressed through your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness.
This is also Commitment Sunday for our Stewardship Focus. For the past two weeks, we’ve asked you to think about filling up our metaphorical buckets with the visions and dreams you think God has for us here at Liverpool First. We’ve talked about these buckets in different settings around the church, had a lot of conversations about what God is dreaming about for us. And today, we come to offer one form of our commitment to this community of faith and to carrying out dreams. These commitment cards represent much more than a plan to pay our bills. We certainly appreciate being able to do that, but the commitment part comes because of our commitment to follow a generous God, a commitment to thank God for our blessings, and a commitment to God’s future for us. These cards represent that we are committed in a specific way to doing what it takes to make sure we have the resources we need to make God’s dreams for us real, concrete. God’s dreams for us are so much more than survival, or getting by, or making ends meet. God dreams life as part of the true vine, life that brings us complete joy.
Maybe there’s another commitment that you want to make today. Maybe you’re just starting out, and you want to make a commitment to get to know more about God, more about who Jesus is. Maybe you feel that God has been calling you to do something in particular – anything from selling your stuff and becoming a missionary across the globe, to finally signing up for that Bible Study you’ve been meaning to attend, or volunteering to serve the homeless. Maybe right now you just want to commit to asking yourself the revealing question: why? Maybe today you want to commit to asking and answering the question of why you are here and what you want to get out of and put into your relationship with God. Maybe you’re ready to commit to God abiding in your heart – staying in the very core of your being, always. Maybe you’re ready to journey into the heart of God, abide in God’s heart.
Jesus says he tells us about this committed relationship “so that [his] joy may be in [us], and that [our] joy may be complete.” Complete joy. Have you ever experienced such a thing as complete joy? Think about the times in your life when you have felt the most joy – the most sheer, unblemished, undiluted joy. I’m going to guess that these experiences of joy probably have something to do with experiences of love as well, that our experiences of joy are never just about us, but always have something to do with the relationships in our lives. Jesus speaks to us of commandments, commitments, not to burden us with unwanted contracts and bad deals, but to free us, because he wants us to have this joy not just in fleeting moments, but in complete, as a regular part of our living. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Are you ready for a commitment?