Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Dirty Job

Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 10, 2009
John 15.1-8

The first thing you need to do to a baby when they’re born is clean them up. They’re a mess. And moms know that there are many more messes to come. They spend a lot of time cleaning them and cleaning up after them. It takes a lot of work to keep kids clean and to keep the area they’re in clean. Moms have to get their hands dirty to take care of their kids. Along the way they teach their children how to take care of themselves, how to keep things clean, and how to keep themselves clean.

I’m sure many is the time moms wish they could speak the word and the messes would vanish and everything would be instantly clean. But one of the many reasons we are grateful for our moms is that even without such powers they are still able to miraculously get things clean—including the kids.

Jesus does have miraculous power, yet, does it seem like a big deal to us? He says in the Gospel reading: You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. He doesn’t put time or effort into it. He speaks and it’s done. It’s so far beyond our normal experience that we don’t really know what to do with it. We’re amazed at what moms can do, we’re not quite sure what to do with what Jesus does.

One of the amazing things about moms is how they keep at it. Once one mess is taken care of another pops up. With Jesus you are declared clean and you are clean. You are actually made clean by His speaking of cleansing to you. Even the most loving and caring mother will get frustrated and tired at the seemingly endless task of cleaning up kids and cleaning up after them. But it is precisely her love and care that drives her to do it. With Jesus there is never any frustration or getting tired. His boundless love prompts Him to declare you clean.

How does a mother raise her child? She doesn’t just clean him up. There are times when it seems that’s what it consists of, but there’s a lot of hugs that go with the scrubbing and boundless compassion to go along with the discipline. Moms keep at it. They keep loving and taking care of their children. When their kids get cleaned up she knows they’re going to get dirty again. But she will keep cleaning. That’s the way Jesus is. He doesn’t make you clean and leave you be. He knows you often turn back to the filth of sin. So God does the messy work of pruning. Those who don’t bear fruit are stripped away. Those who do are pruned. It’s the only way they can bear more fruit.

Even as a child will get dirty again, the thoughts, words, and deeds that come from your heart will continue to soil your soul. So how do you bear fruit? Jesus cleanses you of your sin, how do you remain clean? Abide in Me, He says. In the same way, He abides in you. This sounds simple enough. But is it so simple? He gives the reason why we abide in Him:

As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

How do we do this? How do we abide in Him and He in us? This is His answer: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” There is how it is done. At the end He takes you back to the beginning. It begins with His Word and it is continued with His Word. He is the Vine, you are the branches. Apart from Him you can do nothing, just as a branch will wither if it is cut off from the vine. Apart from His Word you have no life. You will wither and die.

Whereas the cleaning of dirt is a temporary condition, when Christ makes you clean, you are clean. He says, “You are already clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” Whereas water will wash off dirt, the water of Baptism is connected with the Word of Christ and cleanses your whole being. You are truly clean. Your Heavenly Father sees you as He sees His only begotten Son, without sin or stain; holy. You are as He has called you to be: His own child. You bear fruit. You live the holy life He has called you to live. You delight in serving Him by helping others in their need, by comforting them with the Gospel, by serving in the vocation to which God has called you: whether that be mother, father, neighbor, or whatever occupation you have.

But how is this the case since you continue to sin? Are you holy or not? Are you clean or not? It’s somewhat like being a child in a home. Your mom loves you no matter what. She knows there will be times you disobey, times you make a mess, and times you don’t honor her as God has commanded you. But she loves you and cares for you. And this is what God does also. He loves you and cares for you. That’s why He gives you His Word.

Is it easy, this business of God making you clean, forgiving you of your sins? No, it’s not easy, Jesus did the dirty work of suffering in your place so that you may enjoy eternal glory with God. And it’s not easy to daily be in the Word, to read it, to meditate on and ponder what you have read, to pray about what you are studying in the Word of God, to repent of your sins and receive your comfort in your Baptism rather than some notion that you can do better. It’s tough to think about the spiritual sustenance you need when your stomach is telling you that what you need is food. Tough to set your mind on the higher things of the Word of God that nourishes you and the Body and Blood of Christ in His Holy Supper that strengthens you.

But these are the things God uses to prune you, to make you clean, to sustain you in His grace and forgiveness. To give you the strength you need to bear the fruit which He Himself produces in you. These things are your lifeline in a life that is daily filled with all kinds of temptations which seek to stain you and cut you off from the Vine. A mom might wish now and then for a break. The promise of “ask whatever you wish” is certainly a tempting one for us. For the mom it might be that the messes aren’t that messy, and the talking back ceases. For all of us it will be whatever we are tempted to absorb ourselves in. But the lifeblood of Christ flows through us and the prayer He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and the prayer He taught us to pray is the prayer He is getting at here: Thy will be done.

We know what His will is: to do the dirty work of making us clean. To love and care for us in all of our needs, especially saving us eternally. Amen.


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