August F. Zepick Funeral Sermon - John 15:1-11 - July 13th, 2019 / Bearing much fruit
Text: John 15:1-11
Theme: “Bearing much fruit”
Intr – Visiting with August many times as I did in the last couple of years I had opportunities to learn a bit about his life in this side of heaven. Also from the family I’ve learned that in his 90 decades of life He was an active, happy Christian. He served in Church, for example leading Bible Studies, and in Church Council. One of the stories he told me with further details was his work with “Labourers for Christ”, when he would go do different places do building work as a volunteer with other engaged Christians.
When you hear stories like these, what comes to mind is the image of bearing fruit that we heard from the Gospel today. When faith is planted in our hearts by the Holy Spirit it is never something dull, idle, resting is some corner of our hearts without doing a thing – because faith without works is not faith anymore. Faith when alive is an acting faith, serving God and serving others. This is what we heard from John 15 today, especially verse 5: “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”. This is the verse August chose as a special verse for today when he planned his funeral last year. It is also confirmation verse.
Now, why would he choose this one? Is it because he wanted to show how good of a Christian he was, or was it to cause impression with his daily devotions, hymn singing, Church attending life? I am sure it is not. If he knew the pastor would intend to be saying something like that in his funeral, he would have left written on that planning: “Do not ever do anything like this. I am just a branch. Christ is the vine. To Him all Glory and honor.”
This is how Christian faith looks like in its essence, it is not about trying to be perfect, to be the best in order to obtain God’s favour. It is about knowing by faith that we are branches grafted in to the Vine: Christ.
The context of this Gospel shows a very tense and intense situation for Jesus and His disciples. The Master knows He is about to be arrested, beaten, humiliated. He knows He will die. He is not doing a funeral planning here though, but he is bringing comfort to His disciples so that when difficult times come about them they remember who He is and Who they are.
This is very important. This is crucial. Who He is and who we are.
Who He is – the Vine. He is the source. He loved us first. He gave Himself for us. He is the Saviour, the Redeemer, our Friend. August also knew who His Master was. August was brought to Holy Baptism 9 days after his birth day, when he was grafted into Christ; later on, he started to learn about the vine he was connected to. He learned that everything we have is from Christ, markedly salvation and forgiveness. In all that we do out of faith we honor and serve Him. As verse 5 states: “for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Who we are? We are the branches. As we are connected to the vine we go out in faith and bear much fruit. We can serve at Church, we can serve at home. We can help people – as family shared with me August was very fond of. We are enabled to serve our neighbour as a vehicle of God’s love. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love”, says Jesus (v.10). At first reading it may seem that it depends on us to be connected to Him. However, He is the Only and One action, for we can only keep the commandments as we abide in Him. And as we abide in Him, we are able to follow His will. We can bear fruit, not only this, we can bear much fruit. A living faith is an acting faith, bearing much fruit to the honor of God and to service of our neighbours.
As you noticed earlier, I spoke about the fact that August pre-planned today’s Service. That sounds somewhat odd to our contemporary ears because death is almost a forbidden topic in our social lives; at the very least, an unwelcomed one. We love life, we like to live. Even though we know that death is even surer than taxes and snow in the winter. It will come. Living in Christ, as a branch of the vine we don’t need to fear it. We never need to fear it. We don’t need to fear talking about it. We don’t even need to fear planning it when the time draws near. The reason – we know death is not the end. Death is not a full stop, it is a coma. There is more after it. It is the transition from this side of heaven to the side where God awaits us, to the side of heaven where we will await for the last day, the resurrection of the dead, when we will be reunited to our loved ones and lived forever with Him in eternal bliss and joy.
Cc – Family shared with me also that August was a “purposeful” person. As we look into John 15 we know where this purpose comes from. August knew he was a branch, grafted into the Vine, to go and bear much fruit. This same purposeful life is close to us, in the Word in Christ every day. Grafted into Him we are comforted in our sorrow, supported in our pain, consoled when the absence of our loved one hurts our hearts. We understand in faith why even in sorrow we can speak of joy, taking solace in Jesus’ words: “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete”.(v.11)