The title of this sermon lends it's name from recent song of the same name from the Irish-rock group, U2. They also happen to be one of my favorite bands.
“Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own”
John 15:1-8; Acts 8:26-40; I John 4:7-21
Community of Grace Christian Church
New Brighton, Minnesota
Ten years. I've lived in Minnesota for an entire decade. It's hard to believe that 10 years have gone by so fast. In those ten years, I've dealt with -32 below temps (and that was the air temp, NOT the windchill), going to seminary, graduating seminary, getting ordained, getting new jobs, losing jobs, helping to gather a church, falling in love, falling out of love and falling in love all over again.
There has been a lot of good and bad that has happened in the past 10 years, but there has also been some very bad times. You see, in November of 1996, I got pretty ill; bad enough that ended up in the hospital for two weeks.
It started as the flu. I was working at a local coffee chain and just felt terrible. I took a few days off and thought I felt better. I worked a few days and then got ill again. This time it was worse. I could not keep anything down and spent most of the day in bed. At some point, I started having trouble breathing. I later found out that it pnuemonia. When my Mother found out, she wanted to know if she and my Father should drive from Michigan to Minnesota. At first, I said no, but in the middle of the night when I could hardly breathe and in the midst of pain, I told my parents I needed them.
Within a few days, I was in the hospital. I found out I had a massive infection, with fluid surrounding right lung. I was given antibiotics intravenously around the clock and the doctors inserted a tube on my ride side to drain the fluid around my lung.
In time, I got better. I gained back the 30 pounds I had lost (and then some, I might add) and was able to eat and just be normal.
I gleaned a lot of this experience, but for time's sake I will share one. I tend to be a person that feels ultimately responsible and like to be very independent. No one will tell me what I should do. I didn't want to depend on anyone else for help and would get mad when someone did have to help me. When you are so sick that you can't get out of bed, you learn to let others help you. When my parents arrived, the took care of me like they did when I was a little kid. I spent Thanksgiving of 1996 in the hospital and I was dreading spending my favorite holiday in a hospital room without my mother's good cooking. Instead, my mother made a meal for me and brought it to me. Even though I was in the hospital with tubes stuck in me nine ways from Sunday, it was one of the best Thanksgivings ever. I am ever thankful my parents for their kindness. I know parents are supposed to do all this, but nevertheless.
I'm telling you all this because the texts we have today all seem to talk about community in some way. Our gospel talks about vines and branches, the reading from Acts shows Phillip guiding a foreign visitor the good news of Jesus and the text from First John talks about the importance of a community in loving each others. These passages seem to go against the prevailing wisdom that spirituality can be a solo activity. Instead it is a communal practice where we learn from each other. Even on a grander scale, it seems to talk about an interconnectedness that is missing in contemporary America.
In John, Jesus tells his disciples to abide in him. He talks about God being the one who cares for the plant. Jesus says he is the vine and we are the branches and that apart from the vine, we are powerless.
The thing is we don't like to hear that. We don't like to hear that we can't really make it on our own. I think of all the people who don't like to hear this are pastors, because we think we have to do everything for a church to survive and thrive. We can get so busy trying to keep a church a float, or at least thinking we do this, that we forget about Christ. We forget to abide in the One who gives us life.
But more is going on here than a lesson for pastors. As I said earlier, we live in a very divided time. Around the world today, lines are being drawn: Palestinian against Israeli, Middle East versus the West, gay versus straight and so forth. Here in America, we talk about “Red America” and “Blue America,” terms that were coined six years ago to describe those areas considered more conservative and those more liberal. These passages seem to talk, if not demand that we love each other.
Not only are we so divided, but we live in a time where we think we can be spiritual all by ourselves. We tend to think we can experience and understand God all by ourselves and not need anyone else
The God that we serve calls us to love each other; to realize that we are connected to the other and to God in ways we can't imagine. When we refuse to love and respect the other, when we think we don't need anyone's help, God is prevented from working in our lives and we wither like a branch on the vine.
A few days ago, many of us came together for an important meeting of the church. In that hour and a half, we learned a lot about ourselves. One of the things we found out is that we are a small church, a micro-church if you will. You can't be anonymous at our church because we are too damn small. Some who have come by want to not be known. They want to slip in and slip out and not be noticed. You can't do that here. There are many who think church is about showing up for service on Sundays and never interacting with those around you. While they might think this is sufficient, I tend to think not. You see, church isn't really about what I do. It's not all about the good music (sorry, Dan) or about the fabulous preaching. It's about the community. Sometimes I think what makes worship possible and alive is the time after worship when people meet for coffee or go out to dinner together and when we do prayer requests. It's in these times that we really get to know each other and community starts to happen. Without community, worship is just a rote exercise, and God is very distant and impersonal.
The Ethiopian enuch didn't get the passage of scripture he was reading until he started talking to Phillip. And it was Phillip who baptized him. The eunuch didn't come to understanding all by himself, but only when he was relating to another.
To be a follower of Jesus means having to be in fellowship with others, even those who you don't like. Lone Ranger Christians don't really exist.
I want to end with a song that has been on my mind recently. It's a recent song from the Irish rock group U2, called “Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own.” The song is about lead singer Bono's father who had recently died. What struck me about the song was the fact that too often we feel we are on our own. I know I do. I know there are times I feel like it's all up to me to keep this small community running. Of course that is pure fantasy, because we are a community that works, prays, laughs and cries together In reality though, we wouldn't be where we are in life but not for those who helped us along the way. Maybe it's fitting that these verses appear on Mother's Day, the day that we remember our mothers, alive and no longer living. We are reminded we wouldn't get very far without their help. Heck, we wouldn't be without them. As the U2 song goes, it is because of others that we sing, that there is an opera within us.
I don't think I would be who I am without my parents, my those whom I hold so dear to me. Without the life, death and ressurection of Christ, we would not be who we are as a community.
We called to be branches rooted in the vine that is Christ. Let us go and love each other and those around us. Amen.