Sermon prepared by Rev. J. Poelman, Smithers, B.C.
Micah, the prophet-preacher from the quaint farming town of Moresheth,spoke in puzzling ways passionately of God’s love for His peoplein Jerusalem. He pictured God as the one who was coming to bring destructionon God’s chosen people living in Jerusalem. He speaks for God saying, "Iam planning disaster against this people," "a time of calamity," "Getup, go away! For this is not your resting place...."
What kind of a God would do such a thing to His own people? Would a father treat his child like this? Would a mother tell her own daughter, "I want you out of my house. I don’t want you living here any longer"? Does God show love by saying, "I am planning disaster against this people. Get up! Get out of here. The Promised Land is no longer yours to rest in"?
Micah’s listeners could not believe their ears. They were quick to respond saying, "Disgrace will not overtake us. How can you say ‘the Spirit of the Lord is angry?’ Does God do such things?" Their answer to these questions was "No. God is a God of faithfulness. He has carved us in the palm of His hand. He will never do such horrible things to us."
Wouldn’t he? What kind of a God is this that we serve and worship? Is he the God of love who forgives all of our sins, never winces once when we walk knowingly into sin? Does God allow us the freedom to live our lives as we please, regardless of what we do, think or say? May God never intercept our ways, throw them upside down, turn our world around? Are we surprised that God would allow disaster to come to our comfortable pews and cozy ways of enjoying life? Do we become angry with God because he allows us to feel pain, to experience disaster, or to be uprooted from our resting places?
We certainly do become upset, surprised and angered. We can identify with the person who prayed to God that he might receive the gift of patience. After having his patience tried to the breaking point, and becoming angrier at each step, he concluded that he would never again ask God for the gift of patience. We, too, become confused and angry because we allow ourselves to live with Biblical half truths.
Half truths happen when we glean good things from the Bible without acknowledging the full picture. Take for example this truth: "God is love." No serious student of the Bible would disagree with this statement. John 3:16 says it well when it says, "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have everlasting life." "Greater love has no one than this," said Jesus in John 15:13, "that one lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends." Romans 5:8 describes God’s love saying, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
This, however, is only a half truth if it is separated from the truth that we must love as God has loved us. "Whoever does not love," says the Apostle John, "does not know God." (I John 4:8) He goes on to say, "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him." (I John 4:16) We may not separate these two truths any more than we may separate a plant from soil, deprive the lungs of oxygen, or withhold food from the stomach and expect life to continue.
In Matthew 25, Jesus stressed the absolute necessity that we who have received God’s gracious love must now show the same love even to those who are considered the least of our society. Jesus pictured many who would say, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison and did not help you?" Christ said his response will go like this: "Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." (Matthew 25:44-45)
Half truths bear no fruit for the kingdom of God and therefore need to be radically removed.
Another half truth is this: "God is faithful to the promise saying, ‘I am your God, you are my people’. Nothing can separate us from the love that has been given to us in Jesus Christ." This powerful promise has carried many people through the dark valley of pain and death. What grace and love has been displayed in these words! God holds on to us, keeps us as his own even when we have failed him miserably. As the Apostle Paul says "We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life...height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:37-39)
The Apostle Peter felt this grip of God when Jesus met him on Easter Sunday. The memory of the rooster’s call that horrible Friday morning was still fresh in Peter’s mind. Perhaps Peter wondered how he could ever undo his emphatic denial of knowing Jesus. Peter not only experienced the faithfulness of God’s forgiveness in Christ, he also received Christ’s reaffirming call three times to "feed my sheep". (John 21:15-17)
God’s grace and forgiveness, however, are not to be misunderstood. If we use these gifts as a licence to live as we wish, we are far removed from the love that binds us close to the Lord. Romans 6 confronts us with the truth that God’s faithfulness requires a response of obedient living. The question is asked, "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (Romans 6:1, 2) In teaching us to pray, Jesus expressed the same response of our faithfulness in response to God’s faithful forgiveness. He said, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:14-15)
The Good News is this: God does not allow us to live by half truths. He comes to uproot half truths, to disturb us in our comfortable pews and enable us to be more productive in serving him. He is not afraid to turn our lives upside down and to challenge our assumptions. Jesus reveals just how serious God is in bringing truth to our otherwise happy-go-lucky lifestyles. He says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener."
The picture of the "true vine" and its branches reveals the close relationship we must have with Jesus. As branches depend on the vine for life and nourishment, so we too must draw our life from all that Jesus said and did. This part of Christ’s picture is understandable. The part Jesus attributes to his Father catches us by surprise.
Gardening magazines picture gardeners as such relaxed people. While most of us have to fight traffic, live with the pressure of hectic schedules and fear of burnout, gardeners present the relaxed, back-to-the-soil, stress-free lifestyle. Such a picture of a gardener evaporates when we watch a professional gardener at work. As a police officer armed with a .45 calibers pistol strapped to her side walks her beat, so gardeners move through their green-houses with pruning shears holstered to their belts. No plant is left untouched by the gardener’s careful eye and practiced fingers.
Picture life from a plant’s perspective. Its container sits comfortably on the growing shelf, basking in the warm sunshine, drinking in the soil’s nutrients when suddenly the gardener walks by. The plant is picked up in one hand, the pruning shears come out in the other hand, and suckers, stems and leaves fly in every direction. The plant looks as naked as a freshly groomed poodle. The gardener puts the plant back on the shelf, pleased because now the plant will become everything he intended it to be.
Jesus says of his gardener Father, "He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes." God cuts. Micah’s audience could not picture this kind of a God. They said, "Can it be said of the God of love and faithfulness, ‘The Lord is angry?’" Can you picture God coming into your life as a gardener bent on cutting off the dead wood and pruning the living branches? Or is our God of love and kindness, gentleness and peace, a God who lets us get away with murder, gossip and idolatry?
God spoke to Jerusalem, through the prophet Micah throwing their world upside down. He did this because they had chosen to live by selfish greed, exploiting their neighbors, robbing them of property and dwellings. Every morning, says Micah, they woke with the ambition of increasing their wealth, outsmarting the competition and ensuring that at the end of the day, they would be even more powerful than they were at its beginning. For them, it was more than wishful thinking; they had the power to make their plans become reality. Small family farms were swallowed up and the little man couldn’t do a thing to defend himself. Widows were robbed of their homes and futures for their children. All this misery came from those who said, "Our God will never bring us any harm, for He is ever faithful and full of love."
Does God allow us to live our sins of gossiping, neglecting the poor, verbally abusing our spouse, neglecting our children, feasting our eyes on whatever our hearts desire on the Internet? Certainly not. He cuts out the dead wood. Branches need to be in Jesus, not beside Him, in order to draw life from the True Vine.
We can expect to feel the Father’s sharp-edged pruning shears. God is the faithful, persistent gardener who does not leave us to our own sinful devices. He comes to cut, trim and clean away what is sinful, fruitless and harmful.
He does it for a purpose. He loves us and wants to bring out the best in us. Micah concluded his opening declaration of God’s intent to bring destruction, ruin and exile with the unexpected conclusion of having God say, "But I will shepherd you back, gathering you together, seeking the lost. I will bring you home again." The Father Gardener God cuts and prunes so that we may bear more and better fruit. Hebrews 12:11 says, "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
Do we really want to know this God whom Micah and Jesus reveal to us? He seems harsh, not letting us get away with anything. Must we allow this True Vine Jesus to be the source of life for us? Must we welcome this Father Gardener God to hold us accountable for being in Jesus rather than beside Him? Must we allow Him to cut, trim and perfect? It certainly does not feel good at first! But what joy to find yourself being filled with God’s new life and actually showing the presence of his Kingly rule in how we speak, act and think. The Father can do amazing things with the most unlikely branches.
Proposed Order of Service
Call to Worship: Psalm 100
Silent Prayer concluded with singing 421:1
The Lord’s Greeting and Greeting each other
Songs of Praises: #250, #239
Confessional Prayer: Psalm 130:1-5 in unison
Celebrate God’s Grace: Psalm 103:8-14.
Song of Thanksgiving: #175
Responsive Reading of God’s Law: Page 1017
Song of Praise: #453
Prayer for the Spirit’s Guidance
Scripture Reading: Micah 2:1-13, John 15:1-8
Text: John 15:1, 2.
Sermon: "Under the Gardener’s Care"
Song of Response: #288