5th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #611
Text – John 15:5
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me & I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION
The title is a catchy phrase. It sounded like something from a motivational speaker, words meant to gear up people for getting their job done. As I researched it I discovered that it comes from the movie Apollo 13. Shortly after the explosion on board the spacecraft, NASA’s lead flight director, regarding the rescue plans, forcefully stated, “Failure is not an option!”
It was a stirring event in the history of our nation & it’s one that I was old enough to be fully aware of as the drama unfolded. I clearly remember the tension of wondering whether or not the crew would make it back to earth alive.
In a sense, the same could be said for our guardian angels in heaven. They are wondering if we will make it back to God alive! In Luke 15, Jesus tells us, “In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” (v. 10 NLT)
The reason there can be joy in the presence of God’s angels is because of what God’s Son did here on earth. In the Gospel reading, Jesus & His disciples are on the way to Gethsemane to pray. While there, Judas would arrive with the chief priests & temple guard in order to betray Jesus to them. Then Jesus would suffer, die & rise again, bringing hope into the world’s history.
Without Jesus taking our place in suffering, death & hell, there was no such thing as hope, & therefore no tension, no uncertain outcome. Instead, it was a foregone conclusion that mankind was doomed & damned. Failure was the only option. Jesus made that clear in the sermon text when He stated, “For apart from me you can do nothing.”
That Jesus truly meant it, & was not merely speaking in a figurative way, is made
perfectly clear in the very next verse: “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch & withers; & the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, & burned.” It would be kind of harsh to throw fruit bearing branches into the fire to be burned unless Jesus meant what He said: “...apart from me you can do nothing.”
The 1st ever human beings, Adam & Eve, felt that nothingness to the core of their being the moment they sinned. When God came looking for them: “…the man & his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8 ESV)
Having experienced holiness, they knew far better than any of us can imagine the utter despair which their failure brought upon them. That failure was driven home again when their 1st born son murdered their 2nd born, & Adam lived through 930 years of sin & death. With a history like that it takes far more than a motivational speaker to bring true hope & joy.
In the world of sinful man failure is not an option. It is reality. The Apostle Paul made it very clear that failure was his reality, in the book of Romans 7: “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” (7:18-19 NLT)
Someone recognized as the greatest missionary ever understood that failure is not an option. It is reality, & that drove him to ask: “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin & death?” To which Paul gives us the solution, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:24-25b NLT)
Interestingly, Jesus gives the same answer in the Gospel of John, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me & I in him, he it is that bears much fruit…” (15:5 ESV) The Word of God urges us to cling to Jesus, to remain in Jesus, to abide in Jesus. How we do that has always been answered clearly in Holy Scripture. For children born to Christian families it begins early in the waters of Baptism. There, God’s Holy Spirit creates faith. Then, the child is fed through the Words of God, as Deuteronomy says, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, & shall talk of them when you sit in your house, & when you walk by the way, & when you lie down, & when you rise.” (6:7 ESV)
Then, after a child begins to mature & is taught to exercise the gift of repentance, Holy Communion is the 3rd means by which we abide in Jesus & He in us. It is the most personal of the three as the Words of Jesus make it so, “Take, eat, this is my body. Take, drink, this is my blood, of the new covenant.” By these three means of grace we abide in Jesus & He in us.
By these three means of grace, the forgiveness Jesus earned for you on the cross is delivered to you, as a grape vine delivers nutrients & sustenance to the branch. Furthermore, the branch does not come into being on its own, but only sprouts forth on the initiative of the Vine.
As we abide in Christ we will bear much fruit – failure is not an option – because Jesus cannot fail. That is where children of God get their motivation, from the fact that Jesus has already taken our place & covered our sins. He has done right where we have done wrong. He has done good where we have done evil. He has succeeded everywhere you & I have failed.
Where we get into trouble is when we begin to believe that we can receive the blessings of Jesus through a vacuum. Believing that I can be a Christian without entering God’s house is like a bunch of grape branches believing they can produce grapes without being connected to the vine. Apart from Christ we can do nothing & Christ has promised to give us life in God’s house.
You have to know that God’s house is the last place on earth Satan wants you to be. If you’ve been avoiding God’s house, think of who’s in agreement with you on that. On the other hand, no matter how often any of us have failed, whether that is failure to be in God’s house, or whether it is failure to love our neighbor as ourselves even when we are in God’s house, Jesus has succeeded wherever & whenever we have failed. Jesus has taken our sins away. Jesus has caused us, the branch, to grow that we might bear fruit. He is supplying us with the nutrients to love our neighbor as ourselves. God is even preparing in advance the good works He wants us to do. It’s totally irrational for a branch to cut itself off from the vine, but irrational is what sin is.
God is not irrational. Instead, God is love. Rather than gathering us as dead branches to be burned in the fire, Jesus longs to gather us as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings for protection & for life; life that is abundant & full. It’s not the abundant & full life that this world holds up to us. It is a life abundantly full of peace, & of a clear conscience in spite of our sins.
God’s plan has no failure in it, except that which we cause through our rebellion against Him. Abiding or remaining in Jesus often looks like failure to us. Yet, connected to the Vine, we cannot fail! It’s not an option, or a possibility. Jesus’ disciples hear His Word & do bear much fruit, even if we’re not aware of it.
Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry & you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' (Matthew 25:34-40 ESV) Amen.
Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me, died that I might live on high, lives that I might never die. As the branch is to the vine, I am His, & He is mine. Only Jesus can impart balm to heal the wounded heart, peace that flows from sin forgiven, joy that lifts the soul to heaven, faith & hope to walk with God in the way that Enoch trod. O my Savior, help afford by Your Spirit & Your Word! When my wayward heart would stray, keep me in the narrow way; grace in time of need supply while I live & when I die. Amen. LSB 611:1, 3, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet